Maybe it has something to do with those hot sultry nights we've been having, but two wildly different shows about sexual attraction — and repulsion — are playing within blocks of each other in Uptown.
"Steamwerkz: The Musical"
Annoyance's Friday late-night offering takes place at a Boys Town bathhouse, which ought to give you some idea of the NC-17 nature of the material. Created by the ensemble and directed by Clay Goodpasture, "Steamwerkz: The Musical" is loaded with gags about All Things Genital and Scatological, including a side trip inside a hot tub whose contents make Fukushima seem like a mineral-springs spa.
And yet there is also an underlying sweetness amid the smut, as cornfed, Nebraska-born Al (John Loos), a naive recent arrival who feels out of place at the usual Halsted Street haunts, follows a dreamboat down the rabbit hole of bathhouse culture. There he encounters the accommodating Chester (GayCo's Andy Eninger), a pair of Steamwerkz employees named Twinkie Dee and Twinkie Dum (Zach Zimmerman and Chris Kervick, respectively), and a drug-crazed Greatest Generation survivor, Dewayne (Ben Kramer, in splendid scenery-chewing form).
The echoes of Alice in Wonderland are deliberate, especially when it turns out that the object of Al's affections, the impossibly beautiful Stephen Stephan (Rob Anderson) is the boy-toy of the fearsome King of Steam (Jason Geis). The show gets away from that initial Lewis-Carroll-on-poppers framework rather quickly, though, and tends to feel a bit bloated, despite the fine towel-clad physiques on display. Losing the unnecessary intermission would definitely help sharpen the pace.
But the character work and the songs by Tara Trudel, as well as the off-kilter digs at the vagaries of semi-underground gay culture, definitely go a long way toward making up for the wheel-spinning moments. The Two Twinkies deliver an exhaustive (and exhausting) translation to Al of all the different body language cues on display. One of the few that can be repeated here is "If you touch your pinkie to someone's elbow, that means 'In a few months, we should get a reservation for the Girl and the Goat.'"
The catchy score, some goofy choreography courtesy of Emma Nicole Peterson, and undeniable male eye candy on extravagant display makes "Steamwerkz" a suitably naughty late-night comedic treat.
10 p.m. Fridays through Aug. 31 at Annoyance Theater, 4830 N. Broadway St.; $20 at 773-561-4665 or annoyanceproductions.com
"References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot"
National Pastime's annual "Naked July" festival, which this year includes Cal Yeomans' early gay liberation play, "Richmond Jim," and the movement/projection troupe, the Living Canvas, plays for the first time in the company's new home — the cavernous Masonic Hall on the fourth floor of the Preston Bradley Center in Uptown.
The prime-time offering is Jose Rivera's surreal romance, laced with social commentary (or is it the other way around?), "References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot," in which a soldier's wife, Gabriela (Virginia Marie), stuck in blazing-hot Barstow, Calif., tries to reconnect with her warrior husband, Benito (Ernesto Melchor Jr.), who has recently returned from Iraq.
Keely Haddad-Null's staging doesn't really overcome the present drawbacks of the space, despite some evocative design touches from Melissa Schlesinger, such as an outsize cartoonish cactus, which functions a bit like a desert version of Birnam Wood in "Macbeth." Nor does she seem to know how to balance the Dali-esque moments with the domestic anguish.
A violin-playing moon (Michael O'Toole, looking quite a bit like Picasso's "Old Guitarist") lusts for Gabriela, as her randy housecat and predatory coyote consummate their feral passions. The two critters are played by Alison Chemers and Cameron Peart, respectively. Both are naked except for body paint, and while that choice certainly fits the clothing-optional requirements of the festival, it feels unnecessary and distracting for this piece. Meantime, the 14-year-old neighbor boy, Martin (Nelson Rodriguez), also harbors a crush on Gabriela.
Rivera's script has some striking points to make about the tensions between the home front and the front lines. How can a man like Benito, who has seen and done unimaginable things for his country, easily slip back into the role of loving husband to his unfulfilled wife? But it gets swallowed up by the tricky acoustics and gloomy lighting (the latter created by Joe Loffing) in this production, and the actors seem unsure of how to deliver Rivera's imagery-laden language in a way that makes the underlying sensual and emotional urgency cut through the fog of symbolism.
Through Aug. 11 at National Pastime Theater, 941 W. Lawrence Ave.; $20 at 773-327-7077 or nakedjuly.comCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times