Michael Breslin and Patrick Foley’s frequently hilarious high camp queer absurdist dark comedy Circle Jerk is very 2020. It’s confronting, chaotic, unrelenting, far-fetched, deranged, and overstimulating. The theatrical equivalent of spending 100 minutes or so multi-screen doom scrolling yourself down a wormhole of alt right conspiracy theory threads punctuated with viral TikTok lip sync videos and pop culture memes only to find yourself in a fake news ridden cancel culture echo chamber that’s turning more sinister by the minute. In short, it captures the current zeitgeist with eerie accuracy. It’s also a very 2020 theatrical experience in that while the actors perform the show live in Brooklyn, the audience watches remotely from home (one of my friends even caught it in Sydney). With this thirteen-camera livestreamed multimedia theatrical event (with on-demand rebroadcasts available until November 7th), arts collective Fake Friends have masterfully and innovatively created a production that genuinely captures the essence of spending the evening in an experimental theatre space while we’re watching remotely on our devices, and used the perfect medium for their theatre-tech hybrid.
Circle Jerk‘s “gayest place in the nation” setting feels like it might have been inspired by those social media shaming viral images of maskless July 4th partygoers on Fire Island. Introduced by a literal troll (Patrick Foley), the action takes place off-season at the Gaymen Island summer home of a powerful online troll, the wealthy white gay Milo Yiannopoulos-like far-right YouTuber Jurgen Yionoullis (Foley again). Having been “cancelled” on every platform following a data leak, Jurgen hatches a diabolical plan in his basement bunker, along with his “slut for butt” meme-creator friend Lord Baby Bussy (Michael Breslin), that will leave only attractive white gay men inhabiting the world, starting with New York City. Oh, and the lesbians can have their own camp in New Jersey. And…here comes the Weird Science bit – concentrate! The pair use the technology of their Amazon Alexa-like device, Alexia (voiced by Catherine María “Cat” Rodríguez), to create an all-obeying fast food loving AI servant, Eva Maria (Rodríguez), to carry out their plot by spreading precisely targeted misinformation online. Meanwhile Jurgen neglects to acknowledge the arrival of his doting, “dickmitized”, liberal actor boyfriend, Patrick (Foley) whom he recently met at a SoulCyle class. Instead Patrick is left to be entertained by Jurgen’s live-in housekeeper, a Broadway aficionado and banned online commentator, Honney (Breslin). Later in the play, still being ignored by Jurgen, Patrick is visited by his concerned best friend, an “aspiring curator” and fellow liberal gay, Michael (Breslin), and later still a mysterious activist, and the physical inspiration for Eva Maria, named Kokomo (Rodríguez) is washed ashore.
That only three cast members take on these nine roles between them isn’t only an impressive feat—with some bold vocal choices and clearly distinguished characterisations—but it also reflects the play’s theme of homogeny. Thereby, for instance, Jurgen and Patrick are boyfreinds and essentially clones, played by the same actor. The energy and volume the cast project doesn’t feel modified for film, but at times more like they’re performing for the back row. Although this can be a little jarring (I had to turn the volume down a few notches) it helps give the production that intense, adrenaline-fuelled live theatrical feel rather than a filmic quality, and also matches the heightened absurdity of the densely packed text. That’s not to say that there aren’t some subtle, nuanced moments in there amid the frantic quick changes that intentionally increasingly break the fourth wall, allowing us to see the “fakery” that’s being created.
The rapid-fire, hyper pop culture literate dialogue is peppered with contemporary buzzwords and lines from RuPaul’s Drag Race, Lady Gaga 100-people-in-a-room-isms, and Britney references with blasts of the likes of Dolly Parton, Mariah Carey, and Faith Hill on the soundtrack, and an audacious The Hills dialogue lip sync. It all leaves the audience provoked, entertained and perhaps a little disorientated with a lot to unpack. An impactful, memorable work that’s likely to be a highlight of this prolonged period of theatres remaining dark. As the credits rolled, I really felt like I’d spent the night at the theatre for the first time since early March, and hungry for more.
Watch Circle Jerk on demand from Monday October 26th until Saturday November 7th 2020.