This show is over now. The last performance was this past Saturday. I saw it the week before, but unfortunately have not been able to write about it to promote it until now. And a large part of that was because I was angry at this show.
I wasn’t angry at the production itself, but at the story. I’ve read various reviews of the show, which seem to disagree on several details including the talent of the actor playing Derrick, the main character, to the directing, to the overall quality of the production, and I have no qualms with any of these. I thought the actors were excellent with the tough subject they were given, and I thought the direction was excellent.
My problem stems from the story, and that doesn’t mean the playwrighting was weak. It may well have been, but it was based on a memoir, Shorn: Toys to Men by Dennis Milam Bensie. While the characters’ named were changed, the overall plot is real. It is about a real man who is really out there, whose story is continuing. I’d like to read the memoir to figure out if the sense of moralizing is in my head, in the memoir, or in the play. What angered me was the seeming insistence that Derrick’s fetish made him sick, and that only by squashing this sickness could he be whole. On the other hand, Derrick’s use of psychiatric drugs wasn’t painted in a healthy light, but a sad one. So perhaps the fault lies with me.
Jose Amador of Seattlest.com, in his review of the show, points out: “‘Fetish’ as a word has lost its power after years of overusage. What most of us consider a fetish is actually just a kink. A fetish, unchecked, can be a dangerous thing, sweeping us recklessly along in our desire of it. It can be a powerful drug. Especially so when one has imbued it with the illicit allure of sexual want.”
If this is true, then it makes sense that he would try to find help to overcome what is, essentially, the worst addiction possible. But in the end he still seemed to fight his kink, and switch his fetish from fulfilling himself sexually to denying his sexuality. And that is where my fault with this story lies — the black and white spin Derrick/Dennis himself seems to put on the situation.
Admittedly, I wanted to change the end. I wanted Derrick to find a third option — fulfillment of his sexuality without the self-hatred. But this is a true story, or based on one. The end is not my choice, or the playwright’s choice. Which is why I want to read the memoir. The play didn’t satisfy my need to know.
Of course, that in itself is a problem. Endings can be open-ended, but not unsatisfying. This show had a definite end, but not a resolution. No mention that it was continuing to be created, somewhere out in the world. It didn’t end with an ellipses, which might have been more appropriate, but with a firm period. Too firm, because Derrick’s hatred for what is an inherent part of him is so overpowering.
The play itself was not perfectly structured. Events were shown, but never tied together, as in a complete story. Why change the names and add the phantom of a childhood toy but take no other narrative liberties, such as, through the action and dialogue, directly link Derrick’s childhood rape to his obsession with having power over his partners? The implication was there, but never finished. Instead, at the end of the play, blame was placed on everyone — his father, his rapist, his first victim.
I wasn’t sure what the playwright was trying to say. Was he moralizing, or standing back from doing so? Was he allowing Dennis’ voice to come through the play, or taking liberties to cover that to protect innocent people? The final scene, a confrontation with all of the people who hurt him, and then with all of the people who loved him, was too vague. I wasn’t sure where it belonged in the play. The rape scene at the end of Act I was poignant and well-done, but how did it fit with the rest of the show? It seemed to be there to tug at heart-strings, then was discarded when it’s purpose was fulfilled.
However, it’s a difficult topic. It is a fine line to walk between Othello and Iago, so to speak. I applaud Open Circle Theatre for taking on this show, and putting it on stage. I hope they continue to take risks, because it is a delight to see. The actors were wonderful, as was the direction. Aside from my personal feelings toward the story, I thoroughly enjoyed the show. And the story isn’t mine to write — it’s Dennis Milam Bensie’s story. The fact that I was so riled up for so long about the production is, really, a compliment to it’s staying power. I’m still thinking about it. So well done. I look forward to their next show.