dark play or stories for boys

Written by Carlos Murillo, dark play or stories for boys was conceived at a summer playwriting workshop at the University of California Santa Barbara in 2005. In 2006, it was presented at the Latino Theatre Festival in Chicago and in 2007, it gained national acclaim at the Humana Festival of New American Plays.

10631190_10152416392481319_2028894599510406227_oSeveral months of the past relived in the course of a few minutes in the present day, dark play is a mind-fuck-of-world crafted by Nick, the narrator and protagonist. An undergraduate student, Nick finds himself thrown back to his teenage years when the woman he’s sleeping with, Molly, stumbles upon the multitudinous scars that litter his torso. Confronted with the question of how he received them, Nick vacillates throughout the entirety of the show between remembrance and reality, trying to reconcile whether he should tell Molly the truth. The truth, of course, is anything but simple. Originating in a time of virtual chat rooms and seemingly unfounded duplicity, Nick explains how when he was fourteen, he crafted an Internet persona named Rachel and won the heart of a naive sixteen-year-old named Adam. Drawn into the pretense, Nick becomes addicted to the relationship. Crafting numerous other online personas to sustain the world he has created and to permit him to spend what little time in person he can with Adam, he spirals into a pit of lies. Finding it necessary to kill off Rachel, Nick then intricately lays out for Adam a strategic plan that ultimately culminates in Adam stabbing him to death. Nick, however, does not die. The show ends with him sharing this story with Molly, who refuses to believe him, and a nonchalant return to reality.

While Nick never explicitly states it, one can imply that he is gay and devastated by the fact that Adam will never love him because he is not female. Hints are recurrently dropped throughout the show regarding Nick’s sexuality. When slipping back into the memory of the past – specifically what we can infer to be his time with Adam – Nick expresses the sensation as such:

“And that’s when time stops

And I feel the familiar sensation –

Sweat glands juicing up,

A hardening between my legs

That low grade migraine

When I’m like an atom in a particle accelerator

And the world around me slows like it’s moving through peanut butter.”

Each time the audience returns to the present with Nick, he recounts this physiological response. He does this eight times throughout the show.

When offering a hypothetical situation to a teacher, Nick describes the actor in the scenario in a manner that sounds remarkably like himself and adds the clarifier “gay”. A little while later, when delineating the virtues of the Internet, Nick expresses that the worldwide web is the one place “where a kid [his] age and… of [his] demeanor” can escape, emphasis stressed on the word “demeanor” in the script. Indeed, Nick’s activities online seem rather akin to cruising, for not only is he canvassing an extremely public space but also he later appears to be doing so in the interest of sex. For instance, Nick outlines some precursory stunts he pulled online before meeting Adam, one of which included posing as a “pair of nubile, underage, sex-hungry Asian chicks” looking for a “mature American man to show [them] the ‘American way of life’”. This incident is also significant for another reason. Upon opening one of the several hundred email replies he received in response to the ad he posted, Nick finds himself confronted with the photograph of a naked man. While reticent in his reaction, Nick does describe it as “trigger[ing] a feeling in [him]”.

CT  CTH 0127 fringe-ott.jpgThe show is also peppered with the word queer, and interestingly enough, Adam always interjects it when he’s describing his feelings for Rachel. Indeed, it seems like an authorial dig at the homosexual overtones, almost as if Murillo is having Adam subconsciously recognize that his online relationship is actually with a man. What more, there is the fact that Nick engages in oral sex with Adam twice. When reflecting on it after the first time, he admits that he “wanted it to happen” but found himself simultaneously unsatisfied because Adam cried out Rachel’s name, not his. Adam’s participation in sex, once while inebriated and the second time while completely sober does suggest a trade-like-quality to him. While he does present himself as heterosexual and primarily interested in falling “in love” with women, he does not appear to rebuff Nick’s advances.

When it finally comes to the point where Adam is to kill Nick, Nick employs the online persona of Olivia, an ostensible homicide detective, to communicate strict instructions on how to go about the matter. Olivia (really Nick) stresses to Adam that when he stabs Nick, he is to tell him that he loves him. She makes him promise that he’ll do so, in fact. Olivia appears seven times through the show before making the purpose of her character known and recites those very words each time, foreshadowing what is to come.

When one reads the show from front to back, Nick’s resolution to die seems so rational that it feels like an appropriate solution to a horrendous situation. Because of this impression, though, I don’t think we interrogate what is really being implied by not just the act of murder but also Nick’s entreaty of it. Not unlike Paul in Willa Cather’s short story, Nick seeks out particular corners of the Internet because he feels a certain listless emptiness in everyday life. And like Paul, once it registers with him what he is, Nick seeks out a means of self-destruction. He describes it as a “darkness and danger lurking in [his] soul” and when embodying Olivia he communicates to Adam that

“Nick is beyond depraved.

He’s become an inhuman monster.

He must be put down.

We need you to eliminate him”.

It is clear that Nick comprehends himself as abnormal and perhaps within the context of psychosocial development, Freud would point to him losing his father at the age of eleven as the precipitator. Without a father figure to complete the cycle of male-identification with and the added caveat that the man he knew as father lied to him about their lineage for more than a decade, perhaps this is why Nick “became” queer.10383846_10152416404981319_4841902767104532302_o

In any case, while on the verge of death, Nick experiences a resurrection and white light moment, an upwelling of love pervading his body. He lives and when we meet him again some time later, he has only just finished in engaging in heterosexual sex. This leaves us to wonder the implications of his heavily machinated murder. If intended to “kill the gay” within, was he reborn straight? Is he bisexual? Or, does the possibility exist that his feelings for men have simply reposed as dormant for so long? He notes his physiological response to the past to us, but does he really permit himself to realize what those feelings insinuate?

Cool and collected at the end the show, there is a slightly flippant and ascendant color to his tone. And, as he states in the beginning of the play, he has a chronic proclivity to “make shit up”. So, where does that leave us?

Does anybody really know?

M4M

Cruising on Craigslist

When cruising was introduced to the public in William Friedkin’s “Cruising,” there was a focused leather bar approach to the idea of gay men interacting with one another in New York City. Since then, the bars and clubs that were home to gay men have been erased and replaced with restaurants and shopping strips. Gay men were forced out of a private environment where they could be comfortable with their sexuality and enjoy the company of others who shared their tastes.

“The Meatpacking, back in the 80s, was very big into leather bars and transgender prostitutes,” said Jeremiah Moss.

“It went from a place where you could find underground sex of all kinds, to basically a suburban style upscale shopping mall, which is what it is now. It’s where tourists go to shop.”

Since the decline of the leather bars and sex clubs, New York has completely changed its culture. It once was a liberal city where free expression was nurtured. But now, it’s lined with outlets and giant advertisements. The gay underground culture has since been pushed out or to the edges of the city. And because of cases such as Mark Carter’s, all gay people have the right to be afraid and feel unwelcome in NYC.

So where did they go?

Online. Today, the homophobic culture seems very harsh and outside of the gay meccas such as San Francisco, gay men no longer have an outlet where they can feel comfortable getting away to. There private sexual life has to be put on display for shaming in order to fully embrace their own sexuality as Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner suggest in their response to “Sex in Public,” so ultimately they have had to find alternative, more discrete methods.

Websites such as craigslist have become a resource for people to find relationships based on specific desires, whether it be a quick blowjob, BDSM, paddling, “gumming” or just an evening romance. Under the “Personals” tab one can navigate into their preferred sexual orientation such as M4M (Men for Men) and find partners based on sex.

Each post will have what the creator wants in the relationship and how to contact him. Users are able to be very specific about their desires in order to fully disclose what will be expected. This method is very similar to how handkerchiefs are used in the leather bar scene except without any confusion.

“ Pretty Boy Jock on the DL Looking to Play with Straight/Bi Dude Ass”

“ do you need a cocksucker – m4m”

Craigslist can offer the ability to form intimate relationships that would otherwise be difficult to establish in a normal public setting.

In our discussion of Oscar Wilde’s sexuality, it was concluded that his sexual affairs were all done under the public light. Wilde’s grave is a beacon for homosexuals but his life also proved many things. The primary thing is that he never publicly announced his homosexuality. While the specific reason is unknown, one can conclude that because it was illegal to homosexual at the time, he reserved from publicizing this information. This illegality of homosexuality gave precedent to the present in that many people still look down upon homosexuals.

In Alison Bechdel’s “Fun Home,” she writes about how her father kept his homosexuality unknown from her and his wife for many years. And he would even take discrete trips to NYC to express his homosexuality. This kind of attitude that gay men have had in history only furthers proves that traditional cruising is at least much less effective because these men have to do it in complete secrecy.

Craigslist and similar sites have made accessing other men with similar interests more accessible through their semi-anonymous forum. And with the death of traditional cruising, it’s a resource that is valuable to the gay community.

Taxi Zum Klo

The film “Taxi Zum Klo” is a semi-autobiographical movie from the year 1980, and is about an elementary school teacher who is forced to live a triple life at work and then at night. It was written and directed by Frank Ripploh who is played by himself in the film. This movie takes place in West Berlin which an island surrounded by East Germany. When this film was released in 1980, West Berlin was a capitalist culture surrounded by communism. The main character Frank Ripploh pretends to be straight during the day and then lives as an open gay man and sometimes a drag queen at night. In order to maintain his occupation and fit in with society, Mr. Ripploh is forced to conceal his urges to be with other men.

The first side of Frank Ripploh’s life that is revealed is his role as an elementary school teacher. It can be assumed by his lack of seriousness and passion for his job, that Ripploh is not feeling fulfilled by his job and he does not like this part of his life. Ripploh only attends school events when they are required, he grades his student’s papers in the bathroom stalls, and he even used a student’s notebook to write down a guy’s number at a gas station. Immediately after teaching his class, Ripploh rushes to the bathroom to cruise with other men to satisfy his needs and urges that must be ignored as a straight schoolteacher. I would argue that Frank Ripploh is very unhappy while at work, even if he does not realize it. Instead of focusing on his duties as a teacher he is fantasizing about what he will do when he goes out at night.Taxi Zum Klo Teacher

Secondly, Frank Ripploh is shown cruising when he is in pursuit of anonymous gay sex. A majority of this cruising took place in the bathrooms, but there were also some scenes in the woods and other random public places. Despite the constant cruising and random hookups, one of his inner conflicts is that he has a current steady boyfriend named Bernd who is expecting a monogamous relationship. However, Ripploh is not satisfied by a relationship only with Bernd. Frank Ripploh needs more sex and titillation in his life, so he turns to cruising to pursue this alternate lifestyle.

Lastly, towards the end of the film Frank Ripploh goes to Berlin’s annual queen ball where he expresses his third lifestyle as a drag queen named Peggy. During this part of Ripploh’s life, he is free to explore sex with other men and other drag queens. There is a scene where Ripploh is dancing with another guy right in front of his boyfriend Bernd, and this upsets Bernd but also turns him on at the same time.Taxi Zum Klo Drag Queen Peggy

Frank Ripploh’s monogamous relationship with Bernd filled some of his needs. Although it left him feeling bored and he wanted the relationship to work, he knew that it was not fulfilling all of his needs. Bernd was a “wallflower” and Frank needed a “wildflower!” His desire to be free and live without rules eventually had a stronger pull on him, and he gave into it. As Ripploh danced with strangers right in front of his boyfriend Bernd, he gave in to the excitement that he craved even though he knew he could be crushing any chance of maintaining a meaningful, committed relationship.

Frank Ripploh’s worlds collide at the very end of the movie when the reality that his life as a drag Queen, his desire to have random sexual partners and his job as a fourth grade teacher can no longer coexist. At the very end we watch Frank Ripploh struggle with a deep inner conflict when he shows up to his job dressed in drag and gives his students the opportunity to play a game with dice where they write down a list of six things they would do if they had no rules. The students became very aggressive, destructive and out of control which was a compelling parallel to Ripploh’s own chaotic and conflicted life. When the students left he rolled his own dice, but only expressed two options of resolution. Suicide was a thought but was quickly dismissed as too dramatic and the other option of settling down with Bernd just did not seem possible either. It seemed this collision of worlds was a sad but true reality check that forced the realization that although he wished to be a monogamous man and get back with Bernd, he knew that was not a life he could live. He had to face the fact that the same issues would just repeat and he found no resolution at all.

I chose this archive because from the description of the film I felt like it had many parallels to this course. “Taxi Zum Klo” and “Cruising” are very similar in that they both took place in 1980, and they both portrayed a strong emphasis on cruising in the gay culture during that time.

There is a very strong parallel between the aggressive, destructive, and out of control students and Ripploh’s chaotic and destructive life. When Ripploh asked the students what they would do if there were no rules, their unruly response was in fact representative of Ripploh’s life. He is basically living life with no rules, because he was engaging in sex with who he wants, whenever he wants, even when he is supposed to be in a monogamous relationship. The students’ behavior became chaotic without their regular structure and rules, like when Ripploh pursues cruising and dressing in drag, the more exciting part of his life that he feverishly desires.

More specifically, there is a parallel between Ripploh’s relationships with the students and Bernd. On a typical school day, the pupils in Ripploh’s class sit quietly obeying the rules, which can be boring and stagnant, much like the relationship between Ripploh and Bernd. While their relationship could at times be boring, it was also steady, but Ripploh struggles with that lack of stimulation. The students following the rules is parallel to Frank being with Bernd, it is not the most exhilarating relationship but for sure it is a more reliable and stable path.

Cruising Redefined: Grindr

Calling all gay, bi-sexual, and curious men! Want to get laid tonight but you still haven’t showered and don’t feel like leaving your apartment? There’s an app for that! Grindr- For those looking for a quick rendezvous, whether it be a date or something much raunchier, or perhaps just a night of sexting and an adequate, though temporary, fix for loneliness.   grindr2Ah, yes. Grindr. Today’s modern version of cruising.

Technology has reached an ultimate high. Available on smartphones, Grindr is the first and leading app of its kind. So brilliant yet elegantly simple, It is an all-male location-based social network. Using the GPS function of a smartphone, users can locate other gay men within a relative proximity, scroll through their pictures, read some information about them, and send a message, photo, or location.

“Grindr is a very, very visual experience. I’m not really a big believer in words.”- Joel Simkhai, CEO, Grindr

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“Outside the gay community, people would probably say it’s just a hookup app, and absolutely, sex is going on. But it’s more than that, because there’s always the possibility you will hit the jackpot and find someone who will move you. It has this potential for making a huge impact in your life.”- Joel Simkhai, CEO, Grindr

Joel Simkhai, Grindr’s mastermind, was born in Tel Aviv, Israel and moved to New York with his family when he was 3-years-old. He graduated from Tufts University with degrees in economics and international relations. With $2,000 and the help of a Scandinavian software developer, Simkhai began working on Grindr, an app he had “rattling in his mind” for awhile. When the technology became available, he jumped on the opportunity to make Grindr his baby. Launched in 2009, Grindr today has an estimated 4 million users and is available in 192 countries, including places where being openly gay can mean death.

What’s with the Name and Mask Logo?

Simkhai says that the word Grindr comes from a coffee grinder. Mixing people together. “It is a little bit rough – not to mix, but to grind.” It is tough, and masculine, and sexy. The logo is a mask because they wanted to create something primal, like an African tribe mask, since socialization is a primitive, basic human need.

Simkhai has also created a program called Grindr For Equality, as a way to reach out to this huge global network of gay men and encourage them to get involved in the gay rights movement, by providing them with contacts and information about politicians who are struggling with interfacing the gay community.

Grindr is today’s cruising. In William Friedkin’s Cruising we see Al Pacino hanging around New York City’s grimiest S&M bars. In Interior. Leather Bar., we learn about James Franco’s fascination with the underground gay cruising culture. Although Grindr may lack the eye contact and boldness that cruising entails, it is a safe and comfortable way for gay men to meet other gay men.

Though it may seem funny or trivial from an outside perspective, Grindr has, and will continue to have a huge impact on gay male culture. Instead of hanging around suspect urban areas, Grindr provides males with a safe platform to explore their own sexuality and text other gay males. From the safety and comfort of their own homes, I believe that most gay young boys today will begin their sexual journeys on Grindr, at their own pace. If the narrator of Torres’s “We the Animals” had Grindr, would the ending have been any different? Maybe instead of furiously writing about his darkest and deepest fantasies in his diaries and secretly hanging around mens’ bathrooms, he could have connected with other young gay boys in his area who are like him. On page 111, he says, “Maybe it was true. Maybe there was no other boy like me, anywhere.” If Grindr was available to him, I think we could have seen a drastically different ending. Perhaps he would have broken away from his suffocating, tight-knit, yet destructive family unit, and connected with someone who understands him.

I am excited to see how Grindr will change and enhance gay culture in the future to come. Though people may scoff at Grindr as being nothing but a hook-up app, it is a way for gay men to get to know people around them who they may otherwise have never known. I believe that connecting humanity with each other, regardless of the platform, is a true benefit to mankind.

Brokeback Mountain

Brokeback Mountain is a critically acclaimed and extremely popular queer romance/drama movie. The film was directed by Ang Lee, under the production company River Road Entertainment in 2005. It was nominated for 8 Academy Awards and received three of them: Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Original Score. It is based off of a book by an American author by Annie Proulx.

Despite being so successful, the movie was not without its fair share of public outcry and controversy. After all, it depicted a gay male relationship. A relationship with two men is not necessarily part of the “normative” culture that our world fostered back in 2005 and still does today. As a result, it faced many challenges including theatre cancellations, media criticism, and overall denouncement from various organizations. For example, it was pulled from a theatre in Utah despite having been contracted to premier there. In addition, the conservative media attacked Hollywood for pushing a “gay agenda”. This bad press caused sales to decrease dramatically over the course of the week. However, the movie prevailed and is still revered as a great production of its time that sheds light on an otherwise darkened subject matter.

Brokeback Mountain begins with the two main characters, Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) looking for a job for the summer. They both arrive at the same trailer of a man who owns a large herd of sheep. In past seasons, there has been an issue where wolves were hunting and killing the sheep. So, he wants the two men to camp out on Brokeback Mountain together to scare off any wolves that come close to the herd.

At this point, we only get some minor hints they Jack may be gay. While Ennis is standing outside, Jack stares at him through the side-view mirror of his truck. The stare lingers and his eyes have a certain intensity that hints at sexual desire. If Ennis had returned the stare, it would have been very similar to those in Cruising. This means we aren’t at an intense point of mutual attraction yet, but there is a hint that it is evolving. It serves as an effective foreshadowing into the coming relationship between the two men.

brokebackpic1

Once they get to the mountain, they set up camp and begin their daily and nightly duties. The usual arrangement is that one person holds down camp at night, and the other rides out to the sheep to guard them. However, they decide that both of them will stay at the camp for one night. Ennis starts by sleeping outside, with Jack inside the tent. It is very cold, and Jack tells Ennis to sleep with him inside the tent. In a matter of minutes, they begin kissing, and eventually they begin to have sex. This kiss was initiated by an intense stare. It was a stare that told both parties that they were interested, a form of communication without a single word. This is exactly the kind that the main character in cruising used to attract the killer, another man with which to have sexual relations with. It is marked by eye contact, small facial movements, and bodily gestures.

Now, we see the first truly mutual sign of affection between the two main characters. This confirms our thoughts from the beginning, and thus starts the emotional and sexual relationship between Ennis and Jack.

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As the story continues, they move on past working on the mountain and get families of their own. They both marry women and have kids and live seemingly normal lives. That is, until Jack makes contact with Ennis again by means of a postcard. This sparks their relationship and they begin to see each other, with the intention of hiding it from their wives. Ennis’ wife sees them immediately when they are kissing for the first time after not seeing each other. Afterwards, they continue to meet on Brokeback Mountain multiple times throughout the year to have sex and spend time with each other. This creates a downward spiral for Ennis’ normative life, and eventually ends in divorce.

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This is a parallel that can be drawn to the lives of many gay men today. Due to the pressures of society, many feel that they must marry someone of the opposite gender. This forces them to suppress their true feelings and it eventually manifests into lies, secret relationships, and a great deal of unhappiness. If society were to release some of this pressure, perhaps Ennis and Jack could have lived their lives together from the beginning. The pressure isn’t only present in the movie, but it was also present on the movie when the various critics were denouncing the contents saying they would threaten the normative American family.

Divorce is not the only thing that plagues the lives of Jack and Ennis throughout the movie. It is suggested that Jack’s community found out about his homosexuality. Not long after their last visit, Ennis finds out that Jack has been killed. Jack’s wife lies to Ennis about how it happened, saying it was an accident while fixing a tractor. Then, the scene flashes to images of Jack getting beaten and slashed.

Unfortunately, this is a stark reality for a lot gay people in the world today. Many people get beaten, bullied, or worse by their peers simply for having feelings for the same sex.

Brokeback Mountain is a keynote movie in queer culture. It showcases not only the social struggle of queer relationships and ideas, but also the lesser known details of the lifestyle. Their interest in each other revealed itself only when they shared glances, just as those in Cruising right before two men would get together to have sex. And after exchanging these signs of affection, they immediately delved into sexual acts, very similar to the gay bars in Cruising. As a result, Brokeback Mountain teaches us a lot about the social restrictions that surround being gay, while paralleling itself to other productions that have less to do with the social aspects and more about the sexual culture.