Exploring Intimacy In Some Unique Black Box Productions

Like the Alice who inspired my blog’s name, I can sometimes get very, very, curious, which is why I recently ventured quite a ways off my beaten path to Wilton Manors, a city that has been officially named the “second gayest city in America,” to see a play called “Grindr Mom” by acclaimed gay playwright Ronnie Larsen.

On a Tuesday.

It was practically a foreign land; even the Starbucks I stopped into for a pre-show coffee was decked out in flamboyant Halloween decorations and pride flags. Furthermore, while I am at this point used to occasionally being the youngest person in the audience at the productions I attend, I was less used to not only being the only female in attendance but, from what I could tell, the only one who was even occasionally heterosexual.

The best black box productions take advantage of their small playing area to create an intimacy with their audience, and Grindr Mom was of the breed that ran with this strategy by annihilating the fourth wall altogether. The unnamed protagonist of this one-woman show, expertly played by veteran South Florida actress Jenni Hacker, greeted us directly as she entered through the same door we had, then proceeded to welcome us to her living room and politely request that we turn off our cell phones. At one point, she also passed us around a Tupperware container of actual cookies (I didn’t try one; I was pretending to be on my diet that week.)

The premise of the show followed quite naturally from the title. An unnamed Mormon woman in her mid-50s, struggling to come to terms with having one gay, Democrat, atheist son rather than the large and devout family she’d dreamed of, also became quite curious after hearing that this son had met his current significant other on Grindr and decided to make her own account. I somewhat wish she had better explained her motivations for doing this, but the show was an entertaining ride despite the slightly far-fetched premise.

Though this “Grindr Mom” speaks to us directly and mentions that we are strangers to her, the script also lacked much of a frame story to explain why she was telling a bunch of strangers some of her deepest darkest secrets; perhaps the character might have been more logically placed at a support group of some kind, or a therapist’s office, or maybe the show could have more obviously taken place inside her head.

Or maybe I can sometimes get a little too left-brained for my own good.

Somehow, Mrs. Grindr Mom remained an understandable and even occasionally sympathetic character throughout the play despite her many unlikable qualities: Republicanism, homophobia, and religious intolerance, to name a few. Actually, now that I’m away from the play and from Jenni Hacker’s remarkable comedic timing, it’s hard to remember how I tolerated this character for 90 minutes, much less enjoyed her company.

Yet enjoy I did; I remember laughing out loud quite a lot. There were a few particularly amusing interludes from Siri, and as gimmicky as I found the protagonist’s habit of referring to websites as “the Facebook” and “the Grindr,” I chuckled nearly every time she did. I suppose there also may have been an element of schadenfreude in the audience’s amusement at Grindr Mom’s dismay at the sheer number of homosexuals out there, or her distressed discovery to find that her church’s married choir director was secretly a “versatile bottom” looking to score.

However, the big twist that comes near the end of the play came across as the mere fulfillment of a cliche; if the play was going to go there, I wish it would have gone there earlier so we could see more of our “Grindr Mom’s” reaction to such an earth-shattering revelation. (Nope, I’m not going to spoil it.) I also would have appreciated some more direct foreshadowing, though it’s possible that is Grindr Mom is so deeply in denial about the inner workings of her family members that any hints would have failed to register.

All in all, despite the ambiguity of the show’s conclusion: if you happen to be free on one of the next few Tuesdays on which Grindr Mom is playing, until this Nov 12, her amusing and thought-provoking tale is worth listening to.

Later that weekend, I stumbled into another little rabbit hole of a black box, this one belonging to the Lake Worth Playhouse’s smaller Stonzek Theatre. I was catching the second performance of a two-week run of “Lungs”, which was honestly much more my speed than the musical I’d attended the previous week at the mainstage next door.

Like Actually, another recent favorite of mine, Lungs required practically nothing in the way of set or special effects; the magic all came from the witty, incredible script by Duncan Macmillan and the magnetic performances of the two lead actors.

While Grindr Mom had been forced against her will to reckon with the existence of homosexual kind, Lungs’ dual protagonists faced the very heterosexual dilemma of whether they should perpetuate humankind; in other words, whether or not they should have a child. They contemplated their dilemma so compellingly that it wasn’t until I looked at my playbill after the show that I realized that they were never named in the script.

When “M” first suggests to “W” that the two of them should consider having a baby, she cannot help but go into a panic, despite the fact that motherhood is something she has always thought she wanted. The two amazingly authentic millennial characters are both intelligent, “woke,” and hyper self-aware; before they can commit to having a child, they have to assure themselves that they are good people whose genes really ought to be passed on and who won’t fuck up their kids as much as their parents fucked up them. W is also very worried about the carbon footprint having a kid will leave, but it also clearly comes across that her concerns are at least in part an emotional deflection from her more personal anxieties.

This throughline is the source of some of the play’s most memorable humor, as the two decide they will make up for their child’s carbon footprint by planting trees and W suggests that “If we really cared about the planet, we would kill ourselves.”  However, this environmental babble becomes devastating when W, tearful after a miscarriage, tries to console herself with thoughts of all the humungous carbon footprint that their lost child will now not leave. Though the tragedy briefly drives them apart, an impulsive moment ends up compelling them to stay together for good.

If I had to, I would single out Catalina De Ruiz de Gamboa as “W” as the more engaging performer, but she also had a lot more to work with given her neurotic whirlwind of a character and W’s plentiful mile minute monologues. Russell Kerr’s M was a somewhat simpler creature, the proverbial “straight man” to her tornado. In many ways, M is also a typical man; one whose primary flaws included failing to pick up on his girlfriend’s unspoken desires and being a little too motivated by his prick; however, his willingness to make sacrifices for W when push comes to shove makes him a likable character in the end.

The concluding fast-forward montage happened a little too quickly for me to register its full emotional impact, despite the poignancy of what was portrayed, but I still left the theatre spellbound and surprised that the performance didn’t get a standing ovation. You have until this October 27th to judge for yourself.

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