Before I say anything about Old Tricks, the new play by Michael Bush now premiering at Empire Stage, the first thing I should probably note is that I was not quite a member of the target demographic. The play, which is marketed as a “gay comedy,” appeared to be succesfully attracting a plethora of older gay men, but I think I might’ve been the only woman in the whole theatre!
Yet though raunchy homoerotic humor could be found throughout, there’s more to appreciate in Old Tricks than its gay-themed in-jokes or the cast boy toy’s increasingly revealing outfits. After a slightly slow start, the play quickly kicks into farcical high gear, though it also seemed that the exposition was a little too gradual and jumbled for us to get truly oriented to its strange situation until rather late in the game.
After Michael 1 and Phil have a formative love affair in their youth, each goes on to marry another man, each also named Michael. When Michael 1 (Michael Bush) and Phil (Michael Wright) abscond to a Fire Island hotel to see if they can recapture the spark, Michael 2 (Mike Dinwiddie) and Michael 3 (Tom Farmer) chase them down to crash the party. Oh, and Michael 2’s brought along a much younger submissive (Brian Piedra) who is, get this—also named Michael.
It’s a situation that the play mines for all its comedic worth, and the jokes do mostly land, with some wildly witty barbs aimed not only towards Fort Lauderdale’s gay culture but more or less everything under the sun—even, believe it or not, theatre bloggers. It turns out, too, that a more representative Old Tricks audience member and I overlap in the sphere of “inordinate amount of musical theatre knowledge,” so I enjoyed the wide ranging references to everything from Company to Cabaret.
Yet there is also an intriguing core of heart hidden behind all the laugh lines; some of the play’s reflections on the complexities of the gay experience and the lasting psychological effects that the AIDs epidemic left on its survivors were genuinely moving and thought-provoking.
As Michael 1, Michael Bush gets most of the more introspective monologues, which he delivers with aplomb. As Bush was also the playwright, it was likewise amusing to watch him, after stumbling over a line, briefly break character to bemoan ruining his own joke. Otherwise, bright-eyed Brian Piedra as Michael the Sub was probably the cast highlight, bringing a sunny energy to the character—though the whole ensemble did an admirable job in keeping with the plot’s breakneck pace.
Sight gags and physical comedy also abound, including one memorable cocktail throwing sequence and a moment of disco-related panic, part of a vague pandemic subplot that mostly takes a back seat to the romantic drama and the mile a minute gags.
What exactly is going on in the outside world that eventually necessitates a quarantine and some slapstick mask-making is never quite adequately explained. A singular reference to COVID implies that the play is set in a post-pandemic world, yet the atmosphere of surprise around a new emerging danger evokes more of a pre-COVID mindset.
But perhaps a new play written so soon after a crisis as life-altering as the pandemic should be forgiven for not quite knowing how to incorporate it artistically. As Old Tricks’ central love pentagon winds its way towards an oddly sweet (though still plenty funny and raunchy) resolution, it all comes close enough to coming together that I was quite unbothered by any remaining dangling threads. You’ll be guaranteed quite a few laughs if you check it out for yourself on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays up until this November 28tht!
Ilana Jael earned her MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Sarah Lawrence College and a BA in Writing and Psychology from Florida Atlantic University’s Wilkes Honors College. She also served as co-founder of the student theatre troupe “Theatre in the Raw.” She has been dabbling in both playwriting and acting since high school. A few favorite roles include Rebel in Columbinus (Bob Carter’s Actor’s Rep), The Fearful One in The Cave (G-Star School of The Arts), and Amanda in The Glass Menagerie (Theatre In The Raw). Her one-act plays Goodbye, Karma’s A Bitch, Certainly Not About Him, and Open Heart have also been previously performed at Actor’s Rep and/or at Florida Atlantic University. More recently, Ilana appeared in and created the original musical ZeeZou’s Stardust Extravaganza with Area Stage’s Miami Queer Theatre Collective. Her short plays have been produced virtually by New City Players, Theatre Lab, and Femuscripts. She is also a current company member of New City Players, and you can check out her theatre blog at ilanaintheatreland.com!