An Intimate Look At A Fracturing Friendship in ‘I Wanna F#%_king Tear You Apart’

Island City Stage scores again with I Wanna F#%*king Tear You Apart, a show far more tender and nuanced than you might expect based on its violent title. Though the ugly emotions the name implies do rear their head throughout, the subject of the play could probably be more accurately described as friendship than anger—though it also ultimately implies that the need for someone’s love and the desire to destroy them may not be as far apart as they sometimes seem. 

In this case, the pivotal friendship is between Leo and Sam, who, as a gay man and a fat woman, bonded over their shared outsider status while in college and have remained committed to the partnership they brand “Team FatGay” ever since. The two aspiring writers share a New York City apartment, where they discuss everything from politics to pop culture with unfiltered abandon, slaving away at respective day jobs (Sam grant-writing and ghost-writing, and Leo working for a Buzzfeed imitator) and dreaming of the day they can prove their respective rejectors wrong by making it big. Playwright Morgan Gould excels in creating entertaining and believable dialogue, which is full of witty pop culture references, off-kilter political asides, and intimate confessions that all only make these characters more realistic and relatable, at least to a fellow millennial writer wannabe and perennial outsider. 

Yet what is established early on as a near-unbreakable bond between the two slowly disintegrates over the course of the year-and-a-half-period during which most of the play takes place. Perhaps in reaction to his feelings of being threatened when it seems that Sam’s writing career is beginning to take off while his continues to stagnate, Leo begins investing more energy into another friendship with Chloe, a co-worker of his whose status as a thin, blonde “normal” person arouses all of Sam’s deepest insecurities. 

Costume design by Eric Griffis smartly differentiates Sam’s casual fashion sense from Chloe’s effortfully stylish garb, and a set by Ardean Landhuis is the perfect playing space for the characters’ often hilarious antics.  As a co-production with Atlanta’s Out Front Theatre Company, this production imported the two leads, Matthew Busch and Sofía Palmero, from that earlier rendering, as well as its direction by Melissa Foulger. 

The two actors well convey an effortless chemistry between their characters,  and make an engaging pair to watch throughout. There’s plenty of moments of high-key comedy that come from the expressive and opinionated characters, including some impressive impromptu dance sequences, and Busch’s ability to physically convey his character’s drunkenness during a few moments also deserves a note. 

The one South Florida addition to their established equation was Casey Sacco as Chloe, the interloper whose presence triggers the subsequent cascade of disasters. As the character, Sacco strikes a perfect balance between likable and hateable, gracious and funny enough that we believe she is endearing to most but with subtle qualities of self-involvement and obliviousness to her advantages that make Sam’s instant dislike credible. 

Meanwhile, the supposed infarction of Leo having intimately bonded with Chloe also gets at a deeper inequality that has slowly emerged between them; while Leo can “pass,” as normal in his everyday life and is no longer particularly out of place as a gay man in the liberal landscape of New York City, Sam has no way of hiding her physique; and while Leo has the option of seeking companionship and community through his orientation, her fatness does not come with a similar outlet. As she puts it, there are gay bars, but not fat bars. 

But as Leo points out, there’s also a definite sense in which Sam now chooses not to fit in, being almost deliberately disagreeable in her interactions with Chloe and presumably in similar social environments. This behavior is probably best understood as at least partially a defensive reaction that is itself a reaction to a lifetime of rejection; for if she cannot see herself as somehow “above” the pretty, privileged blonde girls who seem to have everything handed to them, what tools does she have left with which to cope with her glaring lack? And if such a “normal” person is now threatening to “steal” Leo from her if they can no longer stand together against the world on their “island where we are smarter and better than everyone”—how can she possibly find the courage to face it? 

Pergola delivers astounding work in gradually revealing these undertones in Sam’s dialogue and behavior, and I found myself tearing up during one of her outbursts as well as at a few points during the ensuing fall-out. Learning that Gould herself is a self-described fat person perhaps explains how deeply the writer was able to dig into Sam’s psychological landscape, while the specifics of Leo’s motivation are left slightly more to the imagination. Though it’s also worth noting that Sam has no issues in attracting an unseen “hot boyfriend” named Mike, the lack of importance this relationship takes in comparison to her consuming relationship with Leo seems to be its defining characteristic. 

Because we have seen how much Leo and Sam enjoy, love, and depend on one another, an ending which reveals the inherent fragility in even the most solid-seeming connections and the ways in which our desperation to maintain them may amount to a self-fulfilling prophecy is incredibly impactful in its implications. Ultimately, both the formative necessity of a certain kind of friendship and the pain of a bond destroyed are evident from I Wanna F#%*king Tear You Apart’s bittersweet conclusion, and this insightful, provocative, and ultimately shattering look at love and desperation is well-worth a watch before it closes up on this April 2!

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