Legit scribe tries out 'Men,' a version of 'La Ronde'

In New York City, Joe DiPietro is not only that crowd-pleasing lyricist-book writer of “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” which ran for more than 5,000 perfs, but one of those rare scribes to have two tuners now up and running on Gotham’s commercial boards: Off Broadway’s sci-fi sendup “The Toxic Avenger” (entering its seventh month at New World Stages) and “Memphis,” which opens Oct. 20 at the Shubert’s flagship theater.

In L.A., DiPietro has a slightly different rep, and his mainstream credentials recently received a serious dust-up with his new play, “Fucking Men,” which now plays Hollywood’s 99-seat Celebration Theater.

“I did ‘Fucking Men’ as a writing exercise and gave it an unproduceable title,” says the writer, who, thanks to “I Love You,” never has to write again.

The idea for the obscenely titled dramedy (known locally as “Naked Boys Screwing”) came to DiPietro after a visit to Provincetown, Mass. “I was watching the whole dance that gay men can do around each other,” he says, “and it came to me: a gay version of ‘La Ronde.’ ”

Most nonprofits won’t touch “Fucking Men” because of their subscription auds. Commercial producers invariably ask, “Can we change this title?” and DiPietro invariably answers, “No, I like this title.’”

At least one L.A. reviewer mentioned “Fucking Men” as the queer version of “I Love You,” and although he didn’t mean that in a good way, DiPietro concurs on the substance of that observation.

“The two plays are actually about the same thing — the struggle for finding intimacy and making those things work,” he says. “Maybe someone will put them in rep, which would be my dream.”

In the entire DiPietro oeuvre, “Fucking Men” comes closest to putting the writer himself on stage. “We had those conversations about infidelity a lot,” he says of a former partner. “Whoa! Some of that was typing, not writing.”

In Gotham, DiPietro switches gears to tell two very hetero stories this legit season, both written with composer David Bryan. “Memphis” is a fictionalized love story of an African-American songstress and “Daddy-O” Dewey Phillips, one of the first white DJs to play “race” music; and “Toxic Avenger” focuses on the affair between a blind girl and her nerd-turned-monster boyfriend.

Despite all these opposite-sex attractions, lavender shades of “Fucking Men” emerge in this much more commercial fare. (As DiPietro observes, when he writes about straight people, “you suddenly realize there’s this wide and vast audience.”) In “Memphis,” the DJ and his girlfriend consider escaping 1950s Tennessee, where miscegenation is illegal, to marry in the north.

“When we did the show at La Jolla Playhouse last year, (director) Chris Ashley mentioned that scene in the context of Prop. 8. I’d never thought of it, but it must have been in my subconscious,” he says.

As for the monster as gay avatar, that concept goes back to James Whale’s original 1931 “Frankenstein,” and is one that DiPietro embraced for his other Gotham tuner this season.

“If you know you’re different from an early age, you become an observer, an outsider, and all those outsider characters feel unloved. Melvin Ferd the Third goes from unlovable to loved,” he says, “which is a very high-falutin’ way of looking at ‘The Toxic Avenger.’ ”

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