'Fucking Men'

If the substance were even half as audacious as its title, the show would rock the house.

If the substance of Joe DiPietro’s “Fucking Men” were even half as audacious as its title, the show would rock the house. As is, this gay-centric rewrite of “La Ronde,” Arthur Schnitzler’s 1903 daisy chain of sexual politics, reassures where it ought to disturb, and settles for sentiment when harsh reality ought to prevail. Despite the extensive nudity and extreme behavior, the script and production don’t dig much deeper than “Same Time, Next Year” in casting an eye on how people love and lust today.

DiPietro hews closely to Schnitzler in arranging his 10 players into a relay of 10 two-handed scenes of intercourse — first social, then sexual.

So a rent boy (Brian Dare) pleasures a curious G.I. (Johnny Kostrey), who haunts a sauna with a grad student (Mike Ciriaco), who takes a break from tutoring an overprivileged snot (Michael Rachlis), and so on. Each passes the baton (so to speak) until a closeted TV journalist (Gregory Franklin) employs our original hustler, which will bring us back to do, as the song goes.

Production companies adore the form: Actors like the meaty roles, producers like the sex, and stage managers like the ease of scheduling thesps in pairs. Yet few “La Ronde” rewrites detect, let alone echo, Schnitzler’s acid expose of his era’s (every era’s) monstrous hypocrisy. His is a world in which each interaction begun in romance ends in cruelty (and often disease), and sex’s moral dimension is its first casualty. But “Fucking Men’s” edge is blunted, its values safely middle class.

The treatment of hot topics — promiscuity, monogamy, sexual deception — yields such commonplace insights as: Macho men with forbidden desires lash out with their fists; married couples struggle to stick to their bargains about cheating; some people lie about their HIV status; movie stars screw over ordinary people; can’t we all just get along?; and prostitutes and porn stars really want love.

A stud reveling in his ability to make an easy living, or aging longtime companions wickedly conniving in their extracurricular prowls, would be types closer to Schnitzler’s scabrous intent. But the author of “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” with all its comforting truisms about heterosexual relationships, is no less content here with the merely conventional.

In the play’s American premiere after a long London run, helmer Calvin Remsberg allows most of his company to occupy a single dimension of their roles, with varying success.

A few offer welcome nuance. A.J. Tannen’s nebbishy fringe playwright balances giddy excitement and caution in his confrontations with two unexpectedly hot partners, while Rachlis is an equally giddy master puppeteer in manipulating a pair of needy older men.

Two thesps are especially successful at moving in a wholly new direction in their second scene: Kostrey, whose truculent grunt turns into a strutting chatterbox once his closet door opens; and David Pevsner’s investment banker, a sympathetic spouse in scene five whose rapacity in scene six proves to extend from the boardroom to the bedroom.

Production values might contribute some grit, but this play set in Gotham positively exudes laid-back L.A. Specificity of place is ordinarily prized, but Daavid Hawkins’ costumes, Tom Buderwitz’s all-beige set, the cast’s casual rhythms and even the linking cool-jazz selections indicate its low priority here.

Fucking Men

Celebration Theater; 64 seats; $25 top

Production

A Celebration Theater presentation in association with Calvin Remsberg of a play in one act by Joe DiPietro. Directed by Remsberg. Sets, Tom Buderwitz; costumes, Daavid Hawkins; lighting, Jeremy Pivnick; sound, Lindsay Jones; production stage manager, Tracey McAvoy. Opened, reviewed Sept. 11, 2009. Runs through Oct. 25. Running time: 1 HOUR, 50 MIN.

Cast

With: Chad Borden, Mike Ciriaco, Brian Dare, Gregory Franklin, Sean Galuszka, Johnny Kostrey, Jeff Olson, David Pevsner, Michael Rachlis, A.J. Tannen.

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