The 'Way' it was
‘The Twentieth-Century Way’ at Boston Court pits today’s attitudes against the sexual mores of nearly a century ago
By Jana J. Monji 06/10/2010
Nearly a century before Chris Hansen’s “To Catch a Predator” series on NBC used youthful actors to trap men scouring the Internet for underage sex partners, the Long Beach Police Department was using actors to troll public restrooms in search of men intent on committing what were then considered “crimes against nature.”
In “The Twentieth-Century Way,” now playing at Theatre @ Boston Court, playwright Tom Jacobson uses a little-known incident in 1914 as the jumping-off point for social commentary not just on actors and acting, but also the morality of entrapment and people’s prejudices against homosexuality.
The title itself is a euphemism for oral sex between males, and the play contains some nudity and the intimation of sexual situations — but none too graphic. Director Michael Michetti keeps this play tightly paced and curiously detached from its more overt sexual aspects. That’s because the play isn’t really about sex, per se, but the 31 men who were charged with “social vagrancy” during a time when just the hint of homosexuality meant social, political and financial ruin.
It all begins — as all acting jobs do — with an audition. The bare brick walls of the room where the audition is being held are cast in the soft pall of a ghost light; a clothing rack on wheels and two chairs make up the rest of the minimalist set. We are then introduced to two nattily dressed men, both actors — Warren, played by Robert Mammana, and Brown, played by Will Bradley.
Warren, the more knowledgeable of the two, fires off a few quick questions and then explains to Brown that the “problem” is the growing vice of fellatio, specifically male-on-male fellatio, which is being performed in public more and more due to cleaner bodies, the invention of the zipper and the rise of public changing rooms and private clubs.
From there, Jacobson takes us through the history of the sting operation, with the two actors portraying everyone involved. Yet, just who are Warren and Brown?
Brown, the more delicate looking of the two, and Warren, who possesses a more rugged look, would appeal to homosexual men of all tastes, we are told, and this made them the perfect team, at least in the eyes of the Long Beach vice officers who were employing their talents at that time.
And, as it happens, Michetti, Mammana and Bradley are the perfect team for Jacobson’s play as well. As Mammana and Bradley slip in and out of various characters, accents and situations, working at an increasingly dizzying pace toward the “emotional climax,” the two perform with split-second timing and assurance. The ending is perhaps a little protracted, but the wait is worth it, primarily because this play raises some disturbing questions that are still being asked today — nearly 100 years after those arrests in Long Beach.
“The Twentieth-Century Way” continues until June 20 at Theatre @ Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena. Performances are at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays. Call (626) 683-6883 or visit bostoncourt.org.