Gay brothers, one hoping to find “Mr. Right” and the other looking for only “Mr. Right Now,” compete in a year-long sibling rivalry that takes them through an unpredictable string of freaky dates, fix-ups, and flings.
GENRE: Lighthearted dating comedy
LENGTH: ~90 minutes
CAST SIZE: 4 (with role doubling)/5-10 (without doubling)
CHARACTERS: Male (Twentysomethings)
Script is free to read. Permission is required for any and all public performances or readings. To inquire about about obtaining rights, please use the contact form.
THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY
In the late 1990s, I started writing a series of short plays—all under 15 minutes—loosely based on some of my dating experiences. There weren’t many. I came out in 1991 but didn’t date or hookup with anyone until 2 years later. I had strong desires and a healthy libido, but casual, random, and anonymous sex terrified me. That fear never allowed my libido to dictate my behavior.
So, it was no surprise that my first gay date in early 1993 turned into my first gay relationship, which lasted 3 years. When it ended in October 1996, I was finally ready to tackle my fears to sew some oats. But this was easier said than done. At 28, I was still uncomfortable with casual sex. I could have had a lot of it but didn’t. I liked getting to know other guys before hooking up with them. Most of the oats I sewed were slow-cooked, not quick or instant.
For 7 months between November 1996 and July 1997 (which is when I met my husband Danny), I dated other guys for the first time in my life. For some of these guys, because I didn’t instantly “put out,” I was a prude or a cock-tease. For others, my extremely low sexual partner count made me more desirable as fresh meat, a sexual conquest, or perfect boyfriend material. Many of these guys often said something akin to, “I’ve never met anyone like you. You’re so refreshing.” At first, I didn’t know what they meant or how to respond. But something felt off about it. Eventually I asked them to clearly define what they meant by “refreshing.” Without giving away the answer or plot, one of these interactions became the catalyst for my short comedy, Refreshments.
Along with Refreshments, I wrote a few other short “gay dating” plays, including Wasting Time, Pope Fiction, and The Dangling Participle. In early 2001, I submitted them to Unity Fest, a festival of gay-themed shorts presented by The Fourth Unity Theatre Company. In late Spring, I received an email saying they’d like to include Refreshments and Wasting Time in their upcoming festival scheduled for December. The artistic director, Dennis, assigned directors for each play. The directors chose actors from company members. There was little for me to do except for the occasional clarification or script change.
For the production in December, I took a seat in the theatre like every other person in attendance. The direction and performances for Refreshments blew me away. Wasting Time, not so much. (In all fairness to the director and performers for Wasting Time, the script was the weaker of the two.) The audience seemed to love Refreshments, and I relished in their loud, spontaneous laughter throughout the play. It felt good. When The New York Times review came out, it felt even better.
“There are at least two good reasons to attend Unity Fest 2001,” the review started. “One is Tony Hamilton, talking to a man he has just met at a party — a man he thought he liked — and insisting loudly, ‘I am not refreshing!’
Mr. Hamilton, who manages an unusual number of emotions behind a single, play-length smile, is in Peter Mercurio’s two-man work Refreshments.”
After the festival ended, I decided to incorporate all of my short dating plays into a larger full-length. But I needed a way to tie them together thematically. I tried several different approaches but landed on a narrative about gay brothers, one looking for Mr. Right and one looking for Mr. Right now. Since I have a gay brother, and several of my friends also have gay brothers, I wanted to show how despite being gay and brothers, each had little else in common and approached life, dating, and hooking up differently.
But I had written only four shorts, each culled from my own limited experiences. I needed more material. I borrowed some friends’ experiences and created the rest. In early 2002, I finished the first draft of Red & Tan Line. Most of the play is fictionalized. In fact, I didn’t base the brother on my brother or those of my friends. The relationship between Tom and Rick, the brothers in the play, bears little resemblance to my brother and me.
Other Side Productions, the theatre company I founded in 1999, had a reading in late March, using actors from the Fourth Unity festival. Since Other Side was gearing up for a production of Chuck Blasius’s We Were There later that year, we couldn’t commit to a production for Red & Tan Line. Other Side operated on a show-to-show basis. Future productions depended on how much money was left over from the current production.
Dennis said Fourth Unity would love to produce Red & Tan Line if we didn’t. Even though I would have loved for Red & Tan Line to premiere with Other Side, I wasn’t going to turn down a production. After a few conversations, Dennis and I worked out a plan for Other Side and Fourth Unity to co-produce the play in March 2003. He paid the deposit on the Bank Street Theatre, and we began our march toward March. We had a joint reading in Summer 2002.
And that’s when Dennis started asking for one change after another. His biggest ask was to split 2 roles into 6 different parts to showcase more Fourth Unity members. I wanted to keep it the way I wrote it—2 actors playing the brothers and 2 actors playing all the other roles. Dennis demanded I break up the parts. I resisted. Our collaboration faced its first test. Sensing more artistic differences were on the horizion, I realized co-producing was a mistake. Before things got too far along, I pulled the play. Other Side repaid Fourth Unity for the deposit and took over the rental agreement with the Bank Street Theatre. No matter how much money was left after We Were There, we were now committed to producing something at the Bank Street Theatre in March, which gave us only a few months to raise money for even just a modest production.
When I asked Chuck to direct, he hesitated. Not because he didn’t want to, but because his father was in ill health, and he was concerned about needing to step away at a moment’s notice to go to Florida to take care of him. I assured him we’d figure things out if or when he needed to leave. In the end, with some begging on my part, Chuck agreed to direct.
Tony and James, two actors with Fourth Unity, remained interested in working with us, but it meant they would have to “betray” Dennis. As I recall from Tony and James, they said Dennis yelled and demanded their loyalty to him and Fourth Unity. The ultimatum didn’t sit well and actually made it easier for them to break ranks. Hearing about Dennis’s petulant reaction, I felt like I had dodged a bullet by calling off the co-production when I did.
We held auditions for the 2 remaining roles, and the show was fully cast in late January 2003. But we still didn’t have a stage manager. I contacted every person I had ever worked with but wasn’t having any luck. I placed a “Desperately Seeking Stage Manager” listing—not the actual title—on several theatre job websites. I met with several candidates, but only one really stood out: Mindy Raymond. She was so eager and enthusiastic that I asked her on the spot to be our stage manager. She said “yes” without hesitation. Next up: tech crew.
As with our previous productions, Roger Anderson came onboard to design and run sound, as did Rob Hilliard to design lights. Hiring a scenic designer would have been ideal, but since we didn’t have money for an elaborate set, we had to go ultra-minimalistic. At the very least, Chuck hoped for a few modular set pieces that could double as, or represent, different furniture pieces. So essentially, we just needed a carpenter. I asked my softball teammate, Josh Pugliese, a mason and all-around construction guru, if he’d be interested in building the “set.” He stepped up to the plate.
Next up: light board operator. Once again, I asked around. The Unity Fest director for Wasting Time suggested her friend Taylor Bowyer. Luckily, Taylor was interested and could commit to the all the tech rehearsals and performances, except for one. Not a problem. I could run the lights for one show. Hired! None of us knew at the time we were in the presence of a future phenom, and not for moving levers on a light board. Taylor Bowyer is commonly known today as Taylor Mac. Look him/judy up kids! Before one performance, Taylor nearly gave me a heart attack. More on that later.
Rehearsals began in February. There were a couple of unexpected snags—Chuck did go to Florida for a few days, actors had conflicts with paying jobs—the usual stuff for a showcase production. People’s lives and other career opportunities took priority over our little show. But overall, the process chugged along until we opened on March 8, 2003.
With past experiences, I could sense how an audience might receive a show. Red & Tan Line’s reception remained unpredictable. Even I had different reactions during rehearsals. There were standout scenes and there were dreadfully flat ones. All the flat scenes had one thing in common: a certain actor with no comedic timing was in each of them. By the time Chuck and I recognized this would be unfixable, it was too late to recast. Chuck did his best to pull an engaging performance out of him. The other actors tried to drive their scenes with him. Sometimes it worked, but mostly his scenes hit with a plop, fizz, or thud. My internal mantra became: “Just get the audience to the next scene and we’ll be okay.”
The actual run went much like rehearsals. Up and down. Some audiences loved the play. Some hated it. Some were indifferent, which, in a way, is worst of all. I understood. Even I felt indifferent about the production. I held onto the highlights. After one performance, a group of older gay men waited in lobby so they could tell me it was the funniest show they had seen all year. Their response seemed genuine, but it was only March!
Like with Other Side’s previous productions, we gave a lot of complimentary tickets to various organizations and senior centers. Most were used for Sunday matinees. It was during a matinee when Red & Tan Line received its most passionate review. I was in the lobby with Joe, Danny, and Sheilah—friends and box office volunteers—when halfway through the show an audience member stormed out. Before exiting, he yelled indiscriminately at all of us: “Your play! My life! How redundant! Fuck you!”
Initially stunned, we traded wide-eyed glances while trying to stifle laughs.
“I guess he liked it,” I said. Everyone laughed.
His spontaneous, instant review was everything: personal, honest, angry, heartfelt, and above all, concise. And I still cherish it today.
How Taylor Mac almost killed me
During the run, I always liked to get to the theatre first so I could be alone in the space. Something about being in the theatre alone brought me to a wonderous, almost zen-like state of being. Before a matinee, while I sat in the last row by myself, a contemplative calm and tranquility set in, and in that moment, all was right with the world.
But then a gangly swamp creature marched in. It was smeared in dirty makeup and wore shredded and camouflaged, combat-like fatigues. I didn’t know whether to scream or play dead. Is this is how I’m going to die?
“Hey,” the creature said, nonchalantly while crossing the stage to the tech booth.
I didn’t move.
“It’s me,” the creature said, gently. “I have a show later and wouldn’t have time to get ready so I…”
“Taylor?” I asked.
“Yes, sorry I scared you.”