The advertising for Tom Jacobson's play The Twentieth-Century Way suggests that it's an account of the real-life events in 1914 California, where police hired two men, actors named W.H. Warren and B.C. Brown, to entrap homosexuals. Though the elements of the play are derived from actual events, Jacobson has a more intriguing plot in mind- a power play of one-upsmanship between two competitive men whose acting talent lends itself to the wildly protean.
The play begins with Brown (Will Bradley), waiting for an audition for a conman role in a film; enter Warren (Robert Mammana), another actor, who may be auditioning for the same role. Or he may be the one auditioning Brown. Or it may all be an incredibly elaborate seduction. Warren convinces Brown to improvise with him, and the two, in showing off for each other, play role after role in a strange psycho-drama where each is pretending to be homosexual in order to entrap the other, who is, for the moment, playing the homosexual in question. The boundaries of what is real and who is straight break down as the actors quite brilliantly flip from character to character, while trying to hide their true intent from the other. And along the way we get a fictionalized story of the "real" Brown and Warren, as they meet their targets and begin to feel remorse at having to betray such nice folk. Or could it be the beginning of actual homosexual feelings for one or both of them? Or is it all just an elaborate game?
Jacobson's dialogue sparkles with clever quips and authentic-sounding turn-of-the-previous-century dictation, and keeps the tension and interest high. The play requires a quite alarming chemistry and intimacy, and Bradley and Mammana work off each other like a well-oiled machine. It's truly impressive character work, a tour-de-force for both men.
The Twentieth-Century Way
Part of the New York International Fringe Festival
The Players Theater
Remaining performances: SAT 8/21 @ 12:15pm and TUE 8/24 @ 4:15pm
For more information go to http://www.bostoncourt.com/events/64/the-twentieth-century-way or http://www.fringenyc.org