|By BWW News Desk
When a gay writer hires a man to work as a "shirtless cleaner," homophobia, racism and issues of consent bubble to the surface in the world premiere of Handjob, an outrageous comedy by Erik Patterson. Chris Fields directs the Echo Theater Company production, set to open on Sept. 7 for a seven-week run through Oct. 21. Three "pay what you want" previews take place on Sept. 4, Sept. 5 and Sept. 6.
Patterson's comedy explores the deepest sensitivities in our culture - with unexpected and darkly hilarious consequences. The playwright previously collaborated with Fields on the world premiere of One of the Nice Ones, which the Los Angeles Times called "deliciously uncouth... elicits torrents of laughter from the gobsmacked audience." Handjob is guaranteed to leave the audience similarly "gobsmacked" and most likely gasping for breath - due to both shock and laughter. The hilarity is recommended for mature audiences due to graphic adult content, including male nudity.
"This play is constantly changing underneath you, which is enormous fun," says Fields. "But its serious center is the lead character's craving for intimacy. As he searches desperately for connection, he fails in such appalling ways that it makes us laugh. But we also understand his pain even as we're laughing at it."
Patterson wanted to write an aggressively queer piece of theater that pushes boundaries - while questioning just where the boundaries should be.
"The play poses difficult questions," he says. "In art and life, how far is too far? What taboos still exist? How can we make a moment of intimacy even more bare, to find the emotional nakedness beneath the literal nudity? What's the artist's responsibility when it comes to representation?"
The heart of Handjob, Patterson explains, is a character who struggles with these questions, but keeps getting it wrong. "His blind spots lead him to create even more complications as he tries to fix the mess he's made of his life. Ultimately, the play is about how important it is to keep asking these tough questions, and to keep trying to get it right."
The dream cast includes Steven Culp, best known for TV shows like Desperate Housewives, Bosch, The Last Ship and JAG, who also boasts an impressive theater resume including productions at South Coast Rep, L.A. Theatre Works and off-Broadway; Tamarra Graham, seen at the Geffen in Everyday Heroes and in Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble's Pure Confidence; Stephen Guarino, whom TV audiences will recognize from I'm Dying Up Here. Eastsiders and Dr Ken, and New York audiences will know from off-Broadway productions of Around the World in 80 Days, Carrin Beginning and Boom: The Next Generation; Ryan Nealy who starred in The Woodpecker at Mutineer Theatre Co. and Blood Brothers at the Whitefire; and Michael Rishawn, an MFA candidate at UCSD who has appeared off-Broadway in productions of Old Masters at the Flea/BATS, 24-Hour Plays at the New School and History Boys at the Gallery Players.
The creative team includes scenic designer Amanda Knehans; lighting designer Jared A. Sayeg; sound designer Jeff Gardner; costume designer Ann Closs-Farley; intimacy coach Benjamon Toubia. LMFT; and graphic designer Christopher Komuro. The production stage manager is Rebecca Schoenberg. The associate producer is Ariel Labasan, and Chris Fields and Rachael Zambias produce for the Echo Theater Company.
Founded in 1997 and dedicated to producing new work, the Echo Theater Company has gained a reputation for bringing the hottest new plays and playwrights to Los Angeles. The 2019 season opened in March with the acclaimed Los Angeles premiere of The Wolves by Sarah DeLappe. The 2018 season saw West Coast premieres of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins' Pulitzer Prize finalist play Gloria, named to the Los Angeles Times' "Best of 2018" list, and Molly Smith Metzler's Cry It Out, winner of Los Angeles Drama Critic's Circle and Ovation best production and playwriting awards; it was also included on NPR affiliate station KCRW's "Best of 2018" list. In addition, the Echo was honored with the LADCC award for "Best 2018 Season." The company was anointed "Best Bet for Ballsy Original Plays" by the LA Weekly in its 2014 Best of L.A. issue and was a recipient of a 2016 "Kilroy Cake Drop"- one of only 13 theaters in the country to be surprised by cakes to honor the efforts they are making to produce women and trans writers. In the Los Angeles Times, theater critic Charles McNulty wrote, "Echo Theater Company, which has cultivated a community of top flight actors, would be my go-to place in Los Angeles for symbiotic ensemble acting... Artistic directors of theaters of all sizes would be wise to follow the [lead] of the Echo's Chris Fields, who [is] building audience communities eager for the challenge of path-breaking plays." KCRW's Anthony Byrnes stated, "Echo Theater Company is on a fierce journey. They're choosing plays that are consistently challenging and all have a deep conscience... The body of work that Echo is building is substantial. If you wanted to pick one small theater to add to your cultural roster - Echo is a consistent favorite."
Handjob opens on Saturday, Sept. 7, with performances continuing on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 4 p.m.; and Mondays at 8 p.m. through Oct. 21. Three preview performances are set for Wednesday, Sept. 4; Thursday, Sept. 5; and Friday, Sept.6, each at 8 p.m. Tickets are $34 on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays; Monday night performances are $20 in advance, and Pay-What-You-Want at the door (subject to availability). Atwater Village Theatre is located at 3269 Casitas Ave in Los Angeles, CA 90039. On-site parking is free. For reservations and information, call (310) 307-3753 or go to www.EchoTheaterCompany.com