|By Gil Kaan
HANDJOB/by Erik Patterson/directed by Chris Fields/Atwater Village Theatre/thru October 21, 2019
The Echo Theater Company presents a stunning world premiere of Erik Patterson's HANDJOB. Echo Theatre's artistic director Chris Fields quite ably directs his talented cast, as two sets of actors alternately depict the scenario of a curious, middle-aged gay man hiring a shirtless housekeeper/cleaner for a session of cleaning, leering and lusting. Patterson's very witty and smart script of clever puns and sharp observations gets even more witty and even smarter after a big reveal, that I won't be spoiling. Suffice to say that Patterson's use of the brazen (to some) title of his play will foreshadow something more over-the-top and in-your-face than your standard theatre fare. Patterson delivers in more ways than one.
Steven Culp and Michael Rishawn limn Keith the gay man and Eddie the cleaner in the first scenario while Stephen Guarino and Ryan Nealy - Kevin the gay man and Bradley the cleaner in the second. Both Culp and Guarino easily exhibit Keith and Kevin's awkwardness in their respective initial hiring of a shirtless cleaner. They're both loss for words, uncomfortable as to blatantly stare at the shirtless torso they're paying for, or to sneak glances while doing other things. Guarino's expert comic timing and delivery of a laundry list of discovered online facts on Bradley make for moments of comic gold. Guarino's reactions to later entranced Tamarra Graham's (as Susan) powerful diatribe manage to steal the scene from the very forceful Graham. Culp, Rishawn and Nealy all execute their individual explosive speeches later in the show most proficiently.
Kudos to scenic designer Amanda Knehans for her detailed, lived-in studio apartment set. And acknowledgements for jobs well done to costume designer Ann Closs-Farley, lighting designer Jared A. Sayeg, sound designer Jeff Gardner and intimacy coach Benjamin Toubin, LMFT.
Potential audiences who might have a sensitivity to the play's title would be as much the perfect receptive audience as those with no issue with the title HANDJOB. Patterson brings up social issues of every flavor and relevancy that will push everyone's button in one way or another. This critic's buttons were pushed, but I can't argue for or against certain concerns without giving away a key plot point. Go see it yourself and find out.