Support local arts reporting: read this review at Onstage NTX

I Wanna F*cking Tear You Apart @ Stage West 
Review at OnstageNTX.com by Sam Lisman

—Sam Lisman

Morgan Gould’s I Wanna F*cking Tear You Apart, now at Stage West, doesn’t pull any punches.  It’s subversive in a very interesting way: it moves characters who are usually in the background to the fore.  By doing so, it challenges certain sensibilities that many of us have and rejects certain expectations society may have imposed.


The play is about a dysfunctional codependent relationship between roommates Leo (Ryan Michael Friedman) and Sam (Ellen Eberhardt).  Leo is a trim gay man and Sam is a fat straight woman.  (Note: I’m using the word fat instead of overweight, big, or obese because that is how Sam is described in the play.)   They became friends in college fifteen years ago, bonding over their shared status as outcasts.  Together they make up Team Fat-Gay (or maybe Team Gay-Fat).  They are both writers, holding down lousy day jobs to pay the bills (he for a knock-off Buzzfeed; she doing freelance grant proposals and formulaic young adult sci-fi/fantasy novels), while working on their real projects.  Actually, they spend their time watching TV (cooking competition shows, Grey’s Anatomy), playing Super Mario Brothers, and being together.  

They have normal lives: he has hookups, she has a boyfriend.  They fight, make-up, move on, but little resentments build up.  They’re not part of an entourage; they’re stand-alone characters who serve, as director Jenna Burnett writes in her notes, as neither “a punchline nor ‘perfect exactly as they are,’” but as fully developed characters.

And their lives continue…until everything changes.  That change, of course, is Leo’s “work wife” Chloe (Olivia Cinquepalmi), who finally meets Sam while having drinks with Leo.  Sam instantly loathes Chloe, also an aspiring writer.  Chloe, Sam points out to Leo afterwards, is one of them, one of the people we make fun of.  In laymen’s terms, she’s one of the beautiful people.  Moreover, to Sam, she has the potential to be Yoko Ono (and not in the cool, avant-garde, conceptual artist way, but in the broke up The Beatles way).

The play, which takes place over the course of a year, each month getting its own scene (with a prologue and two epilogues), is designed to feel like a sitcom, with most of the action revolving around the couch in the living room.  Natalie Rose Mabry’s well decorated set is the communal portion of the apartment: the entranceway, the kitchen, and the living room, with doorways on opposite sides leading to the bedrooms.  Props/set décor designer Lynn Lovett has painstakingly stocked it to produce the correct vibe, from the old school Nintendo controllers they use to the box for the original version of Sid Meier’s Civilization (a game which, while not the reason it took me more than four years to graduate college, certainly didn’t help) stacked under the coffee table.  
Claudia Jenkins Martinez’s sound (which includes voiceovers by Evan Anderson and Daniel Saunders) and Ryan Burkle’s lighting serve to make the play more of a show, as the music and mood are really important here.  There’s no choreographer listed, but the over-the-top extended dance scene that opens the show gives a pleasantly false impression of what we’re in for (what we prepare for isn’t what we get), while Jacob Rivera-Sanchez’s projection design is a riff on familiar TV show logos.  

The costuming (Steven Smith) is understated while taking us through the course of the year, and wouldn’t be a thing at all had the costume changes taken place off stage, instead of in full view. (Some were off stage, but there was always someone changing clothes on stage between scenes.)  But remember, we’re supposed to be somewhat discomfited by characters who are usually part of the supporting cast being the stars—and seeing them in their underwear reinforces that.

In fact, Burnett also wrote that she hopes we aren’t “too uncomfortable [as we] watch a fat woman and a gay man take center stage for a few hours, working through their Real People Problems in all of their richness and complexity and beauty and mess and yes, bravery.”  Note that it’s not that we aren’t uncomfortable, but that we’re not too uncomfortable (actually, she capitalizes all of the letters in too).  

This, after all is a tragedy—one with several twists I didn’t anticipate.  It’s also quite funny (as good tragedies should be).  What’s more, all three characters came alive through these actors.  It seemed any one of them could have walked off the stage and started up a perfectly normal conversation with me.

Support local arts reporting: read this review at Onstage NTX