A production image for Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s new gay-themed satire, Say You Love Satan, is irresistibly Faustian — but with a twist. A shirtless man wearing Devil’s horns wields a trident with one hand. The other is wrapped around a less buff guy looking apprehensive. The premise seems self-explanatory: what happens when Andrew, a twitchy grad student concentrating on Russian literature, starts dating Jack, a mysterious hunk bearing a "666" tattoo on his forehead? Yet this romantic comedy is much more than just the tale of a date from Hell.
Receiving its regional premiere from the adventurous Zeitgeist Stage Company, which has introduced Boston to Caryl Churchill’s Far Away and Ben Elton’s Popcorn, and briskly directed by David J. Miller, Say You Love Satan is unusually complex for a farce. In the course of its one 90-minute act, profound observations emerge about the nature of attraction, the applicability of literary theory to daily life, and the challenges of intimacy. The five-character comedy centers on Andrew’s relationship with Jack and the mayhem that ensues when you hook up with a descendant of the Beast. Cartoonish? Frequently, but to hilarious effect.
As it happens, Aguirre-Sacasa, a graduate of Yale School of Drama, also pens stories for Marvel Comics’ The Fantastic Four. It’s clear he’s a guy in love with a good punch line, and he’s organized Satan as a series of vignettes that you could see taking place in squared-off panels. In fact, Zeitgeist’s stripped-down set — just a narrow raked platform with a weathered brickwork pattern and a backdrop of urban buildings at night, surrounded by a few rows of seats on three sides — might well serve as a three-dimensional cartoon frame. Fortunately, Andrew and Jack, as played by John Meigs and Brian Turner, exhibit plenty of humanity, vulnerability, and comic sensibility.
These two meet cute. Andrew, an unapologetically schlubby neurotic in a Casper-the-Friendly-Ghost T-shirt, is interrupted during his usual weekend revels doing his laundry when vulpine Jack shows up. This hottie strips off his skin-tight T and then wows Andrew further by professing a love of his favorite Russian authors. (Andrew’s the sort of devotee who finds hope in The Brothers Karamazov.) How can Andrew resist Jack, about whom he sighs, "Nothing on him jiggles." Off they go to the dance clubs, where Jack’s powers of persuasion with bouncers are truly magical. No sooner does he swan up to the velvet ropes than he and his companion are presumed to be Freddie Prinze Jr. and Sarah Michelle Gellar. Once in, "We dance like characters out of Bret Easton Ellis," Andrew explains wistfully. "Our generation’s Dostoyevsky."
But there’s payback when you party with a Prince of Darkness — mostly, in this case, because your friends start to fret. Bernadette (Angela Rose) is appalled that Andrew would dump Jerrod (Alexander Albregts), the saintly guy he’d been seeing. In fact, Jerrod turns out to be goodness incarnate (he’s a medical student who takes care of crack babies in his down time), and before long, the forces of good and evil are dueling for Andrew’s soul.
Where Satan falters is when Aguirre-Sacasa decides he’s writing a thriller instead of a comedy of manners. Much genuine mirth emerges from the Andrew-Jack relationship, particularly when Jack turns out to be more vulnerable and needy than fussy Andrew. But when Aguirre-Sacasa resorts to wrapping thing up with a conventional chase, the action devolves into silliness. It doesn’t help that the playwright’s primary strategy for advancing the plot is having characters leave phone messages for one another. And the scenes between Bernadette and Andrew are shrill and overwritten. Angela Rose tackles her one-dimensional part with gusto, but she’d be better off with less to do, even though the arc of the story is such that she’s the only one available to help Andrew come to his senses when Satan takes that unconvincing turn from comedy to thriller.
But Meigs and Turner are terrific in the leads. Neither actor hesitates to play lines a little broader than they’re written, and when Aguirre-Sacasa writes comedy, it crackles. "You have a forked tongue!" exclaims Andrew to Jack, hastily adding, "Not that I’m complaining." And neither am I, because this Satan provides a devilishly good time.
Issue Date: August 27 - September 2, 2004
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