Playwright Douglas Holtz isn't sure how to describe Tearoom Tango. The Mercury Players Theatre production returns to the stage Friday for four shows at the Bartell Theatre before a run later this month at New York City's International Fringe Festival. The play is part comedy, part drama - funny and at the same time very dark, he says. Maybe the best way to describe it is "raw."
It follows six men embroiled in the secret, sometimes seedy microcosm of anonymous gay bathroom sex. "I would say it's definitely an R-rated show," Holtz says. "Or maybe more NC-17. We're not admitting children. There is sex portrayed onstage."
Originally a staged reading, Tango was inspired, Holtz says, by a show Mercury Players did in 2003, True Confessions of a Go-Go Girl. "The way it used monologues in combination with all the physical action onstage - I really liked how the two played off each other," he says. "And how the show dug underneath preconceived notions of the stripper scene. I thought, 'I wish gay men had a piece like that.'"
With help from Jessica Jane Witham as director, Holtz turned the show into a full-on play. Reaction was largely positive when it ran in Madison last fall at the 40-seat MercLab, he says - which surprised him, given the rough subject matter. The feedback encouraged him to submit it to the Fringe Fest.
"I submitted it on a whim," he says. "When we got accepted, I was thrilled, but at the same time, I was like, 'Oh no - how do we make this happen?'" The notification came in May, leaving little time for rehearsal before the festival run at Manhattan's 200-seat SoHo Playhouse (starting Aug. 21), and too late to make several grant deadlines.
So they're working "on a shoestring budget," says Witham. "It's the nature of true theater - doing it for the love." The Madison shows will raise funds to lengthen that shoestring.
"Some people have found the play arousing, some people disturbing, some people nostalgic," Holtz says. And if, in New York, enough people find it wonderful, it's possible Tango will get more than the five shows scheduled there.
"If it's selling out, they may add shows, so we've decided to stay through the end," Holtz says. "And then it'll be a very hung-over train ride home the next day. I wouldn't mind a bit, actually."