"Men's Singles," a three-male character drama in its Los Angeles premiere at the Cast Theatre, holds a fractured mirror to the male ego and uses the metaphor of the locker room to strip away its social defenses and censors.
Written with humorous thrust by D.B. Gillis and drawing on distinctively etched performances under the direction of Jules Aaron, the production is a clean, focused ritual of male confessionals in the hallowed sanctuary of competitive sport. In fact, the most interesting aspect of the play--at least to men, who will recognize the types on stage only too well--is what it says about shared physical activity: sports as the orchestrated venue that allows male truth instead of lies.
In that sense, the play has more to say to women than to men. Women are only heard about as this trio of tennis buddies, in the course of weekly matches, gathers to dress for a sport while talking about the biggest game of all, their love lives: a chauvinist salesman (Andrew Prine) is breaking up with his wife, a rather priggish up-scale young ad man (Thomas Jackson) jockeys between his career and the career girl in his life, and a gay psychiatrist (Ron Kuhlman) manfully attempts to start a new life with the mother of one of his teen-age patients.
Dialogue caroms like tennis balls ("Why is it so easy to be tender when there is nothing at stake?"), and the verbal imagery ("sympathetic orgasm") often stings. As the cheating family man whose marriage is cracking, Prine is an open-faced sandwich on the male carving board. He turns a guy women love to hiss into an often hilarious portrait of brash candor.
Jackson's earnest but ultimately callow achiever is a singularly deft performance that slides from idealism to yuppie selfhood. And Kuhlman's slide back to his homosexual reality is one of charming vanity. Kuhlman's stylish and amusing performance, however, is too slick for its own good. He appears so well balanced and anchored that his foray into the straight romantic world never suggests any pain.
Eleven short scenes covering three months in time propel events. Men are gossips, too, the play says, as competitive among one another as women are and ready to expose vulnerabilities if the camaraderie and sanctuary are right. Men have lockers. Women have restrooms (that's not in the play but is implicit in the metaphor). Outside is psychological restraint.
Larry Fulton's locker-room set and Claudia Cordic's telling wardrobes inform the proceedings.
Performances at 804 N. El Centro Ave., Hollywood, Thursday through Saturday, 8 p.m., Sunday, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., through Oct. 26 (213) 462-0265.