I was a fan of A Dolls’ House, Part 3, by the artists formerly known as Michael+Patrick. They have rebranded their company as Fake Friends, and with this, have upped the creative ante with a dizzying, queer whirligig of a live-streaming show called Circle Jerk.
Wigs fly on and off, quick changes abound, there are TikTok dances, a literal troll, and some A+ theater jokes. There’s even a Sondheim lyrical cum quip. Truly something for everyone.
But beyond the layers and layers of white gay culture that the show is sending up (there are references to musical theater fans, Drag Race, and pop music divas), is an insidious backdrop of tech-overload, alt-right influencing, misinformation, and big data control.
The point to this theatrical mayhem, textual boundary-pushing, and narrative edge is to interrogate white supremacy within the gay community in this internet age.
Somehow the show, written and directed by Michael Breslin and Patrick Foley (with co-direction by Rory Pelsue), manages to eat its technicolor wackadoodle cake while having a solid grounding in social critique too—the rare satirical success.
Circle Jerk is focused on Jurgen Yionoullis (Patrick Foley), an alt-right troll/self-help guru. He gets “cancelled” on account of the world discovering his secret creation—an AI meme machine that generates alt-right propaganda.
Holed up on Gayman Island, Jurgen and his programmer pal Lord Baby Bussy (Michael Breslin) need to stage a comeback. They plan to turn the world into a white gay utopia of their creation. They steal an “ethnically ambiguous” dead woman’s identity and create a new internet persona Eva Maria (Cat Rodríguez). Using the pool of data we’ve all freely shared in the swamp of social media, Eva Maria targets internet users based on their biases and vulnerabilities to turn them all to Jurgen and LBB’s way of thinking.
Meanwhile, above this subterranean Nazi den, greeted by “gay incel” housekeeper Honney (also Breslin), dim and needy actor Patrick (also Foley) comes to the island to see his new boyfriend Jurgen. At the same time, Patrick’s bff Michael (also Breslin) confronts Patrick over his decision to fuck a white supremacist.
I’m often frustrated by stage depictions of “the internet.” Even when it is staged in a literal fashion of screens of images and texts, it feels like your grandma’s idea of the internet (Dear Even Hansen, I’m looking right at you). It just screams “information superhighway” with a dial-up modem shriek, when that’s not really our contemporary relationship to it at all.
Circle Jerk smartly avoid this trap and using the style, language, and constructs of our social media/online lives to recreate the sensation of the addictive-destructive relationship we have with technology. The seamless look and technical smoothness of the production were also impressive.
Using split screens, movie clips, gifs, lip synching, ASMR, IG stories, meme images, and the all-powerful ghost in the machine Eva Maria, the show re-creates the frenetic way we use the internet—quickly flitting from images and ideas and capturing our fractured attention with bright colors, vivid images, and clickable appeal. In one moment, an Eva Maria avatar may be provocatively dipping her pointy acrylic nail into a McNugget sauce packet arguing “The only way forward is homosexuality” and the next her face is superimposed on images of Nancy Pelosi, Suzanne Somers, and Mike Pence (did I dream that?). Her expressive, big eyes calling out to us like a Margaret Keane painting. Is she everywhere or is she now just on our mind all of the time? Have I fallen for her?
Circle Jerk keeps the pace, imagery, and sound design compulsively engaging and watchable. It’s out-of-control, loud, unstable, mesmerizing, lurid, and fun.
We also see the way the internet can infiltrate minds–politically, socially, personally. With these men, they are swallowed up in the destructive, impossible beauty standards so prevalent in the gay community. Now you can Facetune your cheekbones, change your skin color, give yourself hair if you have lost yours—all things the characters in the show do in search of some idealized version of themselves. “God, I like need, a permanent filter,” Bussy complains.
The show astutely focuses on faces throughout—whether it’s a selfie, a self-tape, or a confessional. The aggregate is an overload of self, without any self left at all. These characters are performing versions of themselves and over time have lost track of who they truly are. They are remixes of pop culture, memes, and cultural appropriation, with hardly an original thought.
With excellent wigs and costumes and sharp acting choices, there were times I forgot it was only three actors playing all nine roles. The performers gallop through an array of characters all unique and precise. Horrifyingly recognizable. The satire works because they nailed the specificity.
My only hiccup was getting confused by the character Kokomo (also Rodríguez), an activist who ends up trying to decolonize her mind and recolonize the island, and blurs issues of gender identity and indigenous identity. I was not totally sure what their intention with her was.
For all the visual stimulation, this is also a dense referential text. I had to just let it wash over me and could only start to parse the multitude of ideas afterwards. Truly a delight in this moment of theater getting stripped down to bare essentials, this show is full maximalism.