Jerker, or the Helping Hand: A Pornographic Elegy with Redeeming Social Value and a Hymn to the Queer Men of San Francisco in Twenty Phone Calls, Many of them Dirty

When Robert Chesley's ground-breaking play was first produced in 1986 at Celebration Theatre, it was roundly condemned in certain quarters. But despite the sensationalistic publicity, it was a serious and deeply moving play about the worst days of the AIDS crisis, when the only safe sex seemed to be phone sex. And that meant masturbation, which was merely suggested in earlier productions. In this 25th-anniversary rendition, actor-director Glenn Kessler has updated the two-character piece, adding an ensemble of five actors (Corey Adam Affron, Gregory Barnett, Ben Cuevas, Parnell Damone and Sammy Murrian) and treating the sex extremely graphically. Although something is gained visually, the cost is high. The ensemble interludes are literal and distracting; the human drama is diluted and the lyricism is lost. Kessler and Gregory Allen play the two phone sex pals, J.R. and Bert. Kessler stretches the envelope with his rampant exhibitionism, inviting a voyeuristic response rather than a sympathetic one. Allen is more discreet. This play is a valid historical document, but the frank production may put off some. Space 916, 916 N. Formosa Ave., L.A. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m.; through Nov. 20.
Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Starts: Nov. 4. Continues through Nov. 20, 2011

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