January 31, 2023 The Newspaper Serving LGBT Los Angeles

PREVIEW: “Handjob” on Power, Racism

When a gay writer hires a man to work as a “shirtless cleaner,” homophobia, racism and issues of consent bubble to the surface in the world premiere of “Handjob,” an outrageous comedy by Erik Patterson. 

Patterson’s comedy explores the deepest sensitivities in our culture — with unexpected and darkly hilarious consequences. The playwright previously collaborated with Fields on the world premiere of One of the Nice Ones, which the Los Angeles Times called “deliciously uncouth… elicits torrents of laughter from the gobsmacked audience.” “Handjob” is guaranteed to leave the audience similarly “gobsmacked” and most likely gasping for breath — due to both shock and laughter. The hilarity is recommended for mature audiences due to graphic adult content, including male nudity.

The heart of “Handjob,” Patterson explains, is a character who struggles with these questions, but keeps getting it wrong. “His blind spots lead him to create even more complications as he tries to fix the mess he’s made of his life. Ultimately, the play is about how important it is to keep asking these tough questions, and to keep trying to get it right.”

The Pride LA spoke with Patterson on the complexities of bringing such a play to life. Check it out: 

Photo: Echo Theater Company
Playwright Erik Patterson

Can you introduce yourself?

 My name’s Erik Patterson. I write dark comedies about morally complicated people for the stage. I’ve also written several princess movies for kids, and a few of those Hallmark rom coms that your parents love so much. I have a horror movie and a comic book in development, and I recently founded a comedy website called Gleek. 

 In one sentence, what is “Handjob” about? 

 An encounter between a white, gay playwright and his black, straight “shirtless cleaner” goes disastrously wrong when signals are misinterpreted, lines crossed.

 What can the audience expect from this play?

 You can expect a 90-minute Handjob. Expect a lot of laughs. A provocative, queer story. Some titillation. And several surprises. Oh, and expect an exploration of some pretty meaty issues. Yes, that was a double entendre. We’ve got an incredibly talented cast and the best production team in LA, so you can expect to be in good hands. Oh, God, sorry, the double entendres keep coming, don’t they?

Photo: Darrett Sanders.
Steven Culp, Stephen Guarino, Ryan Nealy

 What was the inspiration for this play? 

 I’ll be totally honest and admit I hired a shirtless cleaner and immediately thought, oh, there’s a play here. My experience wasn’t as fraught as the one on-stage. Also, I won’t name names, but awhile back, I saw this gay play that was advertised as being “very sexy while also about something,” and then I went to see it, and the only thing it seemed to be about was the fact that there was a working shower on-stage. So I wanted to write the sexy, meaningful play that I didn’t get to see that night, which got me thinking about my role as a theater-maker, and what goes into making something “provocative.” Those were some of the ingredients I was playing with when I started writing.  

How do you use comedy to cover serious topics in the play?  

Life’s pretty bleak lately, and the only way I’m able to get through each day is to laugh. I try to find the humanity in everyday moments, and a lot of the humor in my plays comes out of that.  

What scene/part has been exciting to see come to life with Echo Theater Company?  

I love working with the Echo. Chris Fields directed my play One of the Nice Ones in 2016 and I’m thrilled to be working with him again. I’ve gotta say, the titular scene of the play is one that carries a lot of weight, and I’ve always been curious about how we’d get away with it. I look forward to seeing how people react. 

Photo: Darrett Sanders.
Stephen Guarino, Tamarra Graham, Ryan Nealy

 What do you want the audience to take away from it? 

I don’t want to tell the audience what to think. I want people to go out for drinks after the play and get into lively debates about what they just saw. The play deals with issues of consent, and racism, and representation, and I hope people leave the theater thinking about and questioning their own biases. I hope the play will just be the start of a conversations we all need to be having as we grapple with issues we should have been grappling with a long time ago.  

“Handjob” runs Friday through Monday from Sept. 7 – Oct. 21.   Atwater Village Theatre is located at 3269 Casitas Ave in LA. For more information, call (310) 307-3753 or go to www.EchoTheaterCompany.com.

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