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Reviewed by:
  • Circle Jerk by Michael Breslin and Patrick Foley
  • Trevor Boffone
CIRCLE JERK. By Michael Breslin and Patrick Foley. Co-directed by Rory Pelsue and dramaturg Ariel Sibert. Produced by Jeremy O. Harris. Fake Friends, Theater Mitu, Brooklyn, New York. October 21, 2020.

If pandemic theatre has had three stages, then Michael Breslin and Patrick Foley’s highly collaborative Circle Jerk firmly sits at the entry point to the third stage. It moves beyond streaming archived video of productions and Zoom theatre to give audiences something that feels squarely made just for a digital platform. Contrary to most digital theatre during the pandemic, Circle Jerk was a live theatrical event that happened in real time with the use of digital tools. To say that Circle Jerk wouldn’t work in a traditional theatre with a live audience would be an understatement. Circle Jerk firmly pushes forward the potential of digital theatre in a socially distanced age, offering a blueprint for how theatre can evolve and make the best use of digital technologies and platforms.

Circle Jerk critiques white gay culture and meme culture. As such, it is largely written for a certain age demographic—millennials—and spectators who are immersed in certain avenues of popular culture: social media, musical theatre, and reality television. Circle Jerk examines online culture, liberal gays, and white supremacy on the fictional “Gayman Island,” which might as well be a stand-in for Fire Island. On Gayman Island, a Milo Yiannopoulus-esque far-right gay man, Jurgen Yionoullis (Foley), schemes to bring white liberal gay men to his alt-right “paradise.” Yionoullis has been cancelled across the web and decides to enact revenge with the help of his meme-creator friend Lord Baby Bussy (Breslin). There are nine characters, mostly played by Breslin and Foley, whose quick changes made it seem as though the performance must have been pre-recorded even though it was performed live. Their ability to morph seamlessly from character to character expanded the possibilities of digital theatre. Some of the casting even defied logic and facilitated the screwball comedy. For instance, Foley played boyfriends Jurgen and Patrick, who share scenes despite being played by the same actor. Breslin and Foley were joined by the scene-stealing Catherine “Cat” María Rodríguez as Jurgen’s Frankenstein-cum-Rocky digital online avatar Eva María, who helps them spread alt-right queer propaganda—fake news, if you will—and populate Gayman Island.

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Patrick Foley and Michael Breslin in Circle Jerk. (Photo: Courtesy of Fake Friends.)

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Catherine “Cat” María Rodríguez in Circle Jerk. (Photo: Courtesy of Fake Friends.)

Although Circle Jerk seemed like a roller coaster with far too many loop-the-loops, it perfectly captured the ways that memes penetrate popular culture in 2020. As such, the show and its host of characters were eerily familiar even if audiences might not dare to admit that. Through the production, Circle Jerk questioned white gay male supremacy and its influence on queer culture. To do this, the show focused on the proliferation of meme culture. The third act completely broke free of all constraints and became a dizzying array of TikTok performances, embodied memes, and popular culture references. In Circle Jerk’s signature style, the more references that the audience understood, the more implicated the audience became. For white gay men, especially, Circle Jerk held a mirror up to the community and revealed the myriad ways that white queer men are always entangled regardless of how alert to society’s injustices they are.

Circle Jerk exemplified the full integration of Tik-Tok culture into live theatre. The script even refers to the show’s rousing finish as a “Meme Ballet.” Although TikTok only emerged in the United States market in fall 2018, it quickly became the de facto social-media platform for Gen Z. When the COVID-19 pandemic stopped live performance in March 2020, TikTok—and a host of other apps—filled the entertainment gap, becoming critical sites to watch short-form video content. TikTok is a seductive world that strives to leave viewers...


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pp. 89-91
Launched on MUSE
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