First Floor Theater’s gritty world premiere attempts to expose a little-discussed subculture
J. Julian Christopher's Animals Commit Suicide aims to open up a conversation about the queer subculture of “bug chasing”, in which individuals actively try to contract HIV. The topic is a worthy one, and a conversation about the significance of an HIV-positive diagnosis in the 21st century is often sorely overlooked. But this flawed production fails to inspire discussion.
The play focuses around Chance (Nik Kourtis), a bug chaser. As he spirals deeper into a cycle of self-destruction, he is forced to assess his values before he destroys himself and everyone around him. Chance masquerades as a perfectly put-together professional (a “corporate journalist” with a six-figure salary) while chasing a deadly thrill.
But even in the play's most sincere moments, Kourtis never removes his mask. The lack of sincerity makes it difficult to believe that he is ever telling the truth, even about his feelings for HIV-positive baker Ethan (Brian Keys). It’s hard to understand the prevalence or significance of bug chasing in a larger cultural context when our protagonist is fundamentally lacking in humanity.
William Boles’s clever set subtly calls to mind specific queer subcultures. The alley staging and gritty catwalk are reminiscent of the ball scene. The Keith Haring-esque paintings on either side of the catwalk are a careful nod to an artist’s documentation of his experiences with HIV.
The rest of the production would have benefited from Boles’s minimalist take. A disproportionate amount of the short run time is spent watching Kourtis change his entire costume, down to his shoes; the pace of the play generally seems to drag. For a show about chasing a thrill, there’s not much here that’s thrilling.
First Floor Theater at Collaboraction. By J. Julian Christopher. Directed by Hutch Pimentel. With Nik Kourtis, Brian Keys, Michael Reyes, Ashley Hicks, Michael Kim Lewis. Running Time: 1 hr 20 minutes; no intermission.