If it weren’t for the title, Trafficking in Broken Hearts, you might almost think that playwright Edwin Sanchez longed for the 42nd Street of the 80’s before Giuliani and Disney swept it clean. His play is almost nostalgic for the chaos, danger, and craziness of the hustler world that dominated that street. Sanchez captures very vividly the types you might encounter there: the lost, sad, degenerate guys who were trying to make sense of their world, AIDS, the sexual abuse many had experienced, and the constant looking for the cheap thrill because acceptance of one’s homosexuality in any kind of healthy way seemed remote.
Sanchez populates this three-hander with some pretty strung-out characters, like “Baby,” the runaway, whose sexual abuse by his older brother left him desperate for contact when his brother leaves to get married. Looking for a replacement, he is willing to do anything, prostitution and violence included, to have his fantasy. Once he finds that “person,” he wants to stay home wearing nothing but women’s panties, letting himself become a sexual slave and in his mind the “perfect wife.”
The second of these characters is a closeted lawyer, Brian, who is torn between his fear of exposure and his nearly nymphomaniacal desire for sex all day long. He calls sex lines from work, haunts peep shows, and flirts with danger by getting involved with a Hispanic hustler. The fact that AIDS is out there only feeds his fear and paranoia.
The last of these sad examples of humanity is the hustler in question, who “ain’t a faggot” and doesn’t kiss. He reluctantly gets involved with “Baby” and Brian, both of whom fall desperately in need of him. Papo discovers that these two awaken his own neediness, leading to tragedy when he must choose.
There is a feeling of authenticity about the dialogue which creates, at least for someone like me who lived near there, a great feeling of unease and reminded me why I moved to California in the first place. I felt like taking a shower after viewing this piece — but that could be seen as a compliment. This is powerful, disturbing stuff, especially when you consider how far gay rights have come and how much further they have to go.
The show has some nudity but generally it's not really erotic. If it sounds like your cup of tea, then it most definitely is. The performances, by Romon Camacho as the hustler, Elijah Trichon as “Baby,” and Stephen Twardokus as Brian, are all spot-on. The direction by Efrain Schunior is taut and compelling. The set, a series of scaffolds that serve as a restaurant, an apartment, a peep show, and a bedroom, is brilliantly executed. Trafficking in Broken Hearts plays at the Celebration Theatre until June 14th.