curtain call

How the Pulitzer Prize finalist ‘Circle Jerk’ dismantles and remixes the queer agenda

Circle Jerk
Patrick Foley, left, and Michael Breslin in Circle Jerk. Photo by Emilio Madrid

Welcome to Curtain Call, our mostly queer take on the latest theater openings on Broadway and beyond.

The Rundown

If Circle Jerk sounds salacious, it’s only because co-creators Michael Breslin and Patrick Foley have tapped into a hypersexualized agenda propagated by those attacking the queer community and those within it. Nobody is left unscathed in the Pulitzer Prize-nominated, live, three-act multimedia theatrical installation that disrupts the disrupters.

No Tea, No Shade

Welcome to Gaymen Island, where Jurgen and Lord Baby Bussy plan on taking over the world by creating an AI meme that will manipulate your mind into thinking you have the power of free will. In the prologue, a maniacal troll prepares sets the scene:

“So let me tell a tale of a story of a plot
Where humans learn the power and contagion of a thought.”

Patrick, an aspiring actor, enters the scene along with his BFF Michael, who eventually unearths the plan about to be hatched. Breslin and Foley play with language as much as technology, frequently going topsy-turvy with references to academia and pop culture.

“I need you to code switch from faggotry to tragedy!” says Jurgen when he thinks he’s been canceled. Bussy later coins the term to literally rewrite their AI code “from chaotic to erotic. It feels good to feel good,” he matter-of-factly states.

The pace increases as the meme Eva Maria (Cat Rodríguez) comes to life and more pop culture references launch and reverberate, concluding in a third-act triptych livestreamed from iPhones and broadcast to large flatscreen TVs hovering above the action.

Related: 5 stage shows that had audiences gagging over full-frontal male nudity

Circle Jerk
Circle Jerk. Photo by Emilio Madrid.

Let’s Have a Moment

Circle Jerk unpacks many intersecting themes at such a rapid-fire pace that you’ll be lucky to catch just a handful. Amid the chaos is an undercurrent that simultaneously celebrates and satirizes the art form of live theater. Much like the manic tap-dancing finale that caps The Music Man revival further uptown, Breslin and Foley deliver their own wild-eyed dance, eventually joined by Rodríguez for a Chicago-inspired vaudevillian denouement.

“As the razzle dazzle concludes, the three performers jump higher and higher and higher,” indicates the script. “It should hurt.” Pain and pleasure and how a select few control and filter our desires ripple through Circle Jerk‘s intentionally masturbatory plot, which edges the audience along a wacky journey, as the authors write, to “illustrate and parody elements of white gay culture that thrive on homogeneity, assimilation, and compulsion.”

The Last Word

Playwright Paula Vogel once asked, “Can we get excited by the fact that it will take us time to process a new voice? That it will take us days, months, years to travel in our minds to process what we saw on a single evening at the theater?”

Circle Jerk is such a play — one that elicits laughs and uncomfortable squirms as its creators dig and twist into the collective queer psyche. Particularly during Pride Month, the work is a reflection of how far our community has progressed and how perilously similar we can be to those who seek to destroy us.

Circle Jerk plays at New York City’s Connelly Theater through June 25.