SR review: “Mike Pence Sex Dream” at First Floor Theater
The veep’s a creeper in this unapologetically queer, gleefully subversive dystopian nightmare
You’re reading an exclusive review for paying subscribers to Storefront Rebellion, a new endeavor in Chicago theater reviewing from longtime critic Kris Vire. Have feedback for me? Reply to this email or find me on Twitter at @krisvire.
Scott Shimizu, front, and Collin Quinn Rice
The veep’s a creeper in this unapologetically queer, gleefully subversive dystopian nightmare—a balls-out (ahem) delight
Theater review by Kris Vire
If the subtitle “A Gay Fantasia on National Themes” wasn’t already taken, it wouldn’t be a bad fit for Mike Pence Sex Dream, Dan Giles’s eye-catchingly titled provocation that premiered this week in a giddy First Floor Theater production. But then, the play would probably prefer “queer.”
The lights come up on a man wearing nothing but tighty whities and a shock of bright white hair on his head, checking himself out in the mirror. An aide enters, addressing the man as “Mr. Vice President,” before stopping short in embarrassment. But the man who won’t dine alone with a woman on principle has no rule against being unclothed in front of a subordinate; in fact, he appears to enjoy it. By the end of the dream, the aide is on his knees in front of his new boss.
Gage Wallace and Scott Shimizu
If you’re wondering how self-loathing a gay man would have to be to have erotic dreams about a virulent homophobe who believes in praying the gay away and whose inaction as governor allowed a resurgence of HIV infections in Indiana, well, meet Gary (Scott Shimizu), submissive aide to the vice president in his dreams, junior ad exec by day.
When Gary begins his oneiric affair with the veep, it’s early 2017, not long after the inauguration. Gary has recently given up his (other) dream of writing fiction and is focused on succeeding in capitalism instead. He’s gearing up for his first big pitch, for the business of Smoky Farms, an agribusiness conglomerate looking to recover from bad press about its practice of intentionally torturing pigs.
Scott Shimizu and Collin Quinn Rice
Gary’s spouse, Ben (Collin Quinn Rice), is an elementary school teacher who uses non-binary pronouns and has decided to wear a dress to school for the first time. Gary and Ben have been together since college but got married on the spur of the moment the weekend after the election, as a kind of bulwark against the new reality. Ben’s further impulses are either to move to Canada, or to lean into activism and start being more unapologetically themselves; Gary’s instinct is to firm up his standing in the establishment.
A third character, Tom (Gage Wallace, putting his oddball intensity to excellent use), the Smoky Farms executive who’s far more interested in Gary than in his pitch. They fall into bed, but Tom—for a while, at least—maintains an almost inhuman detachment. And then there’s Pence. As Giles prescribes, Rice and Wallace alternate in the VP’s Warholesque wig as Gary’s dreams recur—and get more and more explicit.
Gage Wallace (from left), Scott Shimizu and Collin Quinn Rice
If anything, I might have wished for Gary’s dreams to impact his waking life more directly; he never mentions them to either Ben or Tom, nor does he reckon with them himself in any way that we see. You could argue, of course, that he might not even remember the dreams, and they could still represent or influence his increasing comfort with authoritarian excess as the play’s action continues into our future. But considering how even the descriptions of Giles’s play evolved in First Floor’s press and marketing materials between their season announcement last summer and now, I can’t help but wonder if the two worlds were more integrated in previous drafts.
But that’s a tiny observation about a script and production I enjoyed immensely. Giles’s plotting veers off in a number of directions you won’t expect (including a boisterous full-on dance number, choreographed by Breon Arzell and impressively executed by Shimizu and Rice).
With scrappy direction by First Floor artistic director Hutch Pimentel, some strikingly vivid imagery and bold choices made by an appealing cast, Mike Pence Sex Dream ranks with some of the most subversive, balls-out (literally?) storefront productions I’ve ever loved. It’s a dystopian dream you’d continue hitting the snooze button to continue—as long as you could guarantee it doesn’t come true.
Mike Pence Sex Dream
First Floor Theater at the Den Theatre (1331 N Milwaukee Ave). By Dan Giles. Directed by Hutch Pimentel.
Cast: Scott Shimizu (Gary), Collin Quinn Rice (Ben), Gage Wallace (Tom).
Designers: William Boles (scenic), Claire Chrzan (lighting), Uriel Gómez (costumes), Eric Backus (sound), Erin Nicole Gautille (props), Micah Figueroa (violence and intimacy), Breon Arzell (choreography).
Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes; no intermission. Through March 16. Tickets ($25) at firstfloortheater.com.
Photographs by WHO IS SHE.
Thanks for being an early Storefront Rebellion paid subscriber!
If someone forwarded you this email, and you’d like to support independent, ad-free coverage of Chicago theater, you can sign up as a subscriber right now:
Send your feedback and tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.