By Bob Bartlett; Directed by David Drake
Produced by Hard Sparks
Off Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 3.18.17
IRT Theater, 154 Christopher Street
by Ran Xia on 3.12.17
J. Stephen Brantley in Bareback Ink. Photo by Jody Christopherson.
BOTTOM LINE: The Ganymede myth gets a sexy makeover in Bob Bartlett's intimate and intense two-hander.
Once upon a time, Zeus the notoriously insatiable surveyed the earth, and found himself unable to take his eyes off a beautiful shepherd boy. The mighty king of Mount Olympus thus transformed himself into an eagle, and plucked the boy out for his own pleasure. The boy's name was Ganymede, a native of Troy, the most beautiful of all mortals. The rape and abduction of Ganymede hence became the oldest gay erotica.
In Bareback Ink, Bob Bartlett transplants the ancient myth into a tattoo parlor, where a beautiful boy (Ganymede), apparently held captive by a powerful, unseen host (Zeus), is forced to be "the Canvas" (Todd Flaherty) for an intricate tattoo design. The much older tattoo artist (J. Stephen Brantley) awaits in the perpetually dim and damp studio, seemingly unmoved by the boy's initial hostility as well as frequent sexual advances. The pair's undeniable connection intensifies as the nameless boy gradually discovers his own identity.
Bartlett's sparse dialogue, delivered by the expressive duo, enhanced by John Salutz's stunning sound and lighting design, makes the play a sight to behold. Flaherty communicates vulnerability more effectively with his body than with words. His youthful, perpetually agitated and overly caffeinated Ganymede contrasts with Brantley's Hephaestus beautifully, the latter being completely cut-off from the outside world, laconic, and "tortured," using the boy's words. Brantley portrays the guarded, stoic older man with such ease that he makes the crippled artist seem majestic. The chemistry between the two is indeed electrifying.
David Drake's direction magnifies the poetic intensity of Bartlett's play without overpowering the story with gimmicks. The simplicity of the staging reveals a profoundly complex story that explores the identity of a frequently revisited hero. Ganymede, in this modern rendition, isn't painted as a victim; his rape, abduction, and ascension is ultimately accompanied with celebration.
(Bareback Ink plays at IRT Theater, 154 Christopher Street, 3B, through March 18, 2017. The running time is 1 hour without intermission. Performances are Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 7; Saturdays and Sundays at 3. Tickets are $25 and are available at brownpapertickets.com. For more information visit hardsparks.com.)
Bareback Ink is by Bob Bartlett. Directed by David Drake. Set Design is by David Drake and Robert Lohman. Lighting and Sound Design is by John Salutz. Costume Design is by Audrey Nauman.
The cast is Todd Flaherty and J. Stephen Brantley.