Alex Engquist and Matt Brown in 3boys.
I have to admit - I partly went to see 3boys because of the postcard, which shows a half-naked young man hiding his face. But I did so hesitantly, since at the Fringe, a hot photo (like a clever title, an interesting premise, or nudity) is often little more than a teaser to get you in the door; such a show rarely lives up to one's expectations, whatever they might be. But with 3boys, the postcard is actually the least interesting thing about the show.
On a basic level, 3boys is about three dogs. Zip is a young pup, still learning the ways of his dog world, and curious about where "they" (those things between his legs) went. Lee is an older dog who, rather begrudgingly, has become Zip's mentor. And Lee's friend Comet is the alpha-male, a breeding dog who seems to have some demons of his own.
As directed by Madeline Rose M. Parsigian, all three actors do an excellent job of melding human and canine physicalities. It is difficult to play an animal without becoming cartoonish, and this ensemble deftly avoids a too-literal interpretation. Barefoot, but dressed in human clothes, the choice here is to embody the spirit of dogs, rather than simply trying to mimic them. These actors often move in a way that is distinctly human – they walk on two legs, or use their hands as hands (not paws). And this makes the occasional dog movement (an aggressive swipe of a paw, or a challenge by chest-bump) all the more striking and effective.
Patrick Horn's Zip is perhaps the most "doglike"; he scampers on all fours and grabs things with his teeth, eagerly embracing the world around him, as a puppy does. As Lee, Alex Engquist reminded me of Rodin's "The Thinker," beginning the play with a classic human pose through which Engquist amazingly manages to convey a canine sensibility. And Matt Brown's Comet, chained up from the beginning, is heart-breaking as he moves from despair to frustration to anger at the world around him.
One could easily describe 3boys as a show about "gay dogs," and while that wouldn't be wrong, it also wouldn't be doing justice to this complex, intelligent, yet eminently accessible script. Yes, there is a strong undercurrent of homoerotic tension throughout; one feels that at any moment, the dogs (men) could just as easily fight as they could have sex. So 3boys can easily be read as an allegory for prison life, or the military, or some other homosocial environment. Yet there are broader themes as well.
When Comet says "There are these things inside me. I can feel them…They're gonna take over and then I'll have nothing left," one is never sure to whom, or what, he is referring. His owners? The push to "breed"? Homophobia? Rabies? HIV? Societal pressure? His own traumatic past? And this is the brilliance of Becca Schlossberg's beautifully concise script: it can be read as an allegory for any number of things, yet the allegories never seem belabored or heavy-handed. And that is mostly because for all its implied meaning, 3boys never stops being about dogs.
Although most Fringe shows are fairly short, I almost never leave wanting more. But with 3boys, I wasn't ready for it to be over. This isn't to say the play ends prematurely or abruptly; it is the perfect length. But, especially in the crapshoot that is Fringe NYC, it is extremely rare to come upon a piece that is as good as 3boys, a show that is not just must-see Fringe, but must-see theatre. Go. Sit. Stay. Enjoy.
(3boys plays at 4th Street Theatre, 83 East 4th Street between Bowery and 2nd Avenue, through August 28th. Remaining performances are Sunday 8/22 at 12pm, and Wednesday 8/25 at 8:15pm, and Saturday 8/28 at 10:15. For more information visit 3boysnyc.com. Tickets are $15 in advance, $18 at the door, and are available at FringeNYC.com, by calling 866.468.7619, or in person at FringeCENTRAL, located at 1 East 8th Street at 5th Avenue. There is NO LATE SEATING for Fringe NYC shows.)