Metro Weekly

“I Wanna Fucking Tear You Apart” at Studio Theatre (review): Accerbically funny and potent

Writer-director Morgan Gould cuts deep with this edgy, funny, foul-mouthed tale of friendship.

Morgan Gould’s acerbically funny I Wanna Fucking Tear You Apart (starstarstar) lays down its lessons in empathy with a decidedly more emo effect. Gould wrote and also directs the Studio Theatre world-premiere production, which packs a potent message of compassion into a story about a year in the life of two best friends.

Sam (Nicole Spiezio) and Leo (Tommy Heleringer) — a.k.a. Team FatGay — are two writers, just turning thirty and sharing a two-bedroom apartment way, way uptown in Manhattan. Friends since their freshman year in college, they’ve supported each other through break-ups and poverty, surviving a tough city, stagnant careers and layer upon layer of self-doubt by leaning on their shared sense of struggle and sharp-edged humor. It sounds a lot like Will and Grace, yet it plays a bit more like Jack and Grace: an adorably self-involved gay man and a talented but self-destructively insecure straight woman who love and care for and undermine each other with almost pathological fierceness.

The scene is established with lounge-y lighting and thumping music lending a warm, festive gay bar atmosphere. The party kicks off with a Little Monster red carpet fantasy set to the foreboding groove of “Tear You Apart” by She Wants Revenge. It’s a darkly sexy intro for Sam and Leo, and a strong suggestion of the sensibility and complicity they share as friends. Throughout, Spiezio and Heleringer joke, spar, lament and dance with a natural rapport that sells Sam and Leo’s lived-in friendship, and stakes all our emotional investment in their mutual well-being.

Sam, a big girl who owns her size and expresses her mind and sexuality freely, registers as the character more in control here. In a difficult role, Spiezio navigates Sam’s confusing emotional turns in a year that sees her find some success as a writer at exactly the moment she feels her friendship with Leo is most threatened. Heleringer’s Leo carries much of the comedy, getting off quite a few zingers with a well-honed delivery that would be right at home on a sitcom. And, whether shuffling around their apartment in his pa-joggers, or pretend dry-humping his roommate on the couch, Heleringer brings a physical abandon to the part that’s infectiously fun.

In fact, he and Spiezio both command set designer Luciana Stecconi’s appropriately sitcom apartment with such authority that the presence of any interloper is powerfully felt. As is the case when Leo brings home his “work-wife” Chloe (Anna O’Donoghue), a perfectly skinny blonde writer, whom Sam can’t help but regard with suspicion. The fact that Chloe — who perhaps is well-meaning, or maybe viciously undermining — can’t help condescending to a “fat” girl is the stake that stirs the pot. Much to Gould’s credit, when it all boils over, there are more than a few surprises to be had, thanks in large part to O’Donoghue’s on-target performance as the unwitting third in this friendship triangle.

Though witty and insightful, the text doesn’t feel as of-the-moment as the production, despite a few preciously current references (“OMG, Bey’s pregnant with twins!”). Sam’s insistence that Team FatGay began as the necessary and fruitful union of two freaks is meant to feel less than progressive; indeed it does feel distinctly pre-Gaga. There’s also a whiff of stale retro in the strange case of Sam’s boyfriend, Mike, whose supposedly crooked cock comes up a lot, although the African-American actor who appears briefly in the role oddly isn’t listed in the playbill or on the play’s website.

What does feel timely here is Gould’s bracing honesty in portraying the shadowy corners of friendship, while encouraging empathy for the sort of person who might be an ally, yet deliberately encourages or unintentionally reinforces all their best friend’s most destructive traits and habits.

I Wanna Fucking Tear You Apart runs until Feb. 19 at Studio Theatre, Stage 4, 1501 14th St. NW. Tickets are $20 to $50. Call 202-332-3300, or visit studiotheatre.org.

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André Hereford covers arts and entertainment for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at ahereford@metroweekly.com. Follow him on Twitter at @here4andre.

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