Subscribe to stay up to date with the latest in Provincetown!
Subscribe to ptownie

    Revisiting Groundbreaking Theatre: Jerker

    August 15, 2022

    It’s a story far too familiar to a Provincetown audience: casual intimacy and death by plague. But Robert Chesley’s Jerker manages to explain and defy both in ways that aren’t immediately obvious—and ultimately quite poignant.

    The story is simple: JR (Provincetown Theater veteran Joe MacDougall) is calling Bert (Stephen Walker) in the night for aural sex. And one might be forgiven for believing the first half of the play is purely pornographic—the two actors leave little to the imagination, even though most of the time they’re under the covers of the two beds that constitute the entire mise en scène. But even as they continue their mental exploration of each other’s body, they are going deeper and deeper into each other’s psyche as well, sometimes willingly, sometimes apparently to their own surprise.

    The ending is as predictable as it gets; and perhaps that’s the point of this production. Written in 1985 for a very different audience, during a time when gay men and their sexual habits were still being blamed for the AIDS epidemic, in 2022 it resonates with a sadness that possibly transcends the anger of the experience.

    It’s interesting that Chesley felt he had to give the play a “significant” title (Jerker, or The Helping Hand: A Pornographic Elegy with Redeeming Social Value and a Hymn to the Queer Men of San Francisco in Twenty Telephone Calls, Many of Them Dirty), and equally interesting that director David Drake chose not to lean on it. It’s not a comfortable title, but neither is it a comfortable play; there are parts of the exchanges that are awkward for certain audience members (obviously, women in particular), but truly superb acting on both the part of Walker and especially MacDougall imbue their scenes with such strong personal dynamics it’s impossible for anyone to not feel empathy for their characters.

    JR, broken in so many ways—he’s a disabled Vietnam veteran with PTSD—becomes strong through the myriad gifts he gives to Bert, while Bert, gleeful at the ambiance of the Castro yet slightly defensive about its mores, discovers friendship and connection in JR. One wonders how their story might have gone in other directions had the epidemic not put paid to it… as it did to so many similar stories.

    Perhaps surprisingly, this is the New England première of a play approaching its forty-year mark that takes its place with other works about the AIDS epidemic previously staged at the Provincetown Theater as Drake continues his vision for presenting locally and historically meaningful works here in the birthplace of America’s theatre.


    images: Bob Tucker, Focalpoint

    More Recent Provincetown News

    Art We Love – More than Meets the Eye
    September 9, 2022
    Art We Love – More than Meets the Eye
    The first impression a piece of art makes when you walk into a gallery can be thrilling.  But sometimes what’s even more exciting is discovering that what you see up close is not at all what you thought you saw from afar. All of the pieces here had that...
    The Lemonade Girl
    April 21, 2022
    For more years than many of us can remember, summers in Provincetown weren’t complete without the sight of a little girl walking up and down Commercial Street, calling out in a lovely singsong voice, “Lemonade! Fifty cents! Lemonade!” That little girl...
    Art We Love – Lightning Strike
    February 20, 2023
    One of the great bonuses of being an artist is the ability to meet and interact with other artists. In these moments, the work they produce becomes more than an artifact, it becomes an extension of the times we’ve had together, the conversations, the laughs...
    Real Estate Update January 2023
    January 25, 2023
    ptownie Real Estate January 2023
    2022 in Review This month the full data for 2022 is available and it is only a pretty picture if you are selling a property on the Outer Cape. See the below for the full YOY statistics, but here is the summary. Inventory is way down, prices are up, and the...
    Winter in Provincetown for Dining
    December 28, 2022
    Guide to Winter Dining in Provincetown! We are always asked “What’s Open for Food in the Winter?”  Well here you are! 1620 Brewhouse 214 Commercial Street (508) 413-9687 Tue&Thu-Sun 12pm-9pm Where everyone is welcome to come, grab a...