REVIEW: Immersive “Bleach” in Brooklyn
Dan Ireland-Reeves’ award-winning play “Bleach” is performed for an audience of ten or less in a drafty basement in Bushwick, Brooklyn—giving double meaning to its advertised status as an “underground hit”.
This immersive, site-specific solo show about a gay sex worker arrives in New York following performances across the United Kingdom, and in Paris, Stockholm, Amsterdam, and Dublin.
A stairwell on Wilson Avenue a short walk from the L train takes audience members down to a subterranean alleyway, past Hemp Lab NYC (ah, Brooklyn!), and into the tiny kitchen of a basement apartment.
After checking in, ticket holders are escorted into a bedroom with two couches and a couple chairs for seating, and a queen-sized bed where 24 year-old Tyler (Eamon Yates or Brendan George) is asleep—clanking pipes exposed above and a dirty-looking fish tank whirring in the corner.
The bedroom door closes, the lights cut to black, and the play begins as Tyler awakes, lit by the glow of his laptop, and begins telling his story, taking the audience through a day (or rather, some nights) in the life of a sex worker, and sharing tales of his regular johns and his upbringing and home life.
The narrative abruptly takes a pseudo-thriller turn following Tyler’s harrowing account of one paid sex encounter that goes too far (spoiler alert), appearing to leave another young sex worker dead. Bleach may clean the blood from Tyler’s white briefs, but it can’t clear his conscience or protect his fate.
Director Zack Carey makes good use of the intimate space, with some blunt, monochromatic light cues by stage manager Jake Lemmenes, but with an audience this small—eight people, including three other theatre journalists, were at my performance—most of the work falls to the actor playing Tyler. I saw Mr. George—lithe, charming, and mischievous—who did his best with the material.
Despite the chilling nature of the story being told, its telling is never quite so. While the experience of seeing “Bleach” is memorable, the play itself is too safe for its own good, softly shedding a smirking light on the reality of violence and danger facing sex workers without enough character development to invite meaningful investment.
For all his talk of moral quagmire, Tyler never seems all that conflicted about the potential murder he witnessed nor his line of work. Nonchalance in the latter case is fine. Sex work is work (the oldest profession), but murder is murder, and the play misses an opportunity to offer a more psychological look into what a person in Tyler’s position might truly think and feel.
That said, “Bleach” is one of the more unique, immersive theatrical experiences you are likely to have, and that alone makes it worth checking out.
Bottom Line: “Bleach” is an immersive, site-specific solo show about a gay sex worker that is performed for an audience of ten or less in a drafty basement in Bushwick, Brooklyn. The experience is memorable, but the play itself is too safe for its own good.