It takes a certain amount of gall and audacity to present a work that is entirely frivolous. Theatre practitioners are rarely able to look at their work as purely entertainment, while having no concern for conventions and audience expectations. Cole Escola and Jeffery Self’s Desperate Houseboys is creative, original, irreverent and wild. It is Generation Y post-modernism, attacking the notion of comedy with constant references to popular, theatre and gay culture, with the aide of theatrical structures that shift throughout the hour. It is like John Waters, only a lot younger.
Cole Escola and Jeffery Self do not seem to take themselves seriously. There are no discernible politics, and no obvious ambition to their work, but their supreme confidence in their niche is rare and admirable. Their undeniable talent is thoroughly utilised in this production, but it is within their comfort zones that the action takes place. It is high camp and highly amusing, without a need to try being too clever. Maybe because these young men are already extremely clever.
Their performance is energetic, with a manic silliness that characterises their persona and show. Like all great comic duos, the chemistry that exists between Escola and Self is bewilderingly powerful. Escola is more animated of the two, but Self is hardly the Dean Martin in this relationship. Both are outlandish and ridiculous, and it is this meeting of likeness that creates their success. It can be argued that their work requires these same qualities from its audience. This is a show about inside jokes, not necessarily with its themes, but in tone. Desperate Houseboys appeals to a specific sense of humour, one which is neither mainstream nor common. This would then mean that what Escola and Self have here is pure comedy gold for the right audience, but for others, quite possibly the opposite.
Presented as part of the Mardi Gras festival, the question remains whether Escola and Self are too offbeat for the target audience. With LGBT liberation in Sydney entering its fifth decade, and so many advances made in our sociopolitical lives, has the “gay community” become something too mainstream for this brand of madness? Have the Sydney gays gone too straight for a show about lube closets and overgrown twinks?