Twentieth Century Way
"The Twentieth Century Way," by Tom Jacobson is currently being presented in a dynamic production by Island City Stage and Empire Stage. The play is based on actual events that happened in 1914 in California which led to several arrests and the eventual illegalization of oral sex.
The plot concerns two out of work actors who hire themselves out to the Long Beach police department to entrap "social vagrants," or more specifically, homosexual men. Their efforts led to 31 men being arrested and the passing of the law against "acts technically known as fellatio and cunnilingus." During the late teens through the early ’30s, California became notorious for egregious invasions of privacy as means of upholding this law.
Expertly directed by Michael Leeds, "The Twentieth Century Way" features two actors playing a rapid change array of characters on a fairly simple set. Leeds’ direction, coupled with Nate Sykes’ lighting design and the talents of actors Michael Westrich and Clay Cartland keep the story moving and help draw the audience into 1914.
The two main characters of the play are, frankly, despicable men who proceed to lure, seduce and destroy other men for monetary gain. Westrich is especially effective in his roles and his main character, as one of the "actors," is the one that displays the most heart. The only jarring moment of his performance happened near the end of the show, when Westrich displayed a very period-inappropriate tattoo.
"The Twentieth Century Way" as a script is flawed. It contains several inaccurate historical details which, while minute, distracted from the story itself. The constant changing of characters, while beautifully handled by the actors, was often confusing. That being said, this production is overall very entertaining.
This is not a show for everyone. The production contains strong language, very sexual situations and nudity. The production also contains thought provoking drama that displays America’s pre-World War I attitudes on sex which can sometimes be shocking to our 21st century mentalities.