If you met Tom DeTrinis at a party (remember parties?), you might find him perfectly agreeable, even fun. The truth, though, is that he wants to punch you in the face.
“And consequently,” he says in “Making Friends,” his furious new solo show for IAMA Theater Company in Los Angeles, “I want to punch me in the face for wanting to punch you in the face, because I’m supposed to love and accept other people. That’s what it’s about, right?”
The deliberate irony here is that as an anxious, emotional, high-drama child — the only gay member of what he calls a large, “Jesus-addicted family” on “hypermasculine Long Island” — love and acceptance were what he craved most.
Thus, apparently, his aggressive, enduring, undiluted anger. It saturates this bitter, navel-gazing, hourlong comedy, whose grab bag of grievances (notably, an outsize hatred of New York) is blithely untouched by the world’s current parlous state.
In any normal year, “Making Friends” would be an unremarkable programming choice, especially over the holidays, when so many people feel alienated from their families. But in this overwhelmingly disastrous year, it’s a perplexing piece for a company to stream.
Filmed live in an empty theater at the Pico Playhouse in Los Angeles, this is the kind of show that needs the affirmation and community of an audience in the room, laughing and commiserating — a crowd like those that the director, Drew Droege, had for his hit solo show, the uproarious and emotionally piercing “Bright Colors and Bold Patterns.”
“Making Friends” is nowhere near as focused and clear as that meticulously constructed piece. Still, it’s hard not to wonder how much more effectively DeTrinis’s monologue might have found its form with the instant feedback and buoying energy of humans in those vacant playhouse seats, which he addresses — sometimes quite accusingly — as if they were filled.
Splenetic and spectatorless, albeit beautifully lit by Donny Jackson, DeTrinis comes across as self-obsessed. That’s not least because “Making Friends,” which he wrote, is as willfully oblivious of current events as if it had been pulled from a time capsule, not filmed under the protocols of a Covid-19 compliance officer.
Publicity materials suggest that the show is in tune with the moment because we are all so furious right now. But it is tone-deaf to rant, as DeTrinis does, about long lines at a Manhattan restaurant, now part of a gravely wounded industry, or the arrogance of New York bartenders, many of whom are lately unemployed. It is bizarre to carp about being 30-some years old and not working on Broadway, when (perhaps you’ve heard) no one is working on Broadway.
The show is at its most insightful when DeTrinis lets himself imagine the uncle he’s named after, who died as a toddler and who DeTrinis likes to think might have been gay. In one fantasy version of Uncle Tommy, he’s a Palm Springs-dwelling design maven who dotes on his nephew like a son.
If only, huh? Maybe, given that kind of loving acceptance, DeTrinis wouldn’t want to punch us in the face.
Streaming through Jan. 11; iamatheatre.com.