June 5, 2015

Some underemployed actors answer phones. Some babysit or bar-tend or teach English as a second language. And some entrap and arrest gay men on charges of “social vagrancy.” Tom Jacobson’s often absorbing “The Twentieth-Century Way,” directed by Michael Michetti at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, takes a Pirandellian approach to a forgotten bit of history. In 1914, the police department of Long Beach, Calif., hired two actors as “vice specialists.” Lurking in public restrooms and bathhouses, they enticed likely suspects into exposing their genitals, then arrested them. A hefty fine and jail time soon followed. At least one of the 31 men that they went after committed suicide. The police chief credited the pair with ridding the city of a “dangerous class which threatened the morals of the youth of the community.” Mr. Jacobson’s play, which arrives from Pasadena’s Theater @ Boston Court, does not begin in a station house or changing room. Instead it opens with two actors, Brown (Will Bradley) and Warren (Robert Mammana) waiting to audition for a part in a movie. To pass the time and to test their actorly prowess, Brown proposes that they improvise scenes based on the Long Beach vice raids.