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'Himbos': Pittsburgh-based playwright's latest work dishes up restaurant comedy

Playwright and cast of Himbos play
New Hazlett Theater
Playwright Brian Pope (center, in boa) poses with the cast of "Himbos."

Blatant sex appeal is a time-tested tactic in the restaurant industry. Usually it’s women whose looks are exploited. But in his new comedy, Pittsburgh-based playwright Brian Pope imagines a bar-restaurant called Himbos where it’s the male waitstaff who are scantily clad and apt to be ogled.

Pope’s ensemble comedy, too, is called “Himbos.” It premieres with three shows Thu., Oct. 26, and Fri., Oct. 27, kicking off the 11th season of the New Hazlett Theater’s Community Supported Art program for new performance works.

Pope was inspired in part by Hooters, the nationwide, 40-year-old restaurant chain where buxom female waitstaff wear tight tank tops and gym shorts, but more immediately by Boxers, a New York City-based chain of sports bars featuring buff, shirtless male bartenders.

Pope has heard of such establishments elsewhere, including the now-defunct Tallywackers, in Dallas. But he was especially impressed by Boxers, which he visited earlier this year. It calls itself “America’s Gay Sports Bar.”

“Everyone should go,” said Pope. “It was hilarious and fun.”

He was also — somewhat unexpectedly, he said — inspired by a vacation visit to the Magic Mike Live Las Vegas male revue.

“Me as a queer man — we were played to and acknowledged in this space as people who were enjoying it. It was not like a weird thing,” he said. “Just to see that sexualized space can also be fun and light and have consent as a value was really exciting. I was like, ‘OK … I can write a play about this, too.”

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Pope’s fictional Himbos, located in “a blue city in a red state,” has a female owner, named Cheyenne (herself a former Hooters girl). But all five other main characters are male, including the confident, thirtysomething bartender Mateo; twentysomething host Beau; and Sean, the restaurant’s new chef. A love triangle between the three ensues. There’s also partying, and an audience-participation game of “Himbo Says.”

“Himbo,” of course, is a decades-old play on “bimbo,” a generations-old slang term, traditionally considered sexist, for an attractive but unintelligent woman. But Pope sees himbos in a positive light.

“Sort of the idea of a himbo is you see one thing, a sort of big strong person, and you think they’re dumb, you think they don’t have a lot to offer,” he said. “But a himbo is someone who is emotionally available and kind and sweet and sort of the total package and my goal with these characters is to portray them as fully fledged people.”

Pope is a University of Pittsburgh graduate who for the past five years served as casting and literary director at Pittsburgh Public Theater. Fresh out of college, he also worked in the service industry, making sandwiches at a Quiznos on South Craig Street, in Oakland.

In real life, restaurant workers are often underpaid and treated shabbily by customers. Pope sees “Himbos” as a celebration of the work communities that form in such places.

“You have these experiences that only you and your coworkers have context for and can understand,” he said. “And it’s a very interesting bond that I think was ripe to be dramatized.”

“Himbos” is directed by Shannon Knapp and stars Dylan Meyers, Victor Aponte, Gayle Pazerski, Zachariah Washington, Tyler Ray Kendrick and José Perez IV.

More information is here.

Bill is a long-time Pittsburgh-based journalist specializing in the arts and the environment. Previous to working at WESA, he spent 21 years at the weekly Pittsburgh City Paper, the last 14 as Arts & Entertainment editor. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and in 30-plus years as a journalist has freelanced for publications including In Pittsburgh, The Nation, E: The Environmental Magazine, American Theatre, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bill has earned numerous Golden Quill awards from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. He lives in the neighborhood of Manchester, and he once milked a goat. Email: