Cover photo by Paula Barish


Robert Chesley

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In JERKER, alternatively titled “The Helping Hand, A Pornographic Elegy with Redeeming Social Value and A Hymn to the Queer Men of San Francisco in Twenty Telephone Calls, Many of them Dirty,” J.R. and Bert’s anonymous telephone-sex relationship continues to evolve into something deeper until Bert’s health begins to fail.

Production Info

Cast: 2 total (2 male)
Full Length Drama (about 70 minutes)
Single Set
Contemporary Costumes

Press Quotes

“… although Robert Chesley’s JERKER does indeed center around two naked men whacking off while exchanging fantasies on the phone (well, to tell the truth only one bares all), it is finally a funny, thoughtful, tender story that emerges … the most wonderful thing about JERKER is its sense of humor. Some performance artists have been known to do appalling things to their genitalia for no apparent artistic reason, but this playwright is not out simply to shock. And because Chesley peppers his scenes with gentle wit and good-natured joking, he eases our potential embarrassment at the play’s action.” —Diana Spinrad, Chicago Reader

“These strange, wonderful, heartbreaking plays go beyond magic realism into something very deep and primal. No matter where he began, in fairy tale or phone sex, Robert Chesley always took his audience someplace new. He could shift from the silly to the dangerous to the tender in the blink of an eye. His plays are not period pieces, but startling glimpses of a recent past that tell us things we badly need to know about our present and future.” —Christopher Bram

“Without question, Robert Chesley is the most incisive gay playwright at work in America today.” —Mark Thompson, The Advocate

“Robert Chesley wrote gut-wrenching plays.” —Linda Winer, Newsday

About the Author


  • Robert Chesley

    Playwright, Composer, Author, Activist. B.A. in Music, Reed College, Portland, Oregon. Robert Chesley is best remembered as a playwright, though he was also an author, critic, and composer. He was born in Jersey City, New Jersey, and taught in private schools in upstate New York for nearly ten years before settling in New York City in 1976. He relocated to San Francisco in the early 1980s where he became a part of the gay theater scene. Chesley composed during the ten-year period 1965 to 1975 and his compositions were almost exclusively for voice. Between 1966 and 1970 he composed 53 songs, mostly to texts by American poets including Emily Dickinson, Willa Cather, and James Agee, and including sixteen settings of the British poet Walter de la Mare. There are also several choral works from the 1970s, with texts by Gertrude Stein and Walt Whitman among others. His few instrumental works include the score to a 1972 film by Erich Kollmar, the "Sonata for Guitar and Harpsichord" (1974), and the "Little Concerto for Two Flutes and String Orchestra" (1968), which was revived in 1991 in a Benson Series concert of Downtown Music Productions, conducted by Mimi Stern-Wolfe. The transformation of Robert Chesley, composer, to Robert Chesley, playwright, roughly coincided with his move to San Francisco. In 1984 the city's Theatre Rhinoceros produced his first one act, HELL, I LOVE YOU and in 1984 Chesley's NIGHT SWEAT became the first produced full-length play to deal with AIDS. In all, Chesley wrote ten full-length and twenty-one one-act plays. Several works were premiered posthumously, and all of his major plays have been published. Robert Chesley died of AIDS in San Francisco at the age of 47 on December 5, 1990.

About the Book

Book Information

Publisher BPPI
Publication Date 10/1/2005
Pages 120
ISBN 9780881452679

Special Notes

Special Notes

Licensees are required to include the original stage producers credits in the following form on the title page in all programs distributed in connection with performances of the Play and in all advertising in which the full cast appears in size of type not less than ten percent (10%) of the size of the title of the Play:
The following must appear within all programs distributed in connection with performances of the Play:
Jerker is produced
by special arrangement with Broadway Play Publishing Inc, NYC


Upcoming and Recent Productions


3/8/2024 – 3/9/2024
The Aids Plays Project
London, United Kingdom

11/24/2023 – 12/9/2023
Theatre Cercle Moliere
Winnipeg, MB, Canada

8/1/2022 – 9/1/2022
The Provincetown Theater
Provincetown, MA

10/30/2019 – 11/23/2019
KH Theatre Productions Limited
London, United Kingdom

3/21/2017 – 3/21/2017
LGBT Community Center
New York, NY


2/14/2023 – 2/15/2023
Triangle Productions!
Portland, OR

5/30/2021 – 6/1/2021
Out Front Theatre Company
Atlanta, GA

4/30/2021 – 5/2/2021
Out Front Theatre Company
Atlanta, GA

1/8/2021 – 2/13/2021
The Foundry
Wilton Manors, FL

5/20/2017 – 6/17/2017
Pride Films And Plays
Chicago, IL