Actor and playwright Harvey Fierstein’s own creative efforts to come to terms with the AIDS crisis in 1980s New York is revived by director Jacob Trenerry at the Network Theatre for the VAULTS Festival.
The short, dialogue-driven piece sees two gay men, Ghee (Sam Neal) and Mead (George White) try desperately to negotiate and navigate their own fraught love life in the wake of the AIDS epidemic, and the ensuing widespread gay panic. Trenerry, along with Assistant Director Joanna Coulton, insists upon an intense, unapologetically queer experience, much to the work’s benefit. There is undeniable power and atmosphere here, ably assisted by the lighting and sound team of Paul Evans and Chris Olsen, together with the clever set design – resembling a see-saw, and reflecting, as it does, the precarious social balancing act required of gay people situated in that place and time in the movement’s history.
With Kathryn Stevens' voice coaching, both leads put on passable, if somewhat uneven, Brooklyn accents, and perform in their roles very well. Sam Neal in particular bears the brunt of the writing, and carries it off expertly, proving lively, funny, and emotive, as well as capable of rousing genuine shock and awe in dramatic moments. There is enjoyable and clever visual playfulness from the directors, too, with both men clearly coming from vastly different socio-economic backgrounds; the interplay of sex and vice – one dirtily smoking, the other classily drinking – visually intertwining and equating gay sex with vice unto itself, reinforcing that socio-political urgency in the text and evoking sympathy with an audience made to realise that these prejudices are being socially manufactured for political expediency in much the same way as any play is staged.
Fierstein’s writing itself is also a highlight of the production. Full of wit, honesty, and truthfulness, with a keen edge of political radicalism and deeply-felt human sympathy to it, one initially might be reminded of the nihilism and despair of a signature Beckett play, if only this play had not forgotten its warmth and levity, so that, despite everything, there remain reasons to smile, and to hope. Surely something to take no small amount of gay pride in.
It runs until 15 March
Review: Christopher O'Dea-Giordano