Gaybies – The kids are alright at The Eterntiy Playhouse. (Theatre Review)
6 Feb to 8 March at Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)
Photo credits: Helen White
One of my favourite pieces of nostalgia is Reality Bites, mostly for the single moment when Janeane Garofalo stares into the camera and says with all the wreck and woe of early twenties angst “Yeah. My parents are divorced.” Divorce in the early 90’s, it seems, was the explanation for the breakdown in connectedness for the long-suffering tragic genXers, that grunge-infused, misery-laden generation into which I was born. Just twenty all-too-short years later, my own parents (dramatically lamented) divorce is occurring as a blessing as each have brought their other partners into my life, divorced them in their turn, and given me the confidence to escape my own marriage that seemed like such an awesome idea when I was twenty-one and not so cool when I turned thirty. I think to myself now, if the fight for gay marriage has given me (as a middle class white straight girl) one great gift, is a new context from which to appreciate the benefits of being married – often unashamedly because of its political, practical and social implications – baggage I felt I was trying to escape when I divorced.
These are the sorts of musings Dean Bryant has solicited from children of gay parents, from (according to the notes) my generation forward, the children that we assume suffer the same tragic miseries that in my day was exclusively for the children of divorced parents. They’re called “Gaybies” the kids of these folk, and giving them a voice to speak for themselves is the perfect antidote to the claims made inevitably by those without this information, that children will suffer (or worse – “turn” gay) if they have homosexual parents. Predictably, the children of these parents are well-adjusted folk working their way through life in their own way, which is precisely the same as the kids from hetro-parented families. In fact, it’s one of the rather down side of Gaybies, that all this fighting for same-sex marriage rights has resulted in… a normalcy that screams more of the same. A telling moment in the play occurs when Zindzi Okenyo delicately portrays a young woman who claims marriage is an antiquated system designed to trap women, so she isn’t too sad that her radical gay parents can’t marry. It brought me back to the point of marriage, and the beat pulsing at the heart of Gaybies; marriage really is about insurance matters, property rights, shared burial plots and the enforcing of wills as they are written. No more and no less.
It will be a great day (and that day is dawning around us) when we can attend GBLT theatre without needing to consort with and address the concerns of the straight folk in the room, and this is where the charm and engaging performances of Gaybies assist with its heteronormative subject matter. “Gay” doesn’t mean “Bringing straight people around” and it’s the shows that deal with specifically GLBT issues that one hungers for at mardi-gras theatre time, rather than treatment of politically incorrect straight attitudes. However, it can’t be ignored that to be gay today means being forced to deal with heteronormative attitudes, so Gaybies knocks my criticism to the side with its cuteness, its light-hearted engaged audience connection and its cheery forward motion. It’s certainly very funny, and something we don’t think about very much in theatre, spectacularly edited. Bryant might not have written these transcripted lines, but his chopping and maneuvering make for a surprisingly deep connection with voices and opinions of people he is appropriating – an editing achievement and a half. The version currently showing at the Darlinghurst Theatre include his direction and there is no doubt he solicits great performances from his cast.
And if there is a reason to see Gaybies, its the cast. Perched on a fabulous remade 1960’s school auditorium stage (Owen Phillips is production designer) the cast of seven bring several characters to life each, some with siblings, some without, of various ages, socio-economic groups and sexual orientation. The large and imposing Darlinghurst Theatre is transformed into a casual relaxed setting that manages to achieve intimacy, allowing the cast’s often subtle nuances to hit their mark with precision. I’m thinking here of Olivia Rose’s forced smile on the face of the young woman trying to understand why her gay mother had to abandon her, even as she makes sense of parenting herself. This along with Rhys Keir’s seven year old boy giving us the “makes you think” gesture with affected wisdom on his face and Georgia Scotts huffy sixteen year old relating her experience writing about her parents for Dolly Magazine, bring us close to the hilarity that ensues when children, teens and even young adults are given an opportunity to speak self importantly about their favourite subject.
One of the successful highlights of the show is the transformation of the cast into a kindergarten performance, where each relate the direct words of tiny tots sharing about their gay parents. The cast deliver what could easily be yack performances so convincingly you begin to imagine the stage is filled with little kids, striking a note of disappointment when the young-un’s performance is over. Another highlight is the low socio-economic convictions of siblings played by Sheridan Harbridge and Steve Le Marquand whose convincing imitative accents combined with their idiosyncratic jargon as they preach about the happy relationship of their two female parents gives the audience many warm-hearted smiles, not to mention a overwhleming desire to hug them after the show. The same feeling occurs when Olivia Rose naturally and easily refers to Cooper George Amai as her sister, and he reiterates how wonderful its been that his parents were happy to have two girls.
If Gaybies gives us afeeling of warmth, it also leaves us with the question of how ‘normal’ we need all these relationships to be become. But that is the purpose of wonderful nights like this, to discuss deep into the night after, for as long as the “issue” remains current.