Straight – Bromance as a path to orientation exploration. (Theatre review)
Brilliant Adventures in conjunction with bAKEHOUSE Theatre Company
Kings Cross hotel theatre June 16 – July 2
One of the great joys of theatre is the immediacy of the ephemeral. Theatre is a transitory notion, an event at which the audience is never passive. We see films we hear music we read books, but we experience theatre. To be in a small space, with other humans acting out a role, is an invitation to act yourself. We use the inner critic as a defence, but there is no escape and we are forced into a marvellous confrontation with an alternative reality played out, not via desire but through behaviour. Film forces passivity, distance, voyeurism. Small theatre offers no such luxuries from the exquisite trauma of the imposing real, instead becoming an overwhelming appeal to the individuals right to live through an hour of another existence. In this way, theatre doesn’t just tell a story, it invites you to live a story. Theatre teaches you how to act alternatively – if you feel so compelled. It is a raw appeal to your freedom, a great reveal of alternatives accompanied by the behaviours that call that alternative into being.
It is this idea of how to act that comes to the fore in Straight. Straight is a direct appeal to the freedom of the enslaved male, trapped in a world dominated by machismo. Straight questions the etymology of the bromance and uses macho attitudes against it. In effect, by goading each other into a competition about experience and authenticity, Lewis (Simon London) and Waldorf (Sean Hawkins) find themselves in a hotel room living out the sublimated real of machismo. Is this a Freudian moment of desire overtaking the real, or are the two best friends just pushing each other too far? But far more interesting than the sexual orientation of Lewis and Waldorf is the carefully laid steps set out by D.C. Moore that allow for a journey from “straight” to exploring the boundaries of that label. Not that theatre should be a didactics, but rather an appeal to freedom, offering a pathway to an alternative. This Strait does with without a hint of facile derision. Straight does more than make fun of machismo and masculine homo-erotic bravado – it celebrates it as a pathway to self-discovery. What we end up with is a theatrical present informed by what we know of history and or the sciences taking them all into account.
Surely this feat is worth the price of a ticket alone, but true to the wonderful space created by bAKEHOUSE Theatre Company here supported by Brilliant Adventures there is more to the production than this one event. Shane Bosher keeps the cast on stage floor the bulk of the production, staring at the behaviours of the character they hope to impact. This has the effect of god watching, but equally gives the audience permission to be critical and judgmental voyeurs themselves, making the events on the stage seem all the more crucial and personal. Off stage characters make their presence felt as the audience does. It’s as if Bosher is adhering to Plato’s demand that theatre be kept under surveillance, that its power over the individual is a thing about which we need to be suspicious. This feeling of surveillance is further enhanced by Ben Brockman’s powerful lighting that manages to both expose and contain everything in the play. Straight exudes great power when it calls forth the homo-eroticism of the bromance and draws it further forward into a how to guide for men to live out. But this direct confrontation with the subject serves as its own scrutiny. As we watch Straight being played out before us, it becomes as unnecessary to play these events out in the real as it is necessary to live them, as we have a strong sense of having lived through them already.
All of this is tied together nicely with the great performances Shane Bosher draws from his talented cast. The language (mostly derived from the film Humpday) is immediate and fun and it is obvious the cast are enjoying their roles as they relax into the pacey momentum of the play. Danielle Cormack and Madeline Jones play the two women from either ends of the sexual spectrum (one wearing her potent sexuality on the outside, the other reserving it for privacy) and but the night belongs to the men. Simon London is well constrained as the upwardly mobile Lewis while Sean Hawkins shines as the boisterous all-talk Waldorf. Scenes of the two men alone in a hotel room are hysterical and despite awkwardness, each actor brings his best to make the narrative entirely convincing.
Straight is a fun play with a complex and exciting centre. It’s the kind of play one wishes could be mandatory viewing for footballers at the start of each season. Surprising and insightful, it’s one for the men in your life. Don’t forget to go out for well earned beers after.