We've had so much talk about gay marriage recently, it's easy to forget that for some people the closet still remains firmly closed. One of the key issues men in particular face is the gap between sexual attraction and sexual identity. The same-sex act is one thing, being identified as gay is quite another. This disconnect between thought and action is at the centre of Red Stitch's new play Straight, if not perhaps at its heart.
Married couple Lewis (Ryan Gibson) and Morgan (Rosie Lockhart) are living a content if cramped existence in a flat in London, thinking of starting a family, when Waldorf (Ben Prendergast) makes a glory hole out of their mail-slot and enters their lives, penis first. It could be tacky as hell, but a few minutes into meeting him, Waldorf's brazen and inappropriate behaviour seems to suit him, and the audience is rather pleased when he and Lewis break down Morgan's resistance and he is allowed to stay.
Of course, it's not long before Waldorf is making himself at home and inviting in the stoned and sexually charged Steph (Christina ONeill). It's Steph who alerts Lewis to his own sexual discontent, and plants the seed which will grow into a dare. Lewis and Waldorf should make a porno together, just to prove they can.
DC Moore's play spends way too long on the set up and virtually none on the fallout, so opportunities to explore issues of queerness and polygamy are few and far between. It almost feels like a throwback to simpler times, when the idea of two straight mates having sex could be regarded as a novelty. It's never offensive or crass though, even if the dare stretches credulity somewhat. And the deed itself seems to take forever to eventuate. At one point I felt myself wishing they'd just get drunk and do it already.
But the holes in the script are mitigated largely by the buoyancy of the production. Dean Bryant makes the right call in emphasising the authentic over the broad, and the breezy charm of the cast easily papers over the unlikely nature of the plot. The girls are great. Lockhart makes a terrific proxy for the audience and really comes into her own in the final scene. O'Neill is unrecognisable from her recent incarnation as Dot in the Victorian Opera production of Sunday in the Park with George. Her hippy-dippy stoner is a blast.
But the play really belongs to the men, and they're both strong. Gibson navigates the comedy without ever sacrificing the truth of Lewis's dilemma, and Prendergast is effortlessly charismatic and seductive as Waldorf. Their scenes together crackle with tensions sexual and emotional, and the sense of long established codes of behaviour gives the piece a grounding in reality.
Straight feels like an odd choice for Red Stitch. It's funny and touching, but not particularly rigourous intellectually, intent on skimming where it could have plumbed. The cast and director give it considerable pep, but it feels at times that the entire history of queer theory has been bypassed for the sake of some gentle laughs at the expense of the sexually confused. It's a testament to this company's skill that we are so entertained.