Bison and Natural Born Hooker: Belvoir St Downstairs Theatre

'The Mardi Gras Double Bill' presents two pieces of theatre reflecting back onto the gay community in its most important month of the year.
Bison and Natural Born Hooker: Belvoir St Downstairs Theatre
The Mardi Gras Double Bill presents two pieces of theatre reflecting back onto the gay community in its most important month of the year. The first performance Bison attempts to tie a neat bow around gay themes and characters, in a search for a community that it fears may be long dead. I wished numerous elements of the performance to go further, to go beyond acknowledging the alienation many gay people experience and present ideas that could further our understanding and fuel our imaginations. The script is a grab bag of contemporary gay identities, flung together with the hope that their disparate stories will generate contrast and poignancy by some process of friction. Unfortunately, a cynic could conclude that the result feels like the playwright was simply hedging his bets with a predominantly gay audience. Ironically, the lack of cohesion and connection the script laments is similarly absent in the portrayal of its characters. Most of them walk the stage as if trapped inside their own monologues, harassed by disembodied voices masquerading as context. There’s the twink who is suddenly thrust into celebrity status with all of Oxford Street at his feet. The mild mannered retail worker that loves losing control on the weekend. The older man who is comfortable with his partner but can’t help looking for more and the depressed jilted lover who goes overseas to get over his ex. There is nothing wrong with this, but I was annoyed at the play’s inability to go further than stating the obvious. Although on the eve of Mardi Gras, perhaps it is enough to hear familiar names and places spoken on stage. Once upon a time this would have been a great relief, back when the love that dare not speak its name was painfully gagged (and not in a good way). The ability to hear our own stories told back to us is the lifeblood of identity and self-exploration. In this regard, Bison must be commended for presenting the stories of older gay men who seem to be as ignored by playwrights as they are by twinks at Stonewall. Despite these misgivings, there are moments where the individual performances move beyond the stereotypical characters and present the subtlety of real life. The projected image of a man in the midst of violent group sex bears down upon the audience and suddenly we understand the complex relationship in front of us between pleasure and pain and the incredibly individual connection between the body and the soul. In Natural Born Hooker we hear the story of Konrad Product, a roaming hooker, searching the great cities of America in an attempt to track down an elusive and intense past love. His journey leads him away from the abuse inflicted by his homophobic parents to learning go-go dancing in New York to turning tricks in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Any sense of glamour or romanticism of a lifestyle with no fixed address is inflected with horrific incidents where the irresistibility of sex and money conspire to destroy Konrad’s spirit. Whilst this horror inspired unease, it seldom produced pity for the unfortunate lead character. The unreality was heightened by the language of the text, and in performance the script required a sense of fragility to ensure that the character did not become as inaccessible and fantasy like as Madonna. As with any one person show, the demands placed upon the actor were huge. Although Daniel Scott’s performance was commendable, his energy and capacity to work the audience were seldom tempered by variations in his voice or contrast in the production values. The vulnerability of the character was seldom allowed to shine through the brassy exterior. During the Mardi Gras Festival, the GLBT community has an opportunity to see and hear their stories on the stages across Sydney. The questions asked in The Mardi Gras Double Bill are old ones and that’s fine, but the way they are being asked of the audience is not sophisticated enough to garner lasting significance. Bison and Natural Born Hooker Belvoir St Downstairs Theatre Focus Theatre's Mardi Gras 09 belvoir.com.au 18 Feb - 15 March

Tim Spencer

Wednesday 25 February, 2009

About the author

Tim Spencer is a Sydney based actor and writer. www.timspencer.com.au @timothy_spencer