‘Straight’ was vanilla.
In alignment with the final night of Brisbane Pride, Nash Theatre presented Scott Elmegreen and Drew Fornarola’s intriguing play ‘Straight’ at the Uniting Church in New Farm.
True to the title of the show, the script explores sexuality, and in Nash Theatre’s rendition, this concept was neither adventurous nor eccentric. It was, however, comfortable and tasty, words often associated with vanilla. While one might expect a play about sexual orientation to be a bit crude and naughty, the production kept themes tame, opting for realism and sincere characters over flamboyancy and stereotyping.
‘Straight’ gives viewers a glimpse into the life of a young man, soon be engaged to a woman, but partaking in an affair with a male university student he met on a dating app. Recently presented Off-Broadway, the play is often described as ‘provocative’, however, this was not the case with Nash Theatre’s production.
While a stagnant set is a popular choice in modern theatre, to allow multiple interaction points, actors who remain still lack dynamics. Direction by Phil Carney included overuse of the living room couch, with two of the three actors spending an immensurable number of scenes seated and facing one another. While this added to the ‘homely’ styling of the play, it became repetitive and lack-lustre. Had the actors been directed to also move naturally within and around the space, a more energised performance could have been realised.
The set comprised of a basic table and chairs, which were on the underused left side of the stage, and a couch with side tables on the right. A 70s inspired colour palette was unintrusive, and a basic, unchanging light setup, did nothing to detract from the realism in the scenes. There were no risks taken in the technical components of this play, other than a mismatched soundtrack which made it difficult to place the show in a particular time period.
Adding to the confusion of the story’s setting were changes to the dialogue. Although written to be based in the United States, the director opted to adjust the script and place the narrative in an Australian context. At times this worked, particularly when political references were involved, however, some crucial plot points were made awkward. In particular, the character of Ben comments on Chris’ inability to buy alcohol due to his age, but then also clarifies that the character is over 18. In an American context, this makes sense, with a drinking age of 21, however, the audience was well aware that the same does not apply in Australia.
The piece starred Tyler Harris as Ben, Betsy Appelhof as Emily, and John Smith as Chris. Ben presented as ‘passing’, meaning his lack of feminine qualities explained why his soon to be fiancé did not suspect his bisexuality, and Harris did well to support this aspect of the character.
Clumsy but lovable Chris, portrayed by John Smith, provided most of the memorable one-liners and was the strongest performance of the group. With honest but witty comments about the social norms of the wider LGBT+ community, it is clear how the script could be utilised to provoke audiences. Steenson did his best to push the boundaries, but the lack of risk-taking throughout all other components in the show hindered his potential. He supported his role with believability and relatability.
At one point, audiences were amused by clumsy handling of pre-shaken alcoholic drinks that the cast managed to spill on the stage. As a testament to their professionalism, the actors were quick to cover the mishap, with choice reactions that sent the audience into fits of laughter. This, however, remained the most exciting moment of the show.
Nash Theatre’s ‘Straight’ was not a bad show, but it required a cohesive vision to deliver the intent of the script. It was honest and there were some beautiful scenes between the performers. However, the play provides so much more emotional provocation and can be much more than comfortable. Like the stakes in the play, it is intended not to be played safe. It is a play that can trigger audiences to reflect, to feel awkward, to question their politics and their sexuality. But this rendition didn’t venture into that territory, leaving the script feeling half-baked.
‘Straight’ performs at New Farm Nash Theatre until runs until Saturday, 19 October 2019. Tickets can be purchased at Nash Theatre’s Website.
Please Note: An Actor’s Name has been changed in this article at the request of the nameholder.