I’m tempted to just send you all to Kevin Jackson’s Theatre Diary and read his review of this play because I doubt I can say it any better.
But that’s cheating so let me break it down for you.
The success of theatre is often reliant on a number of variables coming together to create a piece of magic for the audience. There’s the writing. Actors are often at the mercy of the script. If you’ve got great material, quite a bit of the work is done for you. Then add the director and the vision that he or she will bring to the text (sometimes even reinventing the text altogether ala Stone and crew). Then that vision is hopefully communicated in the acting, design, and technical and that all of that is played out in the right stage. Maybe a dramaturg helps. Maybe the audience is exactly the right demographic for the show or ‘imbibed’ (Cameron Woodhead- that’s for you) enough alcohol to be open to everything but not so drunk to think the show is interactive. Maybe the issues of the show resonate, maybe the planets align.
All I can say about ‘The Paris Letter’ is that none of things happened in this show.
You know I’m loathed to hit the little guy hard but gee, what were they thinking in the creative decisions of this show?
Let’s start with the script. Jon Robin Baitz’ play about two central characters, one flamboyantly gay man, Anton, and his once lover and now repressed friend Sandy and their journey from the 1960’s to the early 21st century, sounds like it would be a winner for the Mardi Gras season and certainly the full house of men in the audience members suggested that on paper, they made a good choice. Really?
I tell you the best part for me was that I didn’t have to queue for the ladies (I was one of the 4 women in the whole audience). Apart from that, this play had few redeeming features. For a play written in 2004, it felt dated. A gay man, who is living in New York in 2002, with a gay step-son, gay friends and gay acquaintances, with a personal fortune of millions who feels repressed? Hmmm. Bad enough that it started with the aimless wandering of one character who only stopped to snort cocaine from the kitchen table before he shot himself and then finished with Anton grinding sleeping tablets into Sandy’s whisky and killing him. You don’t often get such melodramatic bookending. And that’s just the first and last 5 minutes, not to mention the 2 hours between.
Director Stephen Coyler must have felt he was directing for the Theatre Royal. In 1890. That might explain the melodrama or the musical theatre expressions, mugging constantly for the audience. This was best encapsulated in the performance of Peter Cousens as Anton. In costume, expression, mincing gay vocals- it was Are You Being Served, Mr Humphries for the stage. Nicholas Papademetriou’s portrayal of Sandy lacked belief or conviction. At least his psychiatrist character channelled some talent. And Susie Lindeman’s Betty Boop portrayal of Katie was the nail in the coffin.
Best performer in an otherwise problematic show was Caleb Alloway as young Sandy. It’s ironic in the program notes that he states he’s going off to do more acting study at The Actors Centre. Note to Mr Alloway- you may the only one in the cast who probably doesn’t need to.
Yes, it’s harsh. But I do want to make the point that all voices have a place in the theatre. It is not that this is a ‘gay’ play that makes it a problem. It is a poorly written and executed play that make it a problem. Can’t we give our gay community and other audience members who want to support a diversity of voices something more intelligent and layered than this? Angels in America anyone?
And as Kevin Jackson stated, let’s also give it better luggage when travelling to France, darling. That may have been the biggest travesty of all.