Three. Two. One.
One show, two co-directors, three duets. In a ménage à trois of short, gay themed shows, two written by Neil LaBute, one by Louis C.K., Momentum Acting Studios offer a less than stellar evening of entertainment. In a lacklustre production that feels like three end-of-term student performances, two poorly realised, one being a delight, the problems pile up, with responsibility lying squarely with the shows directors.
Opening with Neil LaBute’s “The Possible” we find two women arguing because one has seduced the boyfriend of the other, supposedly to get him offside, just so she can be with his now upset girlfriend. It’s a flimsy story that pushes credibility, but one in which Labute’s visceral, yet subtle, use of language reveals darkened corners of the human psyche. Or at least it should. Both Cherley Kane’s unconvincing seductress, comfortable in her own flesh, and Sophie Campbell’s frigid, plain Jane, all repression and desire behind her librarian looking glasses, drown in the obvious clichés in a production that seems never quite sure if it’s a drama or a comedy. Language lands with little power, dialogue flounders and is often stilted, due to the apparent lack of a central vision for these actors to push against. When romance finally comes, it’s felt as too little too late, and makes a hard sell of what should have been a sublimely beautiful ending. But that ending doesn’t arrive, offering instead some cheap sentimentality in a production who’s chief saving grace is Sophie Campbell, who looks like a serious talent for the future.
In contrast, LaBute’s second offering, “Strange Fruit,” is a charming little piece built around two subtle and understated performances. Labute’s problematic tale of an older man and his younger lover looking to marry is reminiscent of “Torch Song Trilogy,” covering much of the same tragic ground. Padraic McGinley as the elder Tom, and Barry Mc Brien as the younger Jerry, bristle with a gentle chemistry. If, as in “The Possible,” pace and rhythm are all over the place, with actors frequently seeming to look busy just so they look busy, McGinley and Mc Brien weather this well. Once again, it seems as if the ending reaches for the sentimental, as if not quite convinced its brought it home. But even if the angel wings look naff, Mc Brien has already done enough, and McGinley is a subtle delight.
Rounding out this uneven trio is Louis C.K.’s thoughtful and comic “The Morning After,” in which a one night stand might well turn out not to have been with the person you thought. Here, Wayne Davis as Horace, a sort of Joey Tribbiani wannabe, nowhere near as sexually enlightened as he likes to think he is, or as sexually endowed, discovers that Rhonda, played with wonderful conviction by Laura Thompson, might have been a man in her recent past. This raises several issues, which Louis C.K.’s script delves into with directness and humour. Throughout, Davis relies a little too heavy on playing cool rather than character, against which Thompson’s more rounded performance excels. Once again, the poorly paced end doesn’t quite convince, opting again for the sentimental. Thankfully there’s enough laughs to make it worthwhile, with Thompson's performance being particularly noteworthy throughout.
With this production, co-directors Lisa Michael and Robbie Byrne prove that two heads are not always better than one. Poor pacing, obvious sentimentality, slackness in staging and delivery, throughout actors look as if they've been left to fend for themselves in a series of poorly realised Meisner exercises. This is not a young, new company starting out whose directors are looking to test their mettle. These appear to be experienced teachers, and Momentum Acting Studios looks like their business. If it is, business isn’t as good as it should have been, in an unconvincing production, with some serious talents, but one not achieving a festival standard. Alas, that’s simply not the case, despite some strong moments.
The Possible/Strange Fruit/The Morning After, produced by Momentum Acting Studios runs at The Players Theatre, TCD as part of the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival until May 6th
For more information, visit IDGTF