Go west, oung man
The road to happiness and security has been a rough one for gay men in the past decade. But British playwright Godfrey Hamilton kicked the dust of angst from his boots on a roundabout journey to LA, as David Harris found out.
With its rather blatant metaphors. the road movie has become a genre devoted to existential enquiry ~~ man constrained by soulless external reality. man revealed against tortuous yet uniform backdrop. man forced to confront his own heart of darkness through various encounters. etc. etc. It‘s worth remembering. however. that the most famous ‘Road‘ films of all were airy. romantic affairs seasoned with dry wit. sweet fantasy and a liberal dash of pathos.
Despite the grief and tragedy lurking beneath the surface of any drama with a gay theme in the 90s. Godfrey Hamilton recognises the need to accentuate the positive. and his latest play. Road Movie. continues his exploration ofgay identity with comedy. romance. lyricism and soul-searching in equal measure.
The play follows Joel on a trip across America in search of the Pacific. taking in wild parties and solitary self-reflections on past love. Acted by Mark Pinkosh. a former stand-up comedian and founder of Starving Artists Theatre Company. it features an array of weird and wonderful characters. all of whom have something to teach Joel in his quest.
As Hamilton points out. there are cliches to be avoided: ‘We’ve consciously avoided what's now
’ g, (y: 1’, Out in M: Mark Pinkosh in Road Movie become the formulaic performance art format. with a performer doing a series of virtuoso characterisations.‘ he says. ‘That can be very exciting and interesting. but I've always felt that the essence of a good play is conflict. and even though Mark is a solo performer. we‘ve constructed a play rather than a performance piece.‘
The plot and concerns of Road Movie mirror l-lamilton‘s own journey from London to California. After meeting l’inkosh in 1988 and conducting a
‘l’ve realised that after the anger and screaming there comes a point where you sit down and have a damned good laugh.’
transatlantic telephone relationship for several months. be packed in his job. packed up his bags. and headed for l-lonolulu. where the company was then based. As Pinkosli told him. ‘lf you‘re going to be a starving artist. why not be one under a palm tree in the sunshine!‘
They have now relocated to LA. whose gay community has shown how a disenfranchised culture can challenge the hegemony. serving as a beacon for
other alienated elements in society at large. ‘West Hollywood is pretty much a gay city.‘ says Hamilton. ‘with gay businesses. gay banking and a gay police force. That doesn‘t make it a ghetto. but a model for what can be.‘
Hamilton‘s journey has informed his new play in several ways. ‘Road Movie is about that kind of relationship.‘ he says. ‘where one person suddenly finds that he‘s met perhaps the missing part of himself and distance is no object. Joel is drawn from a lot of my own experience. He's met somebody who he‘s completely in love with. though he doesn‘t quite realise it at the time: he just knows he has to get in his car and go and be with this guy. But like all good journeys in all good stories. it‘s an inward one as well as an outward one.’
In his last few plays. Hamilton has dealt with loss and resilience in the face of AlDS and with violence and legislation aimed at the gay community. but feels that this does not limit their significance or their audience. ‘They‘re very good-humoured pieces. but any gay writer at the end of the millennium simply cannot avoid facing these issues. The audiences who came to see Sleeping With You were responding to the universal themes: it was a love story. and it dealt with grief. People who have experienced profound grief in their lives for all kinds of reasons were able to respond to the particular emotional journey ofthe characters. The fact that AIDS was the spark that fired that grief becomes. dare l say. irrelevant.‘
While Road Movie touches on similar issues. Hamilton says there has been a positive development in his work. ‘lt's got much more romantic and much funnier. because I've realised that after the anger and screaming there comes a point where you sit down and have a damned good laugh. It's a life-affirming sense of humour that I found was very elusive for a long time — l was very serious and angry about everything. There is a need for romance and humour and comedy. even in the face of some of the terrible things we're confronting.‘ As a result. he's revelling in both road movie traditions. poetically examining the human condition. but not forgetting the paramount importance of hope and l'amour.
Road Movie. Starving Artists. Tron T/teatre. Glasgow, Tue l—Sat 5 Aug; Traverse Theatre. Edinburgh. Tue 22 Aug—Sat 2 Sept.
High seas drifter
A swashbuckling Scot by the name of John Paul Jones is the subiect of the latest production by Scottish Youth Theatre. John Paul who? That’s precisely what co-authors Lara Jane Bunting and Stuart Thomas asked when they were approached by S.Y.T.’s artistic director Mary McCluskey to write the piece. ‘She explained a little bit about him and it triggered our interest,’ says Thomas. ‘He’s an amazing individual, someone who is really neglected.’
Sailing under the same flag: Stuart Thomas and
.l.\ . ‘
Lara Jane Bunting
For those who don’t know, Jones was born in Kirkcudbright in 1747, but it was as an American naval hero that he made his name. He scored victories over British ships in the American War of Independence, and later fought in the French and Russian navies. So why should he be considered a Scottish hero? ‘At that time, any kind of Scottish identity must have been a very confused one,’ says Thomas. ‘Even though he was a traitor, he had his own personal code of honour. He fought for what he thought was right.’
The production was conceived as a musical from the start, as Thomas, also musical director, explains. ‘Scotland lacks home-grown musicals, and the truly international setting of the story gave me the opportunity to explore a lot of different musical styles. It was always floated as a joint
commission,’ he continues. ‘Lara and l are friends and admire each other’s work. So often as a writer you’re just working on your own, so to get immediate feedback has been really good}
Cast and crew have spent five weeks putting the show together. ‘lt’s really intensive,’ says Thomas. ‘We’re with the kids twelve hours a day. But they’re really enthusiastic and soak it all in.’ John Paul Jones may be billed as a musical comedy, but it has an underlying message, as Thomas points out. ‘Jones was a flawed man, but he was also a national hero, and he should be remembered.’ (Siobhan Donneﬂy)
John Paul Jones, Scottish Youth Theare, old Athenaeum Theatre, Glasgow, Tue t—Fri 5 August.
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