★★★ | The Gay Naked Play, Above The Stag

Dan (Alexander Hulme) is director of the Integrity Players, a small off off Broadway group of players dedicated to “great art”. The company also consists of his loving (and very pregnant) wife Amanda (Stacy Sobieski) and their friend and leading actor Harold (Lucas Livesey). They have lofty ambitions and a staunch refusal to compromise , but they have one problem. Tiny audiences. And when their sole and major backer, who just happens to be Amanda’s Machiavellian mother Imelda (Ellen Verenieks) withdraws her support, they have an even greater problem. No money. What are they going to do?

Enter Eddie Rossini (Christopher Woodley) and his two cronies, T.Scott (Robert Hannouch) and Edonis (Toby Joyce). Eddie proposes a trashy homoerotic stage version of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of Christ” starring porn star Kit Swagger (Matthew Ferdenzi). It’s a sure fire commercial hit, but will the Integrity Players give in to financial pressure and in so doing lose their integrity? I’m not going to give the game away, but I think we can all guess the answer to that one.

Adam Bell’s play is a witty and often hilarious comment on the eternal conundrum of artistic compromise; popularity versus art. The writing itself is often really clever, abounding in quips and one-liners that wouldn’t have been out of place in an episode of “Will and Grace”.

My problem was more with the execution. Director Andrew Beckett has allowed too much of the play to be played on one level, with actors shamelessly mugging and playing too many of their lines out front. The often hilarious antics of T.Scott and Edonis would have benefited from a greater contrast with their boss, Rossini, but he too was encouraged to overplay much of the comedy, which resulted in a lack of contrast. Surely underplaying the role would have made it even funnier. It’s a shame, because the play is a lot of fun, and I feel sure that this cast had it in them to deliver a much more multi-faceted performance.

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That said, the audience on opening night enjoyed themselves enormously, and nobody was complaining about Matthew Ferdenzi getting his kit off more than once. Maybe it will settle down a bit in the next few performances.

The Gay Naked Play is on at Above The Stags until 16th Feb 2014