Review: Gaybies (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

darlotheatre2Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Feb 6 – Mar 8, 2015
Playwright: Dean Bryant
Director: Dean Bryant
Cast: Cooper George Amai, Sheridan Harbridge, Rhys Keir, Steve Le Marquand, Zindzi Okenyo, Olivia Rose, Georgia Scott
Image by Helen White

Theatre review
Plays about LGBT experiences often fail the test of time. They reflect certain moments in political causes, and social progress renders most stories passé after their periods of relevance are over. Mart Crowley’s The Boys In The Band (1968) and Jean Poiret’s La Cage Aux Folles (1973) now seem dated and contrived, but there is no denying their historical significance and the respective parts they have played in the human rights movement for gay men in the west. Dean Bryant’s Gaybies comes out of current debates about marriage rights of same-sex couples, and their detractors’ apprehension about parenting by LGBT families, should laws be changed to permit these unions.

Bryant’s script takes the form of verbatim theatre, composed of interviews he has conducted with children of same-sex parents, as well as a few lesbian and gay adults in the process of conception. The work is a timely response to community concerns, and a colourful look at contemporary family lives in Australia, providing a perspective that challenges notions of conventionality and presumptions of what makes a favourable set of circumstances for children to thrive. It is the kind of text that would either be daring and controversial, or merely preaching to the choir, depending on the audience it plays to, but Bryant’s own direction injects inventive variety and surprising humour to ensure a delightfully engaging experience for all but the very bigoted.

The brilliant cast brings a palpable tenderness to the production, with all seven performers taking on three roles each, demonstrating versatility and a good amount of heart and soul. Zindzi Okenyo has a gentle but magnetic presence, ensuring that we stay on her side from start to end. Her style is understated and honest, with an infectious enthusiasm that gives weight to her stories. Also very affable is Rhys Keir, who creates big distinctions between each of his characters, allowing them to be individually memorable. Keir’s impulses feel authentically spontaneous, and the vibrant energy he brings to the stage is refreshing and full of charm. Crowd favourite Sheridan Harbridge delivers a polished yet moving performance, with a visibly solid connection between the actor and her material. Harbridge’s comic and vocal abilities serve her well in the show, and we cannot help but fall under her spell repeatedly.

Owen Phillips’ set design is a straightforward but effective idea, executed with elegance. His facsimile of a community hall relies on our personal associations with a space characterised by ordinariness, and like the show’s very concept, visual aspects are kept pleasantly simple. Even though the absence of a traditional narrative structure means that we lose opportunities for greater emotional indulgences, what Dean Bryant and his cast provide are important testimonials and a valuable documentation that would function as a sign of the times, and without doubt, a step towards the momentous and inevitable legalisation of marriage for all.

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