La Boîte Indie & Pentimento Productions
Supported by QPAC
21st of October – 5th of November 2014
Reviewed by Guy Frawley
In Dangerfield Park we’re introduced to a group of gay men from different backgrounds who through differing connections of friendship and sex are brought together at the same moment one of their friends is brutally bashed in a homophobic attack. The Noel Coward-esque theatrical producer Sholto (Sven Swenson); his journalist amore d’jour Tim (Michael Deed); solicitor Marc (Christos Mourtzakis); his paramedic fiancé Perry (Zachary Boulton); and the young, inexperienced Reyer (Nick Barclay) form the core cast of characters in the play who are all gathered in the St Lucia apartment of Sholto when they learn their friend Otis (Brian Lucas) has been bashed in the eponymous Dangerfield Park.
Dangerfield Park is a show a decade and a half too late to the stage that attempts to build it’s emotional core with outdated subject matter.
Yes the ‘gay panic defence’ is still on Queensland’s law books in some form (sigh) but changes several years ago by the state government have made the conditions of claiming the defence stricter and the defence of provocation can technically be applied equally across all genders and sexualities. Are beats still a thing? Sure, but they’re fast diminishing as the internet and mobile devices fundamentally change the mechanics of modern gay sex. Several references in the script imply a modern context but how can that even be with all the talk of sex and nary a mention of Grindr?! Religious discrimination? You bet it’s still a problem, but when we meet the fundamentalist Christian father of Reyer the painful struggle of dogma, love, salvation and family is reduced to an archaic stereotype that would have appeared comfortable in The Crucible. Most grating of all beleaguered and outdated messages was the constant harping upon gay couples suffering legal discrimination at the hands of a society that refuses to validate the love that dare not speak it’s name. I say this as a gay man who recently married his male partner of 6 years, and yes most of would like gay marriage to pass in parliament (even the polls agree!), but after the massive overhaul of policy in regard to same sex relationships under the Rudd government there isn’t a great deal of legal discrimination left to overcome. Yet we endure clunky monologues on the rights (or lack there of) of gay couples wrenched apart and disenfranchised by the unaccepting establishment.
By no means am I implying that all is good and right in the land of Oz when it comes to societies treatment of sexuality and same sex relationships but so much of what was obviously written to outrage and impassion just felt stale. Our primary cast of characters are an interesting and varied group that could have made much of contemporary issues but were instead left to stumble through tired tropes. Look to shows like Holding the Man and The Laramie Project for examples as to how similar subject matter is handled with far greater poise and nuance whilst being restrained by similar issues of contemporaneity.
Running at three and a half hours long the sheer length of Dangerfield Park makes the piece a laborious viewing experience. Swenson’s sharp dialogue and delightfully entertaining turn of phrase keeps the pace bustling along initially however the second act suffers as a result of the far too common polemic speeches that replace the witty repartee of earlier scenes. Cast your aspersions upon me as a product of the ‘Gen Y generation’ but everything I enjoyed about Dangerfield Park was tarnished by the utter boredom I felt by the end. Apathetic towards the conclusion and wishing a firmer hand had been shown with the editorial red pen.
There’s a lot in this show that I obviously disliked but the performances in Dangerfield Park are really very good. Swenson does a thoroughly fabulous job as Sholto, playing the deliciously funny ageing queen with a delicate mixture of acidic bite and emotional depth. I would have enjoyed the show far more if we could have remained within Sholto’s domain and revelled in his lighting fast tongu. Brian Lucas brings the character of Otis to the stage in a fully realised and authentic performance that in many ways is the polar opposite of Sholto character. Otis is really the hardest role to play in this show requiring a performance that at times requires lecherous but never predatory, sleazy and sincere. Lucas carries the role beautifully and to me imparted the only sense of true authenticity I felt throughout the show.
I think Dangerfield Park would have made a real impact on me if I’d seen it a decade ago as a young gay man growing up in the changing world of the new millennium, but in 2014 it just left me underwhelmed and disappointed. When Swenson’s script succeeds it truly sparkles and allows the cast to shine but spread over three and a half hours these moments are sadly few and far between.