[tab title=”Show Info”]
January 12-February 5 2006
A heartwarming story of two London lads who fall in love.
Diversionary’s production will be directed by Rosina Reynolds, and features Matt Barrs, John DeCarlo, Jillian Frost, Joseph Panwitz and Rachael Van Wormer. The stage manager is Sean Alexander. David Weiner, Jeff Fightmaster, Shulamit Nelson and Lesley Fitzpatrick make up the design team.
“Beautiful Thing” is a tender love story set during a hot summer in a South-East London housing project. Jamie, a relatively unpopular lad who skips school to avoid soccer, lives next door to Ste, a more popular athletic lad who is frequently beaten by his father and older brother. The story tells of their growing attraction for one another, from initial lingering glances to their irrefutable love. It deals with the tribulations of coming to terms with their sexuality and of others finding out, in light of Sandra’s (Jamie’s mum) unwavering loyalty and defense of Jamie and the fear of repercussion should Ste’s family find out.
The plot is set against sub-texts of Sandra’s desire to manage her own pub, and thus escape the housing project, and of her new relationship with her hippy boyfriend Tony; and of Leah, the brassy girl next door who has been expelled from school and spends her time listening to Mama Cass records and tripping on a variety of drugs.
The stage play was written in 1993, and a popular movie of the same name came out in 1996. Hettie McDonald, the director of the film, had this to say about “Beautiful Thing:” Jonathan Harvey’s screenplay (based on his stage play, which I also directed) is proud and very funny. His writing has great charm and poignancy but it is never sentimental. It is a story about the power of love and is rooted in a belief in the human spirit. I think this optimism is central to the film, and it is wonderful to have the opportunity to show what a beautiful thing the love between two people can be no matter what sex they are.
I hope the film will help bring encouragement and affirmation to many young people who are going through the same experience as the two boys. I hope it will bring understanding and support for them from their friends and families. I hope it will make everyone who sees it feel that the things they want in life are possible.
[tab title=”About The Playwright”]Playwright Jonathan Harvey was born in Liverpool in 1968, and was educated at Hull University (Psychology and Education) before moving to London, where he worked for four years as a special-needs teacher at a comprehensive school in Thamesmead, the area where “Beautiful Thing” is set. He started writing at the age of 16, with his play “The Cherry Blossom Tree.” He continued writing while studying and teaching, and it was for his play “Wildfire” that he was awarded an attachment to the National Theatre’s Studio at the end of 1992, prompting him to give up his teaching post and write full-time. He now lives in London with his boyfriend.
[tab title=”Cast”]Matt Barrs, John DeCarlo, Jillian Frost, Joseph Panwitz, Rachael Van Wormer.
[tab title=”Creative Team”]Playwright: Jonathan Harvey
Director: Rosina Reynolds
Set: David Weiner
Lighting: Jeff Fightmaster
Costumes: Shulamit Nelson
Props: Lesley Fitzpatrick
Fight choreographer: Jeff Miller
San Diego Union-Tribune
January 16, 2006
Play’s power projected in emotional turns
Lead characters are endearing
By Valerie Scher
Jamie and Ste (short for Steve) are teenaged neighbors in working class London.
They’re also gay.
And their love story is the basis of Jonathan Harvey’s “Beautiful Thing” at Diversionary Theatre. The dramatic romantic comedy – by turns tough and tender, crude and sweet – explores some of the same themes as the film “Brokeback Mountain”: budding friendship, sexual desire and the fear of others finding out.
But the tone and setting could hardly be more different. David Weiner’s scenery for “Beautiful Thing” emphasizes the banality of bricks and concrete, with a bedraggled hanging plant serving as Jamie’s mother’s prize for winning the Southeast Thames Barmaid of the Year contest.
On Diversionary’s small stage, there’s no missing the oppressiveness of the environment – or the endearing nature of the lead characters (portrayed by Matt Barrs and Joseph Panwitz).
“Beautiful Thing,” a 1993 London hit that became a 1996 film, relies more on humor than heartache, as in its jokes about Cass Elliot (of Mamas and Papas fame), the old TV show Cagney & Lacey and “The Sound of Music.”
The current production’s strength lies in its handling of a variety of emotions, whether tearful or cheerful. Staged by theater veteran Rosina Reynolds, and acted by a persuasive cast, “Beautiful Thing” is involving in a very English way. The program booklet even has a glossary containing such terms as nicked (meaning stolen) and knackered (exhausted) along with ones that are considerably less polite.
The cast does well with the accents though Barrs and Panwitz could project more so as to be better heard. In his first professional theater production, Barrs (a UCSD theater major) makes a bright and believable Jamie while the more experienced Panwitz brings out the nuances of Ste – the shy, abused boy from a brutally dysfunctional family.
Jillian Frost is exceptional as Jamie’s mother, Sandra, conveying her complexities, contradictions and essentially decent nature. Particularly touching is the scene in which she tells Ste that she accepts him for who he is.
Also effective are Rachael Van Wormer as Leah, the pesty neighbor obsessed with Cass Elliot, and John DeCarlo as Tony, Sandra’s adoring if dunderheaded boyfriend.
Diversionary’s production, presented as part of its 20th season, brings luster to the play. And that’s a beautiful thing.
Playwright: Jonathan Harvey. Director: Rosina Reynolds. Set: David Weiner. Lighting: Jeff Fightmaster. Costumes: Shulamit Nelson. Props: Lesley Fitzpatrick. Fight choreographer: Jeff Miller. Cast: Matt Barrs, John DeCarlo, Jillian Frost, Joseph Panwitz, Rachael Van Wormer.
Valerie Scher: (619) 293-1038; firstname.lastname@example.org
San Diego Theatre Scene
January 19, 2006
Boys just wanna have fun
By Pat Launer
KPBS ARTS REVIEWER
THE SHOW: Beautiful Thing, by Liverpudlian Jonathan Harvey, is another tale of ‘the love that dare not speak its name.’
THE SCOOP: There seems to be a limitless supply of coming-out stories, or tales of hidden gay love. And now that the movies are getting into the act, too (cf. “Brokeback Mountain”), there’s really gonna be no end.
THE STORY: Well, it’s far from the wilds of Wyoming. The play is set in Thamesmead, a working-class community of row-houses (projects?) in southeast London. It’s 1993, and smart-but-nerdy Jamie cuts school when it comes to sports-time. His neighbor Leah has already been expelled; his other neighbor, Ste (short for Steve), attends classes regularly and also plays soccer, but takes refuge in Jamie’s house whenever possible, to avoid his abusive father and brother. Jamie’s tough-but-tender, upwardly mobile mother, Sandra, welcomes Jamie in, even when her slacker/hippie boyfriend, Tony, is in residence. Turns out that both Leah and Jamie are interested in Ste, who gradually comes to realize how he feels about Jamie, as they tentatively explore a relationship, and each other.
The characters are fascinating, the dialogue is spicily regional, the relationships are intriguing, the performances are terrific. It’s the play that’s the weak link. Unmotivated details and untied threads abound. But that didn’t stop the 1993 love story from becoming a 1996 film.
THE PLAYERS: Director Rosina Reynolds has assembled an outstanding cast, and she gives them delicious stage business. Matt Barrs is thoroughly likable and appealing as Jamie, struggling with his emotions and identity. As Ste, Joseph Panwitz exhibits a credible macho exterior to mask his sensitivity and pain. Angry Leah – Rachael Van Wormer, in a knockout performance – also looking like a knockout (with spiky black and pink hair and wild outfits) — is obsessed with Mama Cass, escaping into the dead singer’s past in some twisted effort to refashion her own. The drug scene is pretty ridiculous, but she plays it brilliantly. Go-with-the-flow Tony is a fairly extraneous, unnecessary character, but John DeCarlo makes him a nice, supportive guy, not much of a go-getter, someone who doesn’t bring all that much to the mix – except unconditional acceptance, which is a rare commodity in this hardscrabble neighborhood. The most fascinating, multi-faceted character is Sandra, and Jillian Frost nails her with a warm, funny, angular, sexy, irresistible performance. Tough love, but she’s one helluva mom.
THE PRODUCTION: David Weiner’s set features undifferentiated attached brick apartments. One wilted hanging plant bears testimony to Sandra’s first place prize in the Barman’s contest. Jeff Miller did a fine job with the fight, and Jeff Fightmaster does a fine job with the lights. Shulamit Nelson’s costumes are a hoot; Frost and Van Wormer’s get-ups are especially yummy. Though the story is nothing new, it’s tenderly and sensitively (but not sentimentally) told, and there’s plenty of humor. You can also amuse yourself acquiring new expressions (like ‘bubble and squeak’ or ‘spotted dick’ — both yucky-sounding foods!). Come for the weird foodstuffs; stay for the killer performances.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Best Bet