By Corey Spence
Minimal and spacious, the Random Stage at BATS is only sparsely set with barstools, a table, and a counter-like box that would certainly translate into multiple settings (as it does, between restaurant, theatre, and a flat). We’re initially met with heightened characters and melodramatic gestures, which carries on for about the first quarter or so of the show. Husbands Ricardo (Alex Walker) and Donnie (Zak Enayat) have gone out for dinner date, when Ricardo notices, maybe a little too fondly, their server Nikolai (Liam Coleman); the disintegration of Ricardo and Donnie’s marriage soon follows, and the ploys and plights of polyamory the show wants to share are set in motion… or so we think?
It is a strange opening to the play, and one that as I continue to watch, question if it fits or belongs there structurally. Often, it’s far too caricature-like, so while the slapstick and horrendously ostentatious accents are funny, the form completely cloaks the intention with excessive stereotyping that quickly quashes the humour. Whatever we are meant to take away from it is clouded by the stylisation, and a strange false ending does little but bewilder an already unsure audience. I found myself hoping that’d be the last of it.
A timely departure from the opening sees the play divulge into the “true-to-lifeness” promised by the show’s programme. And it makes me question the opening even further, even when we find out the supposed purpose: the play-within-a-play, which wants to show a never-ending cycle of Rich/Ricardo’s monogamy then mistakes then polygamy then heartbreak then compromise, fails here because it doesn’t add to the action, it doesn’t add to the drama, and it doesn’t help the show engage with its themes. Instead, it comes across as confusing and even misplaced because its execution is awkward. It sets the whole show up like this, gives us a false ending twenty-minutes in, followed by a curtain call and a lengthy transition in darkness (or near darkness) while the actors get ready to change hair and costumes.
It’s after this opening that the show really sets off. With the audience on a raft through the raging rapids of emotions, it pulls us in one direction to the other. It’s not until reality seeps into the stage and the acting that Play can shine. Now we meet a set of new characters, but familiar faces: Rich (Walker) who tries to navigate his desire for polyamory yet only ever reveals this in parts to his interests, Nick (Coleman) and Dan (Enayat), often to near-calamitous consequences. It’s a reminder of how important it is in our relationships to be forthcoming, to communicate, and to ensure us and our partners are on the same page.
When blessed with the script’s ‘truer’ moments, the talented actors tap into an emotional complexity that was sorely missing from the melodramatic opening but one that we’re glad to see even part-way through the show. Walker commandeers our attention for so much of the play, particularly navigating the all-too-real awkwardness and foot-in-mouth that comes along with the arguments and indecision he rides through with his sort-of-but-not-really-but-maybe boyfriends/“friends”/fuckbuddies.
Enayat and Coleman create an engaging dramatic contrast. The characters are familiar and “true”. Enayat’s Dan is a driving force in their side of the relationship, a confident realtor who works hard and plays harder. Coleman’s Nick is far more passive, more endearing: a struggling art seller who falls quickly and deeply for Rich. Both work with, and against, Rich, which leads the characters through a narrative where no one is ever really on the right page, even should they say they are. Their performances work greatly in the show’s favour, amplifying the tension until Rich remaining indecisive is no longer possible.
Play is a probe into polyamory, labels, and boundaries. The second-half engages with these topics, and their subsequent questions, thoughtfully and reminds us that no matter what someone’s love looks like, no one is exempt from the tumultuous storms broiling under passionate relationships. It’s just a shame the opening is a case of bad foreplay: it doesn’t get us going enough to enjoy the ‘main event’ as much as we could, to savour the emotional-charged, subtly complex, and well-crafted drama that follows it.