Everyone has a story about Relax by Frankie Goes To Hollywood. Mine is about being at a friend’s house and watching Body Double on video again and again. In our adolescent minds, this was the height of sexual – and technological – sophistication. So very eighties.
On Tidy Endings, the second play in the Harvey Fierstein double bill presented at the Tristan Bates theatre, starts with Relax. A child enters with a Rubik’s cube in his hand. The tone is set. We can only be in the eighties. Which is not to say the play’s themes are dated. Along with Safe Sex, the other play performed the same night, it explores grief and the paralysing need to find new ways when everything has changed: with someone or without, with a new family or not. It’s also about AIDS. Because it’s rare to find another moment that splits the world to “before” and “after”.
For all the thematic weight, both plays suffer from undramatic structure. It’s not that events are not explosive enough, quite the opposite. But both plays have long expository monologues that slow down the momentum and don’t feel the natural extension of the characters.
The actors work passionately with the material: CJ de Mooi, starring in both plays and dominating the proceedings, has a charged – if occasionally strangled – quality. Cole Michaels brings a pleasing relaxed physicality and Deena Payne does a good job in an underwritten role.
It’s hard not to feel the plays want to be more than they are. The passion is evident but the message is too loud and drowns out the subtleties. There is a better story in those plays, with a bigger message, and it’s all about the whispers. If only someone would listen.