If four letter words offend, then don’t read on.
Angel Gear is definitely not for a matinee audience, much less a school group. For believe me, you wouldn’t want to live in Cuntsville, somewhere outside of Ippy in Queensland. Eight people congregate in a kind of commune in a broken-down car port, sharing beer and take-away food that you wouldn’t want to eat.
Sometimes, though, they cook, and one of them proudly announces that he’d come in the pudding before he served it. Their idea of fun is to have a group gang-bang, although there are only two women in the group and one, Jayanne (Casey Woods) is off limits for reasons that are explained later. Chantel (Cindy Nelson) is pregnant, and doesn’t want to join in, and only Edge (Sven Swenson), the Godfather figure of the group, is certain that kid isn’t his — “Shit, I only fucked her up the arse”. And then it all turns nasty.
Jayanne, the other woman in the group, argues that Chantel should abort the baby, because she’s too young, and what kind of life would the baby have? But Chantel is determined to carry it to term, in spite of everything. Maybe, like so many young mothers, she needs something to love and to love her in return, because there’s nobody in this lot of losers, who have names like Foz, Smeg, Sugar and Spite. This lot is truly the underclass of our society, and most of us don’t want to accept that they exist.
Spite (Sam Plummer) is brain-damaged, but eavesdrops on all their conversations, and is perpetually masturbating. He just can’t keep his hand off his dick, but thankfully it remains hidden under his shiny blue shorts. But between them they have worked out a way of life, always directed by Edge (Sven Swenson is superbly menacing under his foul-mouthed but jovial exterior), who plays one off against the other and reduces them all to his level — all except one of his three sons, Foz (Kieran Law), who wears a buttoned-up white shirt and clean jeans, and may or may not be gay — not that he would dare reveal it if he were.
Into this poisonous household come a third son, Gary (Dan Stockwell), born of a different mother and reared in England. He’s respectable, middle-class, educated, and happily married, and he obviously isn’t going to last the six weeks he’d planned to stay.
When it goes horribly wrong — and I’ll spare you the details, because the plot is complex but too satisfying to reveal, and the language and behaviour is beyond forgiveness — is where the play rises almost to greatness, when themes of love and loyalty become important, and where unaccountable relationships are played out.
I can’t pretend that I enjoyed this experience, but it made me realise that the deepest human emotions are universal, and that decent values can prevail even in the most hopeless-seeming societies.
Dangerfield Park is a different can of squirming worms altogether, and the setting couldn’t be further from that of Angel Gear. This is a play about gay bashing and legal rights for gay men, and it’s set in comfortable upper-middle-class St Lucia, a wealthy suburb of Brisbane where the social mix is enlivened by the university population.
Most of the characters are high-end professionals; there’s a theatre director, a lawyer, a journalist and an economics student, and they outwardly lead lives of quiet respectability. But when one of their group, Otis (played by Brian Lucas from behind a scrim net at the back of the stage), is attacked and murdered in Dangerfield Park, a well-known local beat, the reaction of the others is immediate — grief, then fear and anger.
And then it gets highly political, and in the long second act descends into polemic, which detracts from the feisty and often very funny first act. It’s as if Noel Coward has come out and then transmogrified into George Bernard Shaw.
The themes of the play are so serious that they need to be handled delicately and theatrically, especially when the play is speaking to the converted, but even the elegant gay couple in the row in front of me went to sleep in the second act, which had far too many Shaw-like speeches in it. It became more like a documentary or a talk-fest than engaging drama, and lost the audience.
This is a pity, because Swenson, who is a powerful actor as well as an award-winning playwright, has shown that he knows how to use a stage, and the first act of this play is straight out of Noel Coward. It’s very camp, with a fascinating mix of gay men — Swenson himself as theatre producer Sholto, a delightfully precious old queen; Marc and Perry, a devoted couple who want to get married (Christos Mourtzakis and Zachary Bolton); a journalist from The Courier-Mail with a body like a Greek god (we see all of it, and it wasn’t just the men in the audience whose breath came a little faster) played by Michael Deed; and a young lad, Reyer, escaping from a fundamentalist Christian family, who thinks he might be gay and wants to find out. He is played by Nick Barclay, who doubles as Kieran, the man who murders Otis in the park.
This is an entirely satisfying mix of characters, who are all living in Sholto’s elegant flat because Marc and Perry’s place has just burnt down. The combinations and permutations of the five very different men allows for sparkling dialogue and lots of witty repartee, and audience members who knew nothing about the private world of upper-class gay men will learn maybe more than they wanted to know. But at three and a half hours the play is far too long, and contains enough material for at least two other plays — the issues between the young escapee and his fundamentalist father could make a play of its own, for example, and in the context of this play are an unnecessary burden.
There’s a world of difference between these two plays. Angel Gear shows a world where homosexuality wouldn’t dare raise its head, a rough tough place where anger and physical violence are used to solve all problems, while Dangerfield Park offers a world far removed from this underclass, a world where homosexuality is the norm and violence a terrifying intrusion. Both are beautifully written — Swenson is a genius with dialogue — but both are too long, and this may be the difficulty when the playwright is also the director and the principal actor. Both plays cry out for the objective eye of a sympathetic dramaturg, but each contains important material and should be taken seriously.