Anglo-Hawaiian duo Starving Artists – writer Godfrey Hamilton and actor Mark Pinkosh – proved with Road Movie that their disappointing 1994 show Kissing Marianne was a mere downward blip on an otherwise consistently high success chart. The show remains as powerful and poignant as it was on first viewing in Edinburgh last August.
Road Movie is the tale of the awakening of hard-bitten New York media beast Joel; after recounting how he is dragged out of a San Francisco gutter one night in a drunken stupor and reluctantly allows himself to be seduced by the angelic Scott, the body of the play follows Joel on his second journey westward towards, as he hopes, a reunion with this wonderful man. I use the word literally: Scott is an ideal combination of intelligence and childlike wonder, and even in his absence we see his growing influence upon, and redemption of, Joel through a series of encounters along the way.
Hamilton's is the most sensuous, sensitive gay dramatic writing I have yet encountered. His romantic passages have a genuine beauty without falling prey to the invisible-mirror-ball effect of a lot of "Queer" writing; the angry and mournful episodes likewise steer clear of both "gritty" squalor and self-ennobling martyrdom. A simple line like "I want a cure and I want my friends back" encapsulates the most fundamental response to "that disease". These tones are leavened by a nice line in low-key bitchery: contemplating the personal-ad euphemism "straight-acting", Joel muses, "How do you 'act straight' – bash fags, rape women, invade small countries?" Hamilton's style is perfectly conveyed by his partner Pinkosh's acting: smoothly accomplished over a wide range of vocal and facial expressions without ostentation, Pinkosh's major strength is that he is entirely at ease with his body – one never tastes the tang of "performance" as he slides comfortably from scene to scene, register to register.
Under Lorenzo Mele's direction, Pinkosh succeeds apparently effortlessly in acting both parts of duologues without letting the artifice obtrude. As he travels across the States, Joel encounters a "latex diva" who distributes condoms among cruisers as a memorial to her dead son and a teacher in Texas whose daughter OD'd; he even conjures up a pair of bereaved parents at the Vietnam Memorial simply by recounting his thoughts and feelings as he watched them search for their son's name. The inevitable loss at the play's close is beautifully modulated, as Joel freely accepts Scott's legacy of continuing the kindness. This is the kernel of Road Movie and of Starving Artists' work as a whole: unabashedly gay theatre whose passionate humanity speaks alike to all.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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