25 Down | Queensland Theatre Company

25 Down | Queensland Theatre CompanyAs the title suggests, as a gay man, it's apparently all downhill after 25. It's a familiar premise for a lot of queer drama and literature; as the lead from La Boite's recent successful - and more pointed - political farce The Narcissist recites, "gay men are like dogs, they age seven years for every one".

James, the axis on which Richard Jordan's Gen Y drama spins, calls it a "quarter-life crisis". What's a banal, blithe 25-year-old gay boy, dreaming of something more substantial, supposed to do in a community that celebrates youth and beauty above all else?

Self-destruction seems to be a popular choice. This generation has numbed itself into submission, we're told. The quest to feel something real - or at least what they think is real - leads down a hackneyed path of drugs and sex; giving away too much of themselves too soon.

Young Brisbane writer Alasdair Duncan also tackled this in his acclaimed debut novel, Sushi Central. Jordan seems to follow a familiar path (though lacks Duncan's more finely-tuned insight and wit); dancing around the same sweaty Brisbane nightclubs, brunching in the same inner-city gay havens, giving us a character as obnoxiously wrapped up in himself and making inexplicably bad choices that see him slide into a life of porn and prostitution.

I say inexplicable quite deliberately. The premise is one I've always struggled with - and I'm roughly within the same demographic. In 25 Down, James rants and raves on stage about his lot in life and for the life of me I can't really understand why.

That is a failure of Jordan's script. For all its coolness, its cleverness, I'm not sure it really connects on the level the writer wants. Certainly Liam Nunan, making his big-stage debut, can't convey much empathy as the self-absorbed lead. Perhaps that's the point.

Jordan is a talented writer, for sure.  This play has survived a rigorous examination, winning the competitive Queensland Premier's Drama Award which saw it developed over half-a-dozen workshops and several intensive dramaturgical sessions and rehearsed readings in front of an audience. It's a wonderful program and Jordan deserves all the support as an emerging local writer.

But, it has to be said, for all that development I expected something more. These characters, with some exception, aren't fully realised. As a play billed as comedy, the writing lacks a really sharp wit. And Jordan's familiar premise - an exploration of "truth, lies and stereotypes" according to the blurb - seems a little stereotypical itself.

There is some warmth and humour here, but it mostly comes from sub-plots - the fag hag and the over-the-hill queen - that end up being much more interesting than the play's lead.

Emma (Kathryn Marquet) only wishes her beloved best friend wasn't gay. In an attempt to finally move on, she begins dating, in a sense, her portly, balding, married colleague (Brad Ashwood). She doesn't even like his name - "Bob", said with such contempt and pity - but the surprising relationship in their shared quarter/mid-life crisis teaches both a thing or two about love. Ashwood is a real sport with the thankless role, and Marquet, part of Queensland Theatre Company's Emerging Artists Program, is a ray of light in a sweetly funny performance.

Jordan also gives us a lovely counterpoint to his lead in Gary (Brisbane stage veteran Steven Tandy), the 50-something straight-laced businessman by day and bingo-calling geriatric drag act Estelle by night. Gary takes James in as his roommate, a sad reminder of the love of his life he lost around the same age. He fought for his equal rights (Jordan, to his credit, researched the local gay rights movement and provides a vivid portrait) and can't understand this desultory generation that, unlike him, has the world at its feet. He forms a bond with James' younger and pre-crisis plaything Simon (the adorable Julian Curtis), both fed up waiting for James to find himself.

Meanwhile, quilt-knitting nanna Estelle becomes a character of her own thanks to Tandy, in a constantly scene-stealing performance that reminds us, homosexual or not, experience inevitably beats age.

Jordan
has enough ideas floating around here (and projected onto the pre-paint plaster set walls). But his anti-hero lead and primary focus - like so much of queer writing - remains frustratingly, disconnectedly elusive.


Queensland Theatre Company presents
25 Down
by Richard Jordan

Director: Jon Halpin

Venue: Bille Brown Studio
Dates: 8 June – 4 July 2009
Tickets: $36 - $56, Under 30: $30
Bookings: www.qtix.com.au

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