A SINGLE MAN at the Park Theatre
“this beautifully presented play exposes pertinent questions about societal responsibility, and prejudice“
Troupe presents a new adaptation by Simon Reade of Christopher Isherwood’s genre-defining novel. Set in California in 1962, the play follows a day in the life of college lecturer, George; a middle-aged, gay Englishman coming to terms with the isolation caused by the sudden death of his partner Jim.
The play opens with George (Theo Fraser Steele) sleeping – a single man in a single bed. Two Paramedics (Phoebe Pryce & Freddie Gaminara) appear spirit-like running through a checklist of George’s awakening, helping him to wash, get dressed and start his day. The dialogue runs as a narrative, a commentary. The ghost of Jim (Miles Molan) wanders through the apartment and kisses George good morning.
For the first part of the day, we see George driving to work, teaching his students, and shopping. But a meeting of the neighbours illustrates the daily prejudice George must face. His college class turns into a discussion of the minority versus the majority and making food choices becomes pointless when one is cooking for just one. George wallows in his isolation. Fraser Steele is perfect in this role: in a smart suit and tie, thick glasses and brilliantined hair, speaking in a rich sardonic baritone, he looks and sounds the part.
The first-rate ensemble comes and goes around George who is ever-present on stage, entering and exiting through the audience seated on three sides of the action. Minimal props are used and versatile trucks are slid or rotated to form the bed, a car, a dining table. (Set and Costume Designer Caitlin Abbot). The movement is slick, marred only be the occasional masking. One scene in the far corner of the stage, where George sits on the toilet, is totally lost, at least from my seat (Director Philip Wilson). The subtle use of sound effects is excellent (Beth Duke) – George urinating, honking his car horn, or in one delightful moment, George’s books talking to him: “One at a time” says George as the books all gibber away together.
The second half brings with it an unexpected change in style, and we hear more about characters other than just George. Life-long English friend Charley (Olivia Darnley), another lonely outsider, wants to get closer to George but he pushes her away. Darnley’s portrayal of a G.I. bride, abandoned by both husband and teenage son, is dynamic and moving.
The following scene in which George meets his student Kenny (Miles Molan) in a bar is the standout scene of the evening. Kenny is loud, brash, and wearing the tightest of t-shirts. The simmering conversation between the two brims with unspoken lust and sexual tension.
George returns to his single bed, drunk, and the Paramedics reappear in their hospital whites with their clip boards to see the day through to its conclusion.
Does this audience feel empathy for George? His situation is certainly tragic but much of his loneliness is self-inflicted. He doesn’t know how to move on from his past to find a new present. We can see George as a portrayal of Everyman. Or more correctly Every(gay)man. And through him, this beautifully presented play exposes pertinent questions about societal responsibility, and prejudice. And pleas for our understanding of people’s hidden loneliness, isolation and otherness.
Reviewed on 21st October 2022
by Phillip Money
Photography by Mitzi de Margary
Previously reviewed at this venue: