DECEMBER 3, 1999 • HOUSTON VOICE
OUT ON THE BAYOU
THEATER NEWS & REVIEWS
Slice of life is 'bang on'
by D.L. GROOVER
Simply put, go see this play.
You might be familiar with British playwright Jonathan Harvey's popular film
"Beautiful Thing" from 1996, but the play—
a hit in London and New York and now in
Houston—is more subtle and full of nuance.
The movie gave a face to the London area of
Thamesmeade, but "opening it up" for the
big screen didn't enhance it.
BEAUTIFUL THING is a chamber piece,
and needs the small, confining limits oi the
theater to breathe life into its five characters.
The quintet comprising this "urban fairy
tale" lives side by side in a public housing
project in London's industrial southeast near
Jamie, 16, lives with his divorced Mum,
.Sandra, a hard-working, hard-loving bar
maid. Not good at sports, "weird" and
picked on at sd"ux>l tor being different, Jamie
is too conflicted about his awakening sexuality to make sense of anything. His dreams,
though, include his next door neighbor, Ste,
a school chum.
Sandra has dreams of managing a higger,
better pub and getting out of the projects
where she can relax on a spiffy, new, overstuffed sofa.
Ste dreams of working at the Sports
Center where he could swim underwater,
alone and happy. But his daily life is far from
idyllic, with healings each evening from his
father and older brother.
1 cah lives on the other side of Jamie and
Sandra's apartment. Recently kicked out of
school for a variety of offenses, she's a good-
time girl, unconcerned that her untethered
life is drifting out of control. She dreams of a
singing career like her idol, Mama Cass.
And then there's Tony, Sandra's
boyfriend "du jour," a pot-smoking hippie
whose brain seems fried, or at least stuck in
the platitudes of the '60's, an era he's too
young to have lived through.
These five are the only people we see. It's
to Harvey's credit that we don't really miss
anyone else. Their hard scrabble lives are
enough for us. We're immediately drawn to
these "victims of the system," as Leah says in
one of her lucid moments, these five who sit
on their apartment walkway, drink, fight,
mock and (between Jamie and Ste) fall in
Although rooted in kitchen sink realism
(the program comes complete with a slang
glossary), Harvey balances the frightening
abuse and familial love/hate with genuine
tender sentiment and rapid comic pacing.
This is a fairy tale, and we're glad for it. We
want these people to make it, and if it seems
all too unreal, we don't care.
Dodd Bates' hang-dog expression with
head crooked and shoulders hunched,
embodies Jamie's wary world view and his
yearning for "a quiet life." Full of old movies
and a love of "Cagney and Lacy," he comes
alive when Ste's around and makes that
most awkward age of 16 believable. Gawky,
yet assured oi wha t he wants, when Ste gives
Dodd Bates and Laura Chapman in 'Beautiful
Thing,' the theatrical take on a popular
him a present of a baseball hat, Bates lights
up like he's just been given keys to a
Almost too young looking, Laura
Chapman convinces us she's Jamie's mother
by the time she's finished speaking her second line. Hard-boiled as a five-minute egg,
rattling off retorts to Leah or put-downs to
Tony, or yelling at the unseen neighbors,
Chapman's tough-love approach is played
just right. She's one solid good-hearted
mother and isn't about to lose her son. When
she embraces him, she embraces us.
Elizabeth Bannor plays Leah with the
right amount of ditzy panache. She's a
tramp, but she knows it. Her acid trip
"acceptance speech" is theatrical, comical
and over the top.
Without the romp-in-the-woods love
scene from the film version to help ease the
transition, Ste's character in the play must go
from confused young jock to young jock in
love. Alfonso Chable handles this tricky part
with assurance. His outburst at Jamie to
learn how to "knock about" like a guy
(which is really his own self-doubt showing
through) is quite effective.
Tim Wrobel, the misplaced Tony, is
slightly too stolid for such an air head and
hasn't quite managed the accent or attitude
of these Southeast Londoners. He seems to
have stumbled in from Staten Island.
Filled with brittle humor, tangy one-liners, and seeming dead ends for all characters
concerned, "Beautiful Thing" evolves into a
sweet, most charming comedy. This piece of
theater starts off being a slice of life but turns
into a slice of cake. It's most satisfying.
Or, should 1 say, it's bang on, bloke?
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Opens Friday, December 3rd
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Fridays: Dec. 3,10 & 17 - 8:00pm
Saturdays: Dec. 4,11 & 18 - 8:00pm
Sundays: Dec. 5 & 12 - 6:00pm
For Reservations call (713) 426-2626
Between Heights and Yale
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