After a sell-out run off-Broadway in 2008, David Bell’s The Gay Naked Play is the second show at Above the Stag’s brand new venue – a renovated railway arch in Vauxhall.
We join The Integrity Players, an off-off-Broadway theatre group run by married couple Dan (Alexander Hulme) and Amanda (Stacy Sobieski) along with their lead actor Harold J. Lichtenberger (Lucas Livesey), in their quest to bring classic plays to New York theatregoers. However, with only ten people in the audience, the company’s sole benefactor – Amanda’s mother (Ellen Verenieks) – is threatening to withdraw her money placing the future of the group in jeopardy. Along come New York’s most successful gay theatre team – director Eddie Russini (Christopher Woodley), set designer T. Scott (Robert Hannouch) and costume designer Edonis (Toby Joyce) – and a young male porn star, Kit Swagger (Matthew Ferdenzi), to turn around everyone’s fortunes with a major reworking of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.
Even though The Gay Naked Play is supposed to be unsubtle, Bell’s script is cluttered with too many tired, clichéd gags that rob the piece of its satirical potential. The premise is a great launching pad for humour and in some respects resembles The Full Monty, however, unlike Simon Beaufoy’s classic, The Gay Naked Play is unfortunately void of substance and heart. That is not to say that it isn’t funny for there are some genuinely funny moments, however, I was willing for something more.
The production on whole is irritatingly messy: scene changes are laboured and the script feels rushed and one-dimensional with the abundance of stereotypical characters wearing thin very quickly.
Moreover, the cast are a mixed bag of abilities with some issues in maintaining the American accent. Verenieks does well as the ‘villain’ Mrs Anderson in her manipulative demeanour and Woodley provides the majority of the laughs. Unfortunately, his cronies Joyce and Hannouch do not match Woodley’s comedic capabilities. Livesey brings a great deal of depth to his recently-outed Harold and undoubtedly has the most interesting character in this piece.
The Gay Naked Play, although entertaining in parts, could do with a bit of reworking; there is a drop in pace towards the end and many jokes fall flat – I think Sue Pollard’s cackle from the audience generated more laughs. There is definitely potential with The Gay Naked Play but, for me, it’s not quite there yet.