Thursday, 7 October 2010

Limp Dicks in Hollywood Shtick

Adam Blake and Sid Phoenix in the Courtyard Studio production

With an overlapping plot told partly in flashback, about an ex-Hollywood actor with a 1949 gay past and an unmarriageable son who has acquired an East German mail order bride in about 1989, the first-act setup of 'Secret Boulevard' takes a while. Long enough, in fact to count the polystyrene tiles on the low-slung ceiling of the Courtyard Theatre's studio and reflect how inadequately they protect you from the ruckus of Marat/Sade in the main house where the inmates of the asylum of Charenton sounded to be having more fun.

Dylan Costello's play has the germ of a good idea. His heroes are two closeted gay actors, loosely based perhaps on Lon McCallister, who gave up movies aged 30 after a gay affair, and Rory Calhoun whose career was thrown to the wolves when Rock Hudson's notorious agent Henry Willson revealed his secrets to 'Confidential' magazine to prevent them printing an expose of Hudson's own private life.

Using identifiable named characters like these could have made for a more interesting play, as the ones in Secret Boulevard are somewhat two-dimensional to care about. Sid Phoenix as the ingenue from England is a bright actor worthy of better material. The women are ciphers, Anna Sambrooks is the most convincing as a Monroe-breathy but by no means dumb blonde: her character complains she's not given parts with enough depth and emotional range, and it's equally true for this production which sometimes feels like the book of a musical denuded of its songs.

Two-dimensionality is reinforced by Ilaria D'intinosante's low-budget set which captures none of the glamour of the MGM era and has entrances wedged so tightly against the back wall that the actors enter sideways. Coupled with their difficulties with props, particularly handling the copious smoking, it looks beyond awkward.

The piece picks up in the second half and there are flashes of comedy and the potential for considerable improvement in a rewrite. Talking of flashes, there's full-frontal nudity, but it's surprisingly unerotic and the flaccidity is symptomatic of the whole evening.

Rory Calhoun on whom the story may be based

This review originally written for

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