Lads at play
“If you don’t, I’ll spread it around where you’ve slept every night this week,” the girl with the brassy attitude bellows.
“What?” the two boys ask in unison, taking a step back.
“You oughta watch yourselves around here. Walls paper thin—people hear things.”
“Nothing’s happened,” the older of the two protests.
“Oh really? Sharing the bed together? ‘Top to tail,’ your mum said. Very nice.”
“Nothing happened,” the other boy chimes in.
In the case of Jonathan Harvey’s Beautiful Thing, perhaps they doth protest too much.
The Lambda Players, Sacramento’s award-winning Gay and Lesbian theater company, attempted to obtain the rights to Beautiful Thing for over three years; now they close their 2001 season with one of the most loved modern gay works.
But director Marsha Swayze and her cast were surprised to find what is hailed as a “lighthearted comedy” and “an urban fairytale” was more intense than they initially thought.
“It’s not the show we thought we were going to do,” says actor Jonathan Charron, who plays 15-year-old Jamie. “When we first read the script, we thought it was a simple love story. Then, as we started rehearsing, we discovered this underlying emotional depth that’s not at first apparent.”
“It’s been a catharsis is many ways,” adds Jake Mickelson, who plays Ste—Jamie’s love interest and a boy who is routinely physically abused by his family. “While the characters we are playing are 15 and 16,” Mickelson says, “we’re a few years older; we’ve been through what they are going through and it stirs those emotions for us all.”
“While we want to be as authentic as possible to the British setting and the author’s vision, we can’t erase the fact that here we have a different way of looking at things and so does our audience,” says Swayze. “If we attempted to gloss over the more serious parts of the production, the magic that this play holds just wouldn’t work.”
The cast features a number of first-time performers—including British actress Linda Jarrett as Jamie’s mother, Sandra, who spends her nights trying to make life better for her family of two by working nights as hostess at a local pub.
“I was taking a workshop, and one of the women encouraged me to audition,” says Jarrett. “The only thing I know about the play was it was set in Britain and I was someone’s mother.”
“This has been a very challenging, demanding and emotional experience—for us all,” Jarrett adds. “Thankfully, the cast has been so supportive of one another and encouraging, even through the rough spots.”
Amber Lee joins the cast fresh from the CSUS production of Dracula to play Leah, the troublesome girl next door and Mama Cass addict.
"[Director Marsha Swayze] let us take the time to explore not only our characters but ourselves,” says Lee. “She let us take a moment to laugh if something is funny, or to be sad or whatever we are feeling in regard to what’s happening.”
Rounding out the cast is Victor Saldana as Tony, Sandra’s neo-hippie beau; he transitions from City Theatre’s The Importance of Being Earnest. “It’s been a growing experience for me as an actor watching each member of the cast bring some small part of themselves to their roles. Regardless of whatever happens offstage, onstage everyone adds something special to a production.”
“I think one thing that makes this play so popular is that these are such great character roles," says Mickelson. "They aren’t the standard gay play clichés like drag queens or someone dying of AIDS—both of which I’ve played. These characters get to be young and fall in love. We should all be so lucky."