To mark the 20th anniversary of BEAUTIFUL THING, Mauckingbird Theatre Company, dedicated to gay-themed work, begins its 2014 season with a production of English playwright Jonathan Harvey’s bittersweet comedy about discovering teen love and sexual identity in the most challenging of circumstances. Set in a council-estate public housing tenement in working-class Southeast London, next-door neighbors and schoolmates Jamie (Griffin Back) and Ste (Kevin Murray) find unexpected hope and community with each other, while coping with the desperation of their socio-economic situation, with domestic abuse fueled by substance abuse, and with the misery of being an outsider in a rough environment. It is heartwarmingly honest and human storytelling that makes an important statement without being stridently political. It’s funny, and painful, and ultimately uplifting, as boy meets boy and love conquers all.
Director Peter Reynolds elicits achingly sensitive performances from emerging actors Back and Murray, both still students at Temple University, and each with a promising future ahead. We watch them struggle and grow, through bouts of awkwardness, shame, denial, and anger, to self-acceptance, pride, and the comfort of their first love; it is indeed a “beautiful thing” to behold. Sofie Yavorsky, a recent Temple grad, is a natural as Jamie’s friend Leah, a high-school truant with a crush on Ste and an obsession with Mama Cass; she fully inhabits her role of the eccentric troubled teen with humor and pathos.
The adults in this story, too, are outsiders. Melanie Julian as Jamie’s mother Sandra and Kevin Chick as her younger boyfriend Tony convincingly capture the lifestyle of their under-privileged existence, as they enjoy some moments of base pleasure with each other in a relationship that almost everyone knows won’t last. Julian is a study in frustration—volatile, insulting, and dissolute, but beneath her crude exterior, a caring woman with aspirations and potential. Lynne Innerst provided skillful dialect coaching for the cast’s spot-on English accents, and hilarious costumes by Ariel Wang augment the comedic aspects of the script; Chick’s are especially funny, and his demeanor perfectly complements the style. January 15-February 2, 2014, Skybox at The Adrienne, 2030 Sansom St. www.mauckingbird.org.