Magazine article The Spectator

Smaller Than Life

Magazine article The Spectator

Smaller Than Life

Article excerpt

Somewhere between stage and screen, the penises seem to have shrunk. Three years ago, when Terrence McNally's gaysin-the-country romp Love! Valour! Compassion! played the Manhattan Theatre Club, audiences left marvelling at the size of the cast's members. To judge from the impact on poor, dissatisfied female theatregoers, the company appeared to have been selected principally as an exercise in gay triumphalism: one New York producer of my acquaintance took his girlfriend, who turned to him at the end and demanded, `Why can't you have one like that?' (Possibly she meant an Off-Broadway hit.) It was, admittedly, a competitive season for male nudity - Sean Matthias's production of Les Parents Terribles began the second act with a character emerging from the bathtub and leisurely towelling off for what seemed longer than the title song of Hello, Dolly!so clearly the competition for Best Part In A Play was going to be intense.

Now, on the big screen, with seveneighths of the original cast and plenty of close-ups, everything seems somehow smaller than life. Perhaps it's the way movie audiences routinely assume everything's a computer-enhanced animatronic. Or perhaps it's a reminder of how much easier it is to make a splash on stage than on film. Of McNally's octet of gays, two are twins - a vicious British composer and his genial, Aids-riddled queeny brother. On stage, the same actor played both in a display of old-time theatrical bravura; on film, it seems merely a feeble stunt. The play is set at a lakeside country house in Dutchess County, New York, over three long weekends -- Memorial, Independence and Labor Days - culminating in a rehearsal of their Swan Lake number for an Aids benefit. The characters have jokey names suggestive of types: the opposite twins are Mr Jekyll and his brother; the gossipy house guest is Buzz Hauser; the Hispanic dancer, a veritable furnace of fornication, is called Fornos, etc. As directed by Joe Mantello, the tone seems intended to be Chekhovian.

Unfortunately, McNally is a writer increasingly uninterested in anything other than his own narrow precincts: on stage the biggest laugh went to the line about a nightmare revival of The King and I starring Tommy Tune and Elaine Stritch. A divine show-queen gag, to be sure, but it's the sound of a theatre talking to itself. You can just about get away with that on stage, but not on film.

There are gays in Spike Lee's Get on the Bus, too: 'A gay black Republican? Now I seen everything,' as someone says. Actually, the guy's a gay black Republican Gulf war veteran. …

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