David Coomber, Julian DeZotti (photo by Guntar Kravis)Where’s the Fortune?
One Man's Eyes Seek More
by Jason Booker
When an acknowledged classic, a landmark play in the country’s canon, has not received a professional production in a couple of decades, there is a reason for it. Sometimes that’s because the play may have been ground-breaking once but now plays as banal. Sometimes it’s that the worldview has shifted drastically and taboos have been dropped. Sometimes it is just because the play is not particularly great.
Fortune and Men’s Eyes, as a script, has been reprinted numerous times, won a trophy case of awards and is taught in almost every Canadian theatre history course offered. The play made a splash as one of the first stage treatments of homosexuality – brutal, emotional and honest; certainly it was the first look at sexuality in a prison cell. On paper, it remains a landmark.
Sadly, Stefan Dzeparoski directs the production capably but without a cohesive vision.
However, during the years since its debut, the world has changed. Unlike some of the Gay plays of the period, Fortune and Men’s Eyes does not suffer heavily from the PR problem of unsympathetic, stereotyped or negative Gay characters. Homosexuality is no longer criminalized in much of the developed world, though one of Herbert's characters lands in jail precisely because of his orientation. While the themes of sex and power are still inextricably linked to each other, the AIDS crisis of the 80s and 90s seriously revised notions of sexuality, both in and out of jail. To invite someone to the shower-room to establish dominance means something completely different now than it did in 1967 when the play was written.
Thankfully, the quartet of performers remain the core of the show. If the performances of these four cannot hold an audience’s attention, then all is for naught. The fragile Mona of David Coomber, the machismo of Cyrus Fard’s Rocky and Alex Fiddes’ flamboyance as Queenie wonderfully set the scene for newcomer Smitty (Julian De Zotti) to enter the penitentiary. Possibly there were too many conflicting acoustic issues to be concerned with, but often the actors seemed consumed by a Method acting exercise: mumbling their way through un-PC sections, relying on film acting techniques of intimacy to create emotion. Nevertheless, the commitment these actors offer to their roles leads to some unflinching moments of violence and passionate moments of bitter rage. The characters are not physically confined here, but they do remain caged in by their era’s morality and their disempowered positions in the hierarchy as felons and (pardon the language) fags.
Fortune and Men’s Eyes continues until September 8 2013 at Dancemakers Studio, Studio 313