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Review of Safe Sex and On Tidy Endings at Tristan Bates Theatre

On Tidy Endings and Safe SexSafe Sex and On Tidy Endings make up two acts of Harvey Fierstein’s Safe Sex trilogy.

In Safe Sex Ghee and Mead are reuniting after years apart but a time of happiness is overshadowed by the AIDS epidemic. Intermediate lovers, instead of being looked at with petty jealousy, are now potentially something far worse, as Ghee and Mead work out if this is something they can live with.

Ghee may be using Fierstein words but careful direction means that he has his own voice, preventing Safe Sex from becoming a giant rant. CJ de Mooi skilfully plays down his OCD in favour of having him try and take control of a world he doesn’t quite understand.

It’s very much de Mooi’s play, though Cole Michaels’ frustrated lover stays the right side of whiny, providing an object of affection stuck behind a glass wall of fear and paranoia. Safe Sex is a poignant story about the loss of innocence, painting a vivid portrait of a very dark time.

The second half of the night is On Tidy Endings, which is Fierstein in his element, a verbal sparring match between a gay man and a straight woman. Marion has brought her son Jim around to the flat of her deceased ex-husband for one final time. She’s also there to sign papers with her ex’s lover Arthur, who nursed him through AIDS.

What could have been a scorned ex-wife versus a smug new lover soon becomes a portrait of a modern family. The wife that lost her husband to homosexuality suddenly finds him handed back to her on a silver platter of condolence cards and a son that’s the spitting image. The partner that nursed him, literally keeping him alive is now reliant on the generosity of others for the role he plays in his lover’s history.

As Marion and Arthur, Deena Payne and CJ de Mooi sizzle, beautifully regulating each other’s performance. With de Mooi jumping in a flash from charming host to scorned widow, it’s Payne that grounds what could have become over the top theatrics. This, along with a star turn from Daniel Purves as Jim, the son about to face a world of ignorance, makes it an exceptionally strong piece of theatre.

I’ve seen director Dan Phillip’s work before and it’s clear he excels in a one-act structure with a knack for breaking down the action into micro scenes. His decision to anglicise the proceedings (no iffy American accents), and to merely hint at a time period through music helps to give both plays a universal feel. There’s no “it’s another place, another time”, it could be happening here and now.

Safe Sex and On Tidy Endings could easily be tough going but Feirstein provides plenty of humour, expertly injected by Phillips. This is a unique piece of theatre that goes beyond its subject matter to explore life as a whole. Truly something special.

Review by Max Sycamore
@Pheatreland

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