The World Only Spins Forward- saying goodbye to Angels


It’s taken me two weeks to write this. Two weeks since I personally said goodbye to this production, and to this play for whoever knows how long. Long before I got on a plane and traveled halfway across the world for it, I asked myself how do you say goodbye? To a production that’s spent two, almost three years nestled in my brain. Two years of it in production. Of writing about it again. Of finding a love for it again.

I think the answer is you don’t. I think I never have, much like Prior’s prophecy this play has become part of me. Except I didn’t reject it. Which I think legitimately means I can declare ‘Fuck you I’m a Prophet’ whenever I feel like it.

What I will do instead, is write my own Epilogue. 

But of course, it’s longer than these two, almost three years. I’ve lived with this play for fourteen years. I’ve grown up with this play. I’ve grown into it. When I started I was over a decade younger than Prior and Louis. This time around I was their age. Perhaps that’s why it’s so powerful; we align the art we love to the moments they hit in our own lives. And we grow into them. You can love this play at any age if you’re ready for it.  At 19 I was ready for it. I needed it. It took me through a year of grief, of being ‘lost to myself’, of discovering sexuality. Of discovering a voice in theatre that spoke to me like no other.  
I needed this play when I found it (the film version, then the text) at 19. And despite living with it continuously in between (a sometimes-fraught relationship granted), it came back to me when I needed it again. More powerfully than the first time. At 32 it meant more. Having lived through, if not the same things then similar resonances, I recognise more of myself in these characters (not just Louis’ life as an office temp who breaks things and hits his head….and talks too much…though that rings particularly true). Moreover, I went into this production twice, in London and New York, and came out changed once again. What play, what work changes you not once in a lifetime but twice?
I’ve said goodbye to this play many times, in many ways (sometimes in anger) but this time is the hardest. Because I feel like this production, like Prior’s visit to heaven, brought me back from the dead (metaphorically speaking….and is the whole thing metaphoric, does that make it any less real…questions for another day). And there’s nothing like a protracted goodbye to make it harder. I cheated in London. I already knew it was coming back. I was still sad that chapter was over. I was changed by it in London. I was elated by what being a (tiny) part of it had given me. And then ‘something just fell apart’. Those months since were the darkest I’ve had for many years, for many reasons. And it’s no exaggeration that seeing Angels again in June pulled me through. Just get to June I’d tell myself in particular dark moments. Just get to June.

The day after I saw Angels the first time I sat by the Bethesda Fountain and felt like Harper’s description of the Ozone layer; I had absorbed the play again and was repaired.

I’m smiling but I also cried.


Because seeing it again, seeing it the last time it wasn’t goodbye, it was coming home. From the very first moment it felt like being back where I belonged. Some performances fill you with adrenaline and chasing a high of amazement. For me, Angels fills me with an incredible sense of both peace and fulfillment. I worried, following the play to New York. All that time away. With a new cast, new staging. The weight of expectation, that it wouldn’t, as Roy says, ‘measure up.’ But as soon as it began I was home once more. I worried too that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy it- my analytical brain kicking in, the panic of ‘you said you’d write a book about this’ and my emotions at seeing it again/for the last time. None of it mattered. The moment it started I was back in that world, absorbed, feeling everything that pulled me to it to begin with. Yes, my brain still whirred at 1000 MPH. But in a wonderful way, in that sense of ‘I know you, I know who I am with you.’

And the love of it is what overwhelmed me that final time seeing it. Yes, I had moments of sadness. I sobbed through both opening monologues. Because those are the benchmarks of this crazy beautiful wonderful play- a Rabbi and a Bolshevik giving a lecture. And because Susan Brown. Who is not only a revelation on stage, but who is the kindest most generous of humans. My ‘Mother Pitt’ in this production who I am so grateful to for indulging this madness.

She looks stern but she’s really most lovely


Final performances are always odd ones. You can’t help but be pulled out now and again, realising it’s the last time you’ll see something. ‘Moon River’ always gets me, as well it should, but I remember thinking ‘I’m going to miss them’. Because as much as there is sadness in the abstract ‘this play will be gone again’ there’s an incredibly personal pull to this production, this team of actors (past and present). I will miss them. I think with plays we love we all have ‘our’ production, the one that attaches itself to your heart and mind and won’t let go.

‘Shut up and let them dance’ 
It took me 14 years of loving this play to find my version. It took 14 years for it to all fall into place and say ‘Yes this is what I knew but hadn’t seen’ and this company brought it into my heart in a way that even for me it hadn’t been before. Much like falling in love you ‘just know’. When I sat in a tech rehearsal seeing the not-quite finished version of some random moments: I knew. And when I heard Andrew Garfield declare ‘More Life!’ one last time, I knew nothing would ever touch this again. For me this is it.

It isn’t about perfection. I can (and no doubt will) professionally deconstruct this production. I can (and no doubt will) see equally good Prior Walters and Louis Ironsons in my life (I contest we will ever see a Hannah Pitt of such calibre, empirically that’s got to be true right?). I don’t dispute that this Prior, this Louis, this Angel weren’t for everyone. This isn’t everyone’s special production. But for some of us it was. It was that moment of perfect alchemy; the right production, the right actor, one line that gets you, one moment of visual perfection. But most importantly, it was all those at the right time. And most importantly the moment you’re ready for it to attach itself to you and never let go.
Because it’s the external stuff that matters too. When I sat down in the theatre for the final Perestroika I turned to my Mum and said, ‘It’s the last one and I’m sad’ and burst into tears. I said, ‘It’s been two years of my life.’ Two years and so much more. And Mum started to cry and said, ‘I know I’ve been there with you.’ It has been so much beyond what is on stage, and it is so much not enough to try and consolidate it into words. Words are indeed the worst things.

‘Nothing’s lost forever’ after all, and this play will come again. The joy and sadness of theatre is that it’s ephemeral. I can never recapture any of those performances, and all of them were different, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. That’s what makes it special.  But as theatre fans we still mourn the loss of a production- the play we love only lives as long as it’s performed, and while it is then it’s a living breathing thing out in the world, and then it is, as we say in theatre ‘dark’ once more. The Neil Simon will go dark tonight and with it this version of this thing so many of us love. And I am sad because people who need and love this play won’t go back to rediscover it. And sadder still that, for now at least, people won’t have a place to discover it anew.  It’s a play that will be back. In some form or another. And so ‘I’ll miss them’ I don’t just mean this group of actors performing it, I mean I’ll miss these characters being real, out there in the world again night after night. And I will miss it. I will miss that it is alive again, that somewhere it is existing as a living breathing thing as it was written to be. I will miss that it is there for people to discover. Every night it is performed is a chance for someone else to find it, to love it, to be changed by it.

Because that has been my true joy these past couple of years. That’s why writing the programme essay for the National was so important to me; to share this and to help other people understand and find a love of it. And despite the opportunities that have come my way because of this, the greatest by far has been to share that with people. I don’t know how to explain the frustration, the isolation of writing about this play and feeling like nobody cared about it or what I had to say was. And how great a revelation (threshold of…) it has been to finally share that with others. And to see others discover it for the first time. Again, when you truly love a piece of work, you want others to share it, to love it as you do.

 I am aware of how utterly ridiculous I am. It’s just a play. And I confess I’ve felt frustrated, judged even at times over the last couple of years. For my love of it. But for every disparaging comment, every eye roll, there’s been someone who gets it. From the people who came up to me at the theatre or arranged to meet because we were there at the same time. For the friends who hugged me hard and shared the day in London with me last summer. To the friends on Twitter who ceaselessly have cheered me on. To everyone who gets it. To everyone who reads these epic monologues of blog posts.  You are fabulous creatures each and every one, and you made this. 
These blogs are my Louis moments. 

Because as much as my sadness is the abstract- this play will be gone again. It’s also an incredibly personal, I will miss the joy of it being in my life. And without it always being there-even just out of reach- there is of course a sense of ‘what next?’ My honest, and terrible fear is that this is it. That this is all I get. That was my moment and that’s it. My Mum kept saying to me in New York ‘this is just the beginning’. This play brought me this far. So I hope she’s right.

Short Story-time on that. When we went to New York, Susan Brown invited me and Mum to have a drink in her dressing room with her. My Mum has tirelessly supported my work- not least in seeing an 8 hour play twice in one holiday- to using the money she made dog sitting to pay for it, when I couldn’t. To let me see this thing I loved, that I had poured myself into, one last time. And that’s just this year. Never mind the PhD support- she’s also gone on multiple ‘theatre holidays’ and when I was a kid stood at Broadway and London Stage doors with me so I could be the nerd I am. Taking my Mum, backstage on Broadway, introducing her to my most favourite actor in the play (and person). That’s places I never thought I’d go. Those moments make everything worth it- the chance to say thank you as well. (the story of how James McArdle thought he’d nearly knocked her over with a chair is slightly less magical but a memory nonetheless) 

Which brings me to, line that made me cry the hardest the final three times (London and New York) that I saw it. And it’s not one I ever expected. Not one I ever noticed before if I’m honest.
“You’ll find, my friend, what you love will take you places you never dreamed you’d go”
It’s Roy Cohn for God’s sake. You’re not supposed to align yourself with Roy Cohn in this play-or frankly anywhere in life. And as much as this blog isn’t to rehash these stories, I have to say without this play, without this production I don’t know where I’d be. This play really did take me places I never dreamed I’d go. I hope it will continue to do that. And I will forever be grateful to the doors it opened (or at least loosened enough for me to kick down). And even if it was the end, it really did take me some places.

And despite my anxious mind (have I ever mentioned just how ‘Louis’ I am in life?) what I take from this production, from my final goodbye, is hope. This production, I can’t quite articulate for those who have never seen others, is so filled with hope. Lascivious- awful at times, granted but it swells at the end to this great chorus of theatrical and philosophical hopefulness. And I still don’t quite know how. It’s in there, it’s all in the text, but there’s some strange Angels-Magic in this version that makes that feeling of hope impossible to ignore. And that’s what I chose to focus on in that last performance.

That’s what Kushner wants of us in that final Epilogue. To take those seven-odd-hours (c’mon Tony we know you wrote 9 hours worth) of theatre. Of that experience we have shared, and take it back out into the world. That’s why Prior addresses the audience in the end. That’s why Marianne Elliott raises the house lights (I still curse your name aloud for that). It’s to tell us, take this, all of it into you and out into the world. And that’s what I plan to do with this production, with this two years.  To bottle that energy- that hope- that forward motion. The world only spins forward after all….and take it with me.

“I’m almost done”

It’s ‘so much not enough, it’s so inadequate’ but I of course want to end on a thank you. To those who made it happen. Maybe you know what you did, what you were a part of (I like to think every person who works on this play does to a degree) maybe you don’t. But know you changed one person. Thank you to the actors; Amanda Lawrence, Denise Gough, Nathan Lane, Russell Tovey, Lee Pace, James McArdle, Beth Malone, Susan Brown and Andrew Garfield. Thank you to every Angel ‘Shadow’ and understudy in London and New York (especially the magical Mateo Oxley), to everyone work worked on the production, the technical crews and stage management.

To Tony Kushner for giving it back (and the re-writes).

And of course, to Marianne Elliott for giving it ‘More Life’ in a lifetime I could never express my love and awe at what you created. And my gratitude for how you have treated me as a person.

This play lives on, because of you all. And I plan to play my part, by documenting just how special it was…and finishing the damn book. 

“Bye now. You are fabulous creatures, each and every one. And I bless you. More Life!” 



The World Only Spins Forward- saying goodbye to Angels


It’s taken me two weeks to write this. Two weeks since I personally said goodbye to this production, and to this play for whoever knows how long. Long before I got on a plane and traveled halfway across the world for it, I asked myself how do you say goodbye? To a production that’s spent two, almost three years nestled in my brain. Two years of it in production. Of writing about it again. Of finding a love for it again.

I think the answer is you don’t. I think I never have, much like Prior’s prophecy this play has become part of me. Except I didn’t reject it. Which I think legitimately means I can declare ‘Fuck you I’m a Prophet’ whenever I feel like it.

What I will do instead, is write my own Epilogue. 

But of course, it’s longer than these two, almost three years. I’ve lived with this play for fourteen years. I’ve grown up with this play. I’ve grown into it. When I started I was over a decade younger than Prior and Louis. This time around I was their age. Perhaps that’s why it’s so powerful; we align the art we love to the moments they hit in our own lives. And we grow into them. You can love this play at any age if you’re ready for it.  At 19 I was ready for it. I needed it. It took me through a year of grief, of being ‘lost to myself’, of discovering sexuality. Of discovering a voice in theatre that spoke to me like no other.  
I needed this play when I found it (the film version, then the text) at 19. And despite living with it continuously in between (a sometimes-fraught relationship granted), it came back to me when I needed it again. More powerfully than the first time. At 32 it meant more. Having lived through, if not the same things then similar resonances, I recognise more of myself in these characters (not just Louis’ life as an office temp who breaks things and hits his head….and talks too much…though that rings particularly true). Moreover, I went into this production twice, in London and New York, and came out changed once again. What play, what work changes you not once in a lifetime but twice?
I’ve said goodbye to this play many times, in many ways (sometimes in anger) but this time is the hardest. Because I feel like this production, like Prior’s visit to heaven, brought me back from the dead (metaphorically speaking….and is the whole thing metaphoric, does that make it any less real…questions for another day). And there’s nothing like a protracted goodbye to make it harder. I cheated in London. I already knew it was coming back. I was still sad that chapter was over. I was changed by it in London. I was elated by what being a (tiny) part of it had given me. And then ‘something just fell apart’. Those months since were the darkest I’ve had for many years, for many reasons. And it’s no exaggeration that seeing Angels again in June pulled me through. Just get to June I’d tell myself in particular dark moments. Just get to June.

The day after I saw Angels the first time I sat by the Bethesda Fountain and felt like Harper’s description of the Ozone layer; I had absorbed the play again and was repaired.

I’m smiling but I also cried.


Because seeing it again, seeing it the last time it wasn’t goodbye, it was coming home. From the very first moment it felt like being back where I belonged. Some performances fill you with adrenaline and chasing a high of amazement. For me, Angels fills me with an incredible sense of both peace and fulfillment. I worried, following the play to New York. All that time away. With a new cast, new staging. The weight of expectation, that it wouldn’t, as Roy says, ‘measure up.’ But as soon as it began I was home once more. I worried too that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy it- my analytical brain kicking in, the panic of ‘you said you’d write a book about this’ and my emotions at seeing it again/for the last time. None of it mattered. The moment it started I was back in that world, absorbed, feeling everything that pulled me to it to begin with. Yes, my brain still whirred at 1000 MPH. But in a wonderful way, in that sense of ‘I know you, I know who I am with you.’

And the love of it is what overwhelmed me that final time seeing it. Yes, I had moments of sadness. I sobbed through both opening monologues. Because those are the benchmarks of this crazy beautiful wonderful play- a Rabbi and a Bolshevik giving a lecture. And because Susan Brown. Who is not only a revelation on stage, but who is the kindest most generous of humans. My ‘Mother Pitt’ in this production who I am so grateful to for indulging this madness.

She looks stern but she’s really most lovely


Final performances are always odd ones. You can’t help but be pulled out now and again, realising it’s the last time you’ll see something. ‘Moon River’ always gets me, as well it should, but I remember thinking ‘I’m going to miss them’. Because as much as there is sadness in the abstract ‘this play will be gone again’ there’s an incredibly personal pull to this production, this team of actors (past and present). I will miss them. I think with plays we love we all have ‘our’ production, the one that attaches itself to your heart and mind and won’t let go.

‘Shut up and let them dance’ 
It took me 14 years of loving this play to find my version. It took 14 years for it to all fall into place and say ‘Yes this is what I knew but hadn’t seen’ and this company brought it into my heart in a way that even for me it hadn’t been before. Much like falling in love you ‘just know’. When I sat in a tech rehearsal seeing the not-quite finished version of some random moments: I knew. And when I heard Andrew Garfield declare ‘More Life!’ one last time, I knew nothing would ever touch this again. For me this is it.

It isn’t about perfection. I can (and no doubt will) professionally deconstruct this production. I can (and no doubt will) see equally good Prior Walters and Louis Ironsons in my life (I contest we will ever see a Hannah Pitt of such calibre, empirically that’s got to be true right?). I don’t dispute that this Prior, this Louis, this Angel weren’t for everyone. This isn’t everyone’s special production. But for some of us it was. It was that moment of perfect alchemy; the right production, the right actor, one line that gets you, one moment of visual perfection. But most importantly, it was all those at the right time. And most importantly the moment you’re ready for it to attach itself to you and never let go.
Because it’s the external stuff that matters too. When I sat down in the theatre for the final Perestroika I turned to my Mum and said, ‘It’s the last one and I’m sad’ and burst into tears. I said, ‘It’s been two years of my life.’ Two years and so much more. And Mum started to cry and said, ‘I know I’ve been there with you.’ It has been so much beyond what is on stage, and it is so much not enough to try and consolidate it into words. Words are indeed the worst things.

‘Nothing’s lost forever’ after all, and this play will come again. The joy and sadness of theatre is that it’s ephemeral. I can never recapture any of those performances, and all of them were different, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. That’s what makes it special.  But as theatre fans we still mourn the loss of a production- the play we love only lives as long as it’s performed, and while it is then it’s a living breathing thing out in the world, and then it is, as we say in theatre ‘dark’ once more. The Neil Simon will go dark tonight and with it this version of this thing so many of us love. And I am sad because people who need and love this play won’t go back to rediscover it. And sadder still that, for now at least, people won’t have a place to discover it anew.  It’s a play that will be back. In some form or another. And so ‘I’ll miss them’ I don’t just mean this group of actors performing it, I mean I’ll miss these characters being real, out there in the world again night after night. And I will miss it. I will miss that it is alive again, that somewhere it is existing as a living breathing thing as it was written to be. I will miss that it is there for people to discover. Every night it is performed is a chance for someone else to find it, to love it, to be changed by it.

Because that has been my true joy these past couple of years. That’s why writing the programme essay for the National was so important to me; to share this and to help other people understand and find a love of it. And despite the opportunities that have come my way because of this, the greatest by far has been to share that with people. I don’t know how to explain the frustration, the isolation of writing about this play and feeling like nobody cared about it or what I had to say was. And how great a revelation (threshold of…) it has been to finally share that with others. And to see others discover it for the first time. Again, when you truly love a piece of work, you want others to share it, to love it as you do.

 I am aware of how utterly ridiculous I am. It’s just a play. And I confess I’ve felt frustrated, judged even at times over the last couple of years. For my love of it. But for every disparaging comment, every eye roll, there’s been someone who gets it. From the people who came up to me at the theatre or arranged to meet because we were there at the same time. For the friends who hugged me hard and shared the day in London with me last summer. To the friends on Twitter who ceaselessly have cheered me on. To everyone who gets it. To everyone who reads these epic monologues of blog posts.  You are fabulous creatures each and every one, and you made this. 
These blogs are my Louis moments. 

Because as much as my sadness is the abstract- this play will be gone again. It’s also an incredibly personal, I will miss the joy of it being in my life. And without it always being there-even just out of reach- there is of course a sense of ‘what next?’ My honest, and terrible fear is that this is it. That this is all I get. That was my moment and that’s it. My Mum kept saying to me in New York ‘this is just the beginning’. This play brought me this far. So I hope she’s right.

Short Story-time on that. When we went to New York, Susan Brown invited me and Mum to have a drink in her dressing room with her. My Mum has tirelessly supported my work- not least in seeing an 8 hour play twice in one holiday- to using the money she made dog sitting to pay for it, when I couldn’t. To let me see this thing I loved, that I had poured myself into, one last time. And that’s just this year. Never mind the PhD support- she’s also gone on multiple ‘theatre holidays’ and when I was a kid stood at Broadway and London Stage doors with me so I could be the nerd I am. Taking my Mum, backstage on Broadway, introducing her to my most favourite actor in the play (and person). That’s places I never thought I’d go. Those moments make everything worth it- the chance to say thank you as well. (the story of how James McArdle thought he’d nearly knocked her over with a chair is slightly less magical but a memory nonetheless) 

Which brings me to, line that made me cry the hardest the final three times (London and New York) that I saw it. And it’s not one I ever expected. Not one I ever noticed before if I’m honest.
“You’ll find, my friend, what you love will take you places you never dreamed you’d go”
It’s Roy Cohn for God’s sake. You’re not supposed to align yourself with Roy Cohn in this play-or frankly anywhere in life. And as much as this blog isn’t to rehash these stories, I have to say without this play, without this production I don’t know where I’d be. This play really did take me places I never dreamed I’d go. I hope it will continue to do that. And I will forever be grateful to the doors it opened (or at least loosened enough for me to kick down). And even if it was the end, it really did take me some places.

And despite my anxious mind (have I ever mentioned just how ‘Louis’ I am in life?) what I take from this production, from my final goodbye, is hope. This production, I can’t quite articulate for those who have never seen others, is so filled with hope. Lascivious- awful at times, granted but it swells at the end to this great chorus of theatrical and philosophical hopefulness. And I still don’t quite know how. It’s in there, it’s all in the text, but there’s some strange Angels-Magic in this version that makes that feeling of hope impossible to ignore. And that’s what I chose to focus on in that last performance.

That’s what Kushner wants of us in that final Epilogue. To take those seven-odd-hours (c’mon Tony we know you wrote 9 hours worth) of theatre. Of that experience we have shared, and take it back out into the world. That’s why Prior addresses the audience in the end. That’s why Marianne Elliott raises the house lights (I still curse your name aloud for that). It’s to tell us, take this, all of it into you and out into the world. And that’s what I plan to do with this production, with this two years.  To bottle that energy- that hope- that forward motion. The world only spins forward after all….and take it with me.

“I’m almost done”

It’s ‘so much not enough, it’s so inadequate’ but I of course want to end on a thank you. To those who made it happen. Maybe you know what you did, what you were a part of (I like to think every person who works on this play does to a degree) maybe you don’t. But know you changed one person. Thank you to the actors; Amanda Lawrence, Denise Gough, Nathan Lane, Russell Tovey, Lee Pace, James McArdle, Beth Malone, Susan Brown and Andrew Garfield. Thank you to every Angel ‘Shadow’ and understudy in London and New York (especially the magical Mateo Oxley), to everyone work worked on the production, the technical crews and stage management.

To Tony Kushner for giving it back (and the re-writes).

And of course, to Marianne Elliott for giving it ‘More Life’ in a lifetime I could never express my love and awe at what you created. And my gratitude for how you have treated me as a person.

This play lives on, because of you all. And I plan to play my part, by documenting just how special it was…and finishing the damn book. 

“Bye now. You are fabulous creatures, each and every one. And I bless you. More Life!” 



The Boys in the Band

The Boys in the Band is known for being the “first gay play”. Obviously not the first by any stretch it was however the first commercially successful, and if you will ‘mainstream’ gay play. It also was one of few to reach that status before the AIDS epidemic hit, and changed the gay community, and theatre by and for the gay community for the following decades.

Like ‘The Destiny of Me’ before it, this play was a most symbiotic addition to my trip. Having spent many years studying the use of theatre as a response to the AIDS crisis, seeing one of the few commercially and critically successful ‘gay plays’ to predate the crisis, and theatre that followed was very pertinent. Having traveled to see Angels in America, seeing a taste of gay theatre’s trajectory before it was also a fascinating accompaniment.

The Boys in the Band was also staged in London last year, so it was with recent knowledge of a production that I went in. The play itself, as fittingly Tony Kushner writes in his introduction to the 40th Anniversary edition, is a first play and suffers many of the issue of a first play. It is still however comedic and moving, and a fascinating slice of early liberation life. Some comments on the play dismiss it as ‘dated’. It is no more dated than any historical piece. While Kushner’s play retains continued relevance on it’s political spectrum, it’s slice of life from the 80s may be viewed as just as dated. Both continue to be relevant. The fact the Crowley’s writing may make us uncomfortable with it’s attitudes to sexuality, gender and race is in of itself reason to see and consider the play.

This production takes a darker tone to the London production, which was effervescent in its energy and enthusiasm but perhaps skirted around the darker tones of the play. That said there is a sense of perhaps overly worthiness to this that goes against the grain of Crowley’s writing at times. But overall the sense of taking comedy seriously and understanding the darkness that lies just beneath the surface really gets to the heart of the play.

It is a play full of kitchy camp humour, but there’s a dangerous and dark undertone to it. As the company gathers for Harold’s birthday (“she likes to make an entrance” late in the piece) there’s campy barbs at one another, over the top dampness that while hilarious also acted when written as a means of owning gay identified. And in fact this remains the case today. Alongside the fun and frolics of the Birthday party, a number of serious sub plots are weaved. They are a group of men conflicted over themselves, and their relationships. From the potentially closeted former roommate who may actually be the most clear cut of characters, to the formally married man, to the man who desperately doesn’t like being a homosexual, to the man who embraces promiscuity. None are quite settled with the role they have given themselves, none are really able to admit to or address why. For an older play Crowley also addresses issues of race and difference. Yes, his Black character receives the kind of insults seen as intolerable today, but ‘of their time’ in the play, but Crowley addresses this. He’s also ahead of his time in addressing the issue of bodily perfection and ideals in the gay community- and the issue of those who fit outside them. Crowley is a shrewd observer of his world, and it’s worrying how even in the dated living room, much of this world is familiar.

The cast is as talented as they are star- studded. Jim Parsons continues to prove he is far more than his sitcom alter-ego, and brings shades of his Tommy from The Normal Heart to Michael, the party’s host. Next to him Matt Bomer as Donald gives an understated and powerful performance. A far quieter role in every respect to the others, but he does much with it, and the final moments in which the audience ‘sit with’ him, and director Joe Mantello gives character and audience a chance to reflect is a powerful one.

A less affecting performance was Zarchary Quinto as Harold. The only performance in which I found myself comparing to London-where Mark Gatiss played the role- even without comparison however, Quinto’s interpretation didn’t quite land. While Harold is a character, by his own admission, playing a role of villain, performing and pushing buttons on Michael and the other friends, there was something too ‘Pantomime Villain’ in his performance. Too over the top to see what lies beneath. And too surface level to believe there was much more. Standing out perhaps against the nuanced performances others were giving, Harold really needs to have a chink in his own performative nature for the character to really land at the end, and with Quinto that just never quite clicked.

The entire cast offer strong performances, but the standout was Andrew Rannells. Proving what many musical theatre fans have known of his acting ability for years, he managed a nuanced and sensitive performance. Larry is a challenging character- easy to brush off as a shallow, attractive foil for others. But there’s much heart to the character, and much to say about the gay community- torn between promiscuity and a clear love of his boyfriend Alan. There is a lot going on in the part, and Rannells brings a true sensativity to him, to the extent it is Alan and Larry’s relationship that really steals the narrative focus- something that actually Crowley may have intended, under the bitching and banter, there is this complicated and beautiful relationship happening.

The complexity of the Larry/Alan relationship cuts to the heart of what Crowley wrote, and what Mantello pulls out in this darker production. On one level the gay community was screaming, partying and living free. On another they are trying to negotiate relationships with each other with no guidelines- do you continue to live subversively now liberation is coming? do you mimic heterosexual lifestyles? is there a middle ground? and what has this along with patriarchal culture done to the psyche of gay men?

Some 40 years later, gay men still grapple with these issues. And while much has changed, little has changed. Gay life is still an endless set of negotiations, outings, and balancing public and private personas. It’s complicated and messy and there’s no prescribed answers. So while Crowley’s play has thankfully dated in many ways, it’s also cuttingly pertinent.

Right down to the unraveling of or exposure of Michael’s mental health. That he is falling  apart, in  part due to who he is, and an inability to reconcile it, a lack of facility to discuss it, while the man who seems to love him feels he’s standing helplessly by. There’s much in that gay men today can recognise, there’s much in that anyone can recognize.

The decision to perform this play with openly gay actors is a strong political statement. In a country whose main TV and Film industries still make it difficult for Gay people to be out and still work, Mantello and producer Ryan Murphy were making a strong statement. As were the actors involved. There is something there also in choosing a historic play  for a company of gay actors to perform. A statement of how far we’ve come and yet how little. It shouldn’t be something we applaud and yet, I do applaud a company of out and proud gay men, standing on Broadway and owing that piece of gay history. And seeming to ask the question ‘We got this far,  what next then?’

The Destiny of Me (The New Group Benefit Reading)

The next few blogs will be recapping my recent New York trip. None are real ‘reviews’ for various reasons.

The first because it was a benefit reading for The New Group. Announced just a few days before I left, and in a wildly reckless scramble for tickets I booked. A scramble from the plane, to hotel and train later was I have to say, 100% worth it. This was one of those New York Theatre nights you get once a decade, and usually by accident.

For those who maybe stumble onto this blog for this post, Kramer’s work is both very significant in my professional life and linked to the reason for this trip. I wrote my PhD on theatrical responses to HIV/AIDS, and had followed ‘my’ Angels  (in America) to their new home on Broadway as part of the research for my book on the play. How then could I miss a chance to see Kramer’s play, starring an actor from Angels, and introduced by Tony Kushner?

Larry Kramer’s less known, lesser performed sequel to The Normal Heart would be a rare treat any time. The cast assembled for the benefit however made it even more so. Led by Mark Ruffalo, who starred as Ned in the film (which I realise as I wrote this I saw exactly 4 years ago for the first time). Alongside Gideon Glick as young Ned, Lee Pace as Benjamin, Ellen Barkin as Rena Weeks, Eric Bogosian as Richard Weeks and Josh Hamilton as Dr Anthony Della Vida.

Even in a reading situation, the greatness of the play shines through. It’s a long play as Tony Kushner joked (pot, kettle black and all), albeit one with some cuts now. While The Normal Heart focuses on Ned Weeks at the centre of the AIDS crisis, his family background and what made him the man he was seeps into that narrative. The Destiny of me flips that, with Ned grappling with the AIDS crisis- and his own illness- forming the backdrop to the story of his family, and how he became that man.

Told through Young Ned talking to present day Ned, we see back to his teenage years, sexual discovery and realtionship with his Father, Mother and Brother. The overbearing nature of his Mother, distance and difficulty of his Father and the seeming ‘Perfection’ of his older brother Benjamin. Ned’s struggles with himself, and his family are interjected by his current reality, doing battle with his illness, and mourning the loss of his friends.

It’s a clever play that shows off Kramer’s narrative and theatrical talent. While The Normal Heart is it’s own work of genius, that is a play borne of anger and fire, written quickly in respose to crisis. That anger and fire is it’s power, it’s honesty and what makes it the rallying cry that endures. The Destiny of me is a more refined play, it’s a less urgent play, it’s the reflection Ned and Kramer weren’t sure they would get. In addressing the Epidemic, it’s a moment of stock taking- written in a moment where things were improving, but at a point when all those losses were still raw, still continued, and before treatment, and longevity could be assured. The anger is there, but its tempered by time, questioning and mourning instead of shouting. The family element is a cleverly crafted piece of writing, that shows off Kramer’s talent. Imaginative but with brutal honesty. Ned asks the questions of his family most dare not, and they answer him with equal clarity.

The assembled cast rose to the challenge of Kramer’s complex play. Ellen Barkin was cutting and funny as Ned’s Mother, but also quietly devastating when needed. The less showy role of Ned’s Father, given a quiet dignity by Eric Bogosian, and  a real sadness. As the ‘Perfect’ Brother Benjamin, Lee Pace was quietly understated. A softly spoken actor, he brought a gentleness to the part that is a lovely contrast to Ned’s boorishness. And this being the first time I’d really seen Pace perform, a wonderful introduction to him as an actor (before, ahem spending a further 14 hours watching him on stage this week..I really didn’t intend to stalk the man on stage, really.)

Meanwhile ‘The Neds’ showed a clever through line in their younger/older selves. Young Ned being charming, effervescent and full of life (and showtunes), morphs into to grumpy, scruffy in voice and demeanor interpretation by Mark Ruffalo. But even in a reading the actors brought together mannerisms, ways of speaking that showed the younger Ned in older, and Older in Younger. Cleverly performed, particularly with little rehearsal, they were in sync throughout and held together the play’s central conceit of these two part of the same man-and the differences in him. The use of showtunes, by young Ned, was funny and charming shifting to devastating when older Ned joins in. And something in the purity of Glick’s beautiful voice, against the harsh, unrefined tones of Ruffalo’s singing made that moment all the more magical, and tragic.

This reading was a rare (especially for a Brit) opportunity to see this rarely performed play. The fact Kramer has done re-writes gives me hope there will be a production somewhere, sometime in the future. Taking a lead from his fellow traveler Kushner, I’d suggest making a day of it, and doing both The Normal Heart and The Destiny of Me in Rep. after all as Kramer apparently protested when told his play was too long, if Tony can have 7.5 hours….

Seeing the play was one highlight. But I cannot write this without talking about the others. Being in the room with Larry Kramer was itself enough.

As I said above, I’d flown that morning from London, got off the plane dumped my bags and hurried across New York. I got lost on the way home. It was a nightmare. It was a stupid idea. I’d do it all again.

Kramer’s work has been a force of nature in my life. A guiding force, and something that gives me a much needed kick up the arse many a time. If Larry wrote this in the midst of the worst experiences anyone could have in life, if Larry can do all he did for the community, then I too can get up and keep working. I’ve spend years reading about him, reading his work. Being inspired by him. My second biggest argument in my PhD was because they made me cut the chapters on The Normal Heart (the biggest was about Foucault, the third about War Horse for anyone keeping score).

I walked into the theatre and saw Larry just standing there. I live in Wales, I never thought I’d stand in a room with Larry Kramer. To see him, alive and well, ready to hear his play. That, was something. To sit and listen to Tony Kushner (whose play, we may remember I was crossing an ocean to see, again) talk about this play, what Larry has done and achieved. To be in that room. That doesn’t happen to kids from Wales who never grew up knowing what theatre was. Who were barely allowed to know what gay people were.

And it was his Birthday.

To sit in a theatre, in New York, and sing Happy Birthday to Larry Kramer on his 83rd Birthday. Because my work, my research and my passions had somehow conspired to bring me there. It was special.

The coming blogs about this trip detail how emotional, important, significant etc etc it was for me. That it started out this way is an indication of what the whole trip meant. And maybe it won’t make sense to a lot of people. And I’m making sense of what it all means, really and maybe it makes no sense to most people. But I’ve worked on some of this research for nearly 10 years. I’ve been passionate about most of these plays, these writers for longer. I’ve grown up with them, and they’re a part of me.

So this slightly foolish decision to rush from JFK…it was important. And it started a week of poignant moments for me. So thank you, to the New Group, for making a little nerd, who grew up a bigger nerd, who crossed an ocean, really happy.

A few of my own pictures…