In Nash tradition the themes behind its latest production are nothing short of controversial. In Harvey Fierstein’s Safe Sex, however, homosexuality and AIDS are presented with a touch of black humour, as director/actor Drew Mason brings to the stage a darkly ironic but entirely engrossing exploration of the issues.
The production encompasses three short plays based around the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. The first, “Manny and Jake”, is the shortest, and unfortunately also the least effective of the three. Adam Freeman is capable in the role of Jake, providing the neccessary amount of sleaze and male single-mindedness required by the role. But Leo Sio seems almost too “nice” to be believeable as the sexually precocious Manny. The interaction between the two is charged with a very real sense of sexual tension, although the dialogue becomes somewhat stilted at times. As a result, many of the in-jokes and witticisms were lost in the effort of actually saying the lines. The very basic set suits the dialogue-driven play well, as does the simplistic styling of props. Overall, the play fails to reach its full potential: Sio and Freeman fail to ever really capture and develop the meaning behind the words, giving the play a lack of polish.
Not so the second play, the humorous “Safe Sex”, featuring David Dellit and Ben McMillan in the alternating roles of Ghee and Mead, centring on an argument between the lovers. The title piece is the most polished of the three, as the dialogue flows smoothly and swiftly between the two actors with an ease of characterisation conspicuously missing from the first. The set takes a more elaborate part this time, consisting of a see-saw like structure on which the actors sit and address each other from opposite ends. The device is effective, with the physical motion of the see-saw giving the argument emphasis as well as adding a comic element to the action. Dellit and McMillan work well together as the feuding couple, capitalising on the comic opportunities in the script. In terms of laughs it’s the most entertaining of the three plays.
The action takes a seriously dramatic turn in the last play, “On Tidy Endings”. The story revolves around the AIDS-related death of Colin and the relationship between three survivors: Colin’s gay lover Arthur (played by director Drew Mason), ex-husband of Marion (Virginia Jay) and father of teenager Jimmy (James Cook). The subject matter is sobering, and there are few laughs to break the mood, but Drew Mason makes it more than worthwhile as the resentful Arthur, managing to draw more than a few tears from the audience towards the end. Virginia Jay is likeable as ex-wife Marion, although she seems to take a little while to really get into the rhythm of the character, and James Cook is satisfactory in his role as Jimmy for the little required of him. Another brief appearance is that of Lisa Cunningham, who plays the abrasive lawyer June with the required amount of dislikeability. The set, based in the soon-to-be-empty apartment of Arthur and Colin, is thoroughly depressing in its loneliness, which suits the script in both mood and theme. “On Tidy Endings” presents the audience with the show’s most moving scenes, the most memorable, Arthur’s matter-of-fact yet heartfelt description of the slow deterioration and death of Colin over the years.
Overall Safe Sex succeeds in being able to hold the attention of the audience for the entirety of the two-hour running time. Despite a somewhat disappointing start with “Manny and Jake”, the next two plays more than make up for it, with some quality performances and well thought out direction by Drew Mason. Nash have managed to tackle complex issues without becoming too moralistic, making Safe Sex an altogether entertaining and worthwhile experience.