Monday, 27 January 2020

The Boy I Paid For - Theatre Review

What: The Boy I Paid For
When: 20 - 31 January 2020
Where: Upstairs, The Butterfly Club
Written and directed by: Wayne Stellini
Performed by: Johnny Kinnear and Jake Matricardi
Johnny Kinnear and Jake Matricardi
Midsumma Festival is the home of loud and proud queer theatre and this is why we love it so much. Amidst the celebrations and glamour, though, occassionally a quiet little number will pop it's head up over the crowd and beguile us with it's vulnerability and understatement. This is the magic created in The Boy I Paid For which is playing at The Butterfly Club until the end of January.

Wayne Stellini is a writer/director who already has a string of these lovely, intimate relationships dramas and the confidence with which he has written The Boy I Paid For is testament to that. The premise is simple. Keith (Matricardi) has broken up with his boyfriend and doesn't want to spend Christmas Eve alone and he is definitely not the partying kind.

Preferring to stay at home and watch Carols By Candlelight he takes advantage of our capitalist opportunities and pays for some companionship in the guise of Beau (Kinnear). At $350 per hour this is an expensive choice, but perhaps a better one for both of them given their alternatives.

We don't know this at the start of the play and, to be honest, I wish Stellini held the reveal of the commercial transaction just a little longer so that we could believe in the emotional dream Keith is trying to spin for himself. It would take us deeper into the emotional free fall Keith undertakes throughout this gorgeous little tale.

A psychologist once told me that regardless of our personal circumstances or situations, we all build stories for ourselves which enable us to believe whatever it is we are doing makes sense and seems right and reasonable. That must explain Donald Trump... ;)

The Boy I Paid For explores this concept at the most intimate of levels. Keith believes he deserves to be treated badly by his boyfriends because he is ugly. Beau believes his economic and social value lies in his beauty.

What makes The Boy I Paid For one of the more excellent nights of theatre is many fold. Firstly there is the raw honesty and authenticity of Stellini's writing. Stellini has chosen to truly trust in the magnetism of real moments delivered naturalistically. Any other style choice would have broken the finely woven strands of this delicate portrait of two men trying to get through a life which is troubling and confusing and complicated by the briefest of moments of joy - as are we all.

Whilst Stellini is not the most creative director in the Melbourne, he is smart enough to not let his staging get in the way of the actors and the story. Far too few directors are that clever unfortunately.

The actors are the other great strength of this work. I have seen Matricardi perform before (Twelfth Night) and he brings the same sweet vulnerability to this role as he did as Antonio. I was worried at first because at the start Keith comes across as a gay INCEL but Stellini is quick to reveal his vulnerabilities so I moved on from that concern after a few moments. Keith's journey is fraught and travels the gamut of highs and lows and Matricardi is more than up to the portrayal, never over-stepping the line out of naturalism and into presentation.

Kinnear is not quite as adept with his performance skills and yet I feel casting him as Beau was a masterstroke of genius by Stellini. Not because of his beautiful body (which sends everyone in the audience home with sweet fantasies to carry them off to sleep), but more because Kinnear has this aura of gentleness which belies those rock hard triceps, biceps, quadriceps, abdominals, glutes... you get the picture!

Beau is all business. A consumate professional. Beau is also a nice, kind, considerate, and caring person. He is aware of his power and status in this duet but he does not abuse it. Ironically he is forced to show Keith just where the power lies so that Keith stops believing a beautiful body means a beautiful life.

The lesson is a frightening one for Keith and my second suggestion would be for Kinnear to overcome his nature and be colder and harsher when dealing out the lesson. This is a really hard thing to do, particularly in the raw and intimate way Stellini has written it, but the ripples it would ignite would be awe inspiring. The scope is in the writing. All it needs is the extreme bravery shown throughout the rest of the show for that one brief moment.

The Boy I Paid For is an intensely brave show because of it's unwavering honesty, intimacy, and realness. It is there in the writing, it is there in the directing, and it is there in the acting. You need to be there too.

3.5 Stars

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