10:35 | 19th February 2019

Reviews: Live Shows

Mon 16 Jan, 2012
By Robert Ingham

it looks to be set up nicely as a comedy piece

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Above The Stag theatre in Victoria starts the year off with “Sleeping With Straight Men”, a “dark comedy by Ronnie Larsen”, inspired by true events. It tells the story of Stanley, a guy from a small American town with big dreams. He befriends the local drag queen, Sally, which leads to meeting waiter Lee, of whom Stanley becomes infatuated. Unfortunately, Stanley always falls for unavailable men, and Lee is already in a relationship.

And straight.

Never allowing this to be a deterrent, Stanley sees an opportunity to tell Lee face-to-face of his secret crush on prime time TV, the Jill Johnson Chat Show, and leaps at the chance, despite protestations from Sally and his mother. Lee, on the other hand, just wants to be famous, and so goes to meet his secret admirer, assuming it will be a gorgeous woman. When confronted with the reality, he asks for the episode to not be aired, only for his request to be ignored, and no-one is prepared for what happens next.

The true event this is referencing is the murder of Scott Amedure in 1995 by neighbour Jonathan Schmitz, three days after they appeared on the Jenny Jones Chat Show. The episode, where Scott revealed his crush on an unsuspecting Jonathan, was never aired but there was a huge court case where Amedure’s family tried to sue Jenny Jones and the studio for their part in Scott’s death.

There have been many instances where comedy has been used to great effect when retelling real life disasters and I’m positive this is what writer Ronnie Larsen was aiming for when he wrote this script. With its extremely funny opening of Jill introducing what’s coming up in the show, its musical numbers from Sally, and sparkling lines bouncing between the cast, it looks to be set up nicely as a comedy piece. However, given the outcome of the show, the script ends up uneven and slightly pantomime, with Stanley (played by Wesley Dow, who shone in When Harry Met Barry at The Stag last year) being rather stereotypical, pulling faces as if everything he sees is a wonder and delight.

It is true that Larsen has gone for satirisation, poking fun at chat shows, their hosts, and the individuals that crave their moment of television glory, regardless of the assured mockery that awaits them once the show is aired. So it is safe to say that he succeeds. His writing is strong with a great pace in the first act. However, the interval is badly placed, with Stanley and Lee still at the studio. The second act would have been better if the chat show had finished, the guests had left and the after-effects had begun to develop. If the first act was comedy, the second act should have been tragedy.

Alas, even the tragedy lacks in actual tragedy. With a second half lasting only 30 minutes, the murder and reactions from lovers and mothers are rushed so it all feels trivialised. The mother’s grief (wonderfully portrayed by Julie Ross) is swept away in shade, the outcome garbled in one sentence and the audience is cheated out of what could have been an exceptional play.

It must be said that the acting is extremely good. There are no particularly weak links, although the role of Lee's girlfriend, Karen (subtley played by Jill Regan), feels rather redundant. Martin Milnes shines as (a very young) drag queen Sally, belting out numerous songs. He has an incredible voice but just needs to be less conscious of the audience and have more confidence that he is Drag Queen Extraordinaire.

Amy Anzel (Jill Johnson) and Hannah Vesty (Judy, who runs the studio floor) are excellent and both bring great comedy to their characters, even if a twist in their story is unnecessary. Adam Isdale (Lee) looks great without his clothes on, so it is wonderful to see director Paul-Taylor Mills making sure there were a few occasions where we could forget about the world and focus on the sexy body on stage. Andrew Beckett is an unforgettable sidekick as Brian, the make-up artist.

All in all, this is a play that has glimpses of promise, but is sadly disappointing. Whilst it is not a dramatisation of a heinous crime, it is a piece of fiction with its origin based on fact, and as a result it ultimately falls through a gap that can only be filled with a major rewrite.

Sleeping With Straight Men is at the Above The Stag theatre, Victoria, until 12th February.


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