Article Title:The Paradise Package at the Fortune Theatre
Author or Credit:Chris Banks
Published on:22nd March 2006 - 12:00 pm
Story ID:1167
Text:Actor, writer and director Geraldine Brophy has often flown in the face of accepted commercial wisdom with her plays, and her latest – The Paradise Package – is no exception, centring around the fantasy island wedding of a middle-aged male couple, whom she describes as her "benchmark for normal". In addition, the play is to have its world premiere season in Dunedin at the Fortune Theatre, and actually features a gay actor playing one of the gay characters. We're intrigued. Why Dunedin? "I had a wonderful time here last year when I bought my one-woman show Confessions of a Chocaholic on tour, and stopped off at the Fortune Theatre," Brophy says. "I hadn't been here for 17 years. I consider it one of the most vibrant, alive and imaginative theatres that I've come across nationally. I'd just completed writing this play in Decemeber, and Playmarket my writing agent had put it out and about. Fortune approached me and said, we'd like to do it. So part of their vibrancy and imagination was that they were brave enough to take on The Paradise Package!" The Paradise Package is an ensemble comedy, a genre which playwrights often turn to in New Zealand for commercial reasons. "If I'd gone in there and said I've written a play for ten actors and it's a deep drama, and – I've had it said to me before – nobody'll come and see that, it's too depressing," she laughs. "But of course comedy is one of the most profoundly affecting ways of talking about things. People will laugh instinctively from the middle of their being first, and then they'll think about what it is they laughed at. And that's the object of the exercise, that you just start a conversation. That's why I write plays." Despite recent news stories citing the "gay panic" of both actors and agents in New Zealand when it comes to considering gay roles, Brophy says in her experience that playing a gay character isn't an issue for heterosexuals, at least not on the stage. Some will have concerns about their ongoing image and career. However, this doesn't just affect straight actors. "There are many people for whom it [sexuality] is something that remains private to them. For a gay actor playing a gay character, they sometimes do not wish to be associated publicly in any publicity material. Some do, some don't." The stage and screen are also littered with examples of straight actors who "play gay" by drawing on tired veins of camp stereotypes rather than finding their character. Brophy has noticed this over the years. "That's a really interesting one. Because in my experience, a gay actor will always play the character. There's never going to be any hint in watching them and their work that there is a campness about them. Often a heterosexual actor will go to campness first as a way in, because they think the sexuality is the definition of the human being. And as we know, that isn't always so." It's both surprising and frustrating to note that even in 2006, when seemingly all boundaries in the creative arts have been broken, it's still radical to have a play that centres around gay characters. "How many plays do you know that actually have gay characters in them still?" Brophy asks. "There's a big noise made about the success of things like Torch Song Trilogy and Angels in America. Now, they were fantastically successful, but they were singular. It isn't as if every day in lots of plays in the course of a year you'll find a gay character. And if you do, quite often it won't necessarily be an examination of the world through their eyes." Indeed – and even major gay characters find themselves emasculated in the process, while minor heterosexual characters engage in all sorts of sexual and romantic trysts unnecessary to the plot. Not so the couple in The Paradise Package, says Brophy. "They're both very sexy, ballsy men." Has she ever been tempted to water things down or make them palatable for an audience? "Ah yes, that would be the advice that people might give you, and I've never followed that advice. That is why I'm not a wealthy woman," she laughs. Brophy says she loves the theatre because she sees it as a "freer place" than television or film, but she says people aren't taking advantage of the opportunity that space provides. "There's no censorship [in theatre]," she says. "I just don't think it's written in that way. I don't think people are writing those sorts of works. The message that has concerned New Zealand in the last ten years is biculturalism – that is our politics. Plays to do with that, we love, we fund. But if you're coming up and saying, "hey, women haven't really got there" or "gay people" that's a secondary strand of political activity or concern. I don't see many plays...I've just seen a wonderful revival from the Silo of Boys in the Band, for example, but they're reviving a 1968 play." While the Boys in the Band revival took characters and issues from 1968, The Paradise Package tackles issues that have reared their heads in public discourse more recently. "People say, 'oh a gay couple, how can you can imagine them walking down an aisle in a church, how can you imagine them having that, and of course they can't have families or children,' all that sort of stuff," says Brophy. "That made me want to say, well here you are – there is true believable emotional connection, and sometimes that's the thing that people don't want to see. That gay people are more than just rooting machines." But Brophy isn't out to preach, she says. "When you're trying to get something across to people that's a difficult message or an unwelcome message, people shut down when you start to preach to them. But if you make them laugh, and give them something witty and something of substance to think about, give them really good actors playing wonderful characters, they will fall in love with the people they see on the stage, and that will produce empathy. And once a human being can feel empathy for another, that is 50% along the road to understanding." What's the best thing about the show? "The best thing about the show is that I get to do a play that I feel passionately about with a group of six fantastic actors," she says. "I get to work with a fantastic company, and that can't be beat. When your job and your passion meet and are working well, there is no better day to be had." WHAT: The Paradise Package WHERE: Fortune Theatre, Dunedin WHEN: March 24 – April 13, bookings (03) 477-9323 Chris Banks - 22nd March 2006    
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