Article Title:Love! Sex! Infidelity! - French Toast
Category:Performance
Author or Credit:GayNZ.com
Published on:4th November 2002 - 12:00 pm
Published by:GayNZ.com
Story ID:55
Text:A gay relationship in crisis is the basis for an award-winning play which premiered early this year in Wellington and now starting a two week season in Auckland. Jay Bennie chats with its author. From somewhere in the Middle East, I think, comes a curse: "May your wife eat biscuits in bed!" Graphic and to the point. Initially it's hard to be comfortable with the concept of mixing toast and sex. In author Kathryn van Beek's play French Toast two young gay men in a dysfunctional relationship use toast as a metaphor through which to discuss their sex-life and degrees of passion and love. It's all very stylised but, when the matter of infidelity surfaces, the metaphor broadens. "Toast is like a code for Toby and James, a way of discussing love and sex in a fun or nasty way, depending on their moods," says van Beek (pictured). So who you eat your toast with, who prepares it, what sort of toast it is (With jam? Fruit toast? Whole grain? French toast?) and whether it should be shared outside the relationship become major issues. Sharing is an especially delicate issue. "When I was writing the play I was interested in how different couples have different rules when it comes to fidelity," says van Beek. "I was interested in when what action becomes an infidelity." Granted, for many gay men the sight of a buffed hunk on the street is about as irresistible as the aroma wafting from a hot bread shop, so maybe the metaphor is more apt than it at first appears. More about rules later. But why did this young (early 20s), straight woman set her exploration of infidelity in the context of a gay relationship? "I'm interested in writing roles for people who might not necessarily always get great roles... so I try to write a lot of strong woman characters, for example, and in this case I was writing a play for my gay male friends where they wouldn't have to pretend to be straight. Obviously they're all talented enough to play straight easily when they want to, but I thought it might be fun for them to be able to be gay for a change!" Van Beek absorbed her vision of gay life and the love/sex/infidelity dynamic while living with gay flatmates including some who perform in this production at Silo Theatre. "I was studying at UNITEC's School of Performing and Screen Arts, so I was surrounded by a lot of great gay men and really enjoyed their company." And how did they and any other gay men react to her interpretation? "I was nervous about how the gay community would react to it, but I had a lot of great comments on opening night, which was a relief! Josh [Gilbertson], who plays a Marching Boy, introduced me to some of his gay friends afterwards, and they were really positive about it. Apparently Caroline [Bell-Booth, the director] asked the boys if I'd made any serious kind of gay continuity errors and they said the script was eerily accurate! Are the insecure Toby and the preening James typical of young gay men? Van Beek thinks not. "[They're] reasonably atypical in that they are characters who have exaggerated flaws, good qualities and obsessions." Wrapping a concept in a metaphor is frequently an author's way of ramming an undercover message into an audiences minds, but "I haven't really tried to hit the audience over the head with a message in this play" says van Beek. "I've tried to do that before and I don't really find it works! I guess if there is a message it's 'love conquers all'... perhaps." A message for gay men in particular, or perhaps a more universal theme? "It's not directed at anyone in particular... I guess I write for myself initially, and then if other people are interested in what I'm doing then that's great. In French Toast infidelity works its mysterious magic and the relationship is strengthened... not the traditional view of screwing around, so maybe van Beek has nontraditional views on this thorny topic? Rules even? "I think it's probably most important to be clear about your boundaries - for both people in the relationship to 'know the rules' - whatever they may be. I think all relationships can be difficult, regardless of sexual orientation, age differences, race, religion... I was in a different relationship when I started thinking about the ideas that have manifested themselves in French Toast, and it had a huge bearing on the play. French Toast was well-received in Wellington, winning the Best Theatre Award at the 2002 Fringe Festival and, in 2001, a Playmarket Young Playwrights Award. Has the play or its production changed before reaching Auckland? "I rewrote it slightly to make things clearer. The cast has almost completely changed, the design has changed to suit a different space, and Caroline's changed the staging immensely. We also did some more work on the music this time. I enjoyed it at the Fringe but I think it's better now!" So, for the record, who is this young woman who has put gay men's appetite for love, sex, and infidelity on the stage, who wrote the songs and music and even plays bass on the soundtrack? "I'm 22. I was brought up in Christchurch, where I spent a lot of time at Bar P and the Boulevard Bakehouse," she reveals. "I moved to Auckland when I got into UNITEC [and] I've spent the last year in Wellington doing my masters at Victoria University, writing a feature film." Her previous works include Little Death, "a sweet and sour comedy about a woman losing her virginity, Painted Lips was a slightly absurdist look at an alcoholic mother, a bored waitress and a drag queen stuck in a cafe, and Indiscretions was a dark look at what it means to be a woman." Van Beek is currently working on a play called The Language of Angels, based on the life of Jodie Rimmer, which she says ATCs 2econd Unit will produce next year. Finally, it's hard to resist asking about the flurry of bright pink feathers on stage... one is even attached to each copy of the programme. In a play where even the toasted is loaded with significance they're a metaphor for...? "Ask the designer! More of a look thing than anything else, I think." Hmmm. Maybe French Toast says more about us than we think! French Toast - Silo Theatre, Auckland 1-16 November 2002. GayNZ.com - 4th November 2002    
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