You have to feel sorry for hunky ex baseball player turned mediocre actor Bill Traylor. His desire to be a Broadway star leads him to be trapped in a bad romance, as Lady Gaga would have put it.
NOT only is he entrapped and preyed upon by the most famous actor/playwright of his time Noel Coward, but he can only see suicide as a way out of his predicament.
This pretty heavy stuff is lightened in local writer Edwin Preece’s stage show by the marvellous lines, some lifted from the Master and some written in his style. Never since Oscar Wilde and Cole Porter was gayness so subtly and discreetly described at a time when imprisonment was likely for practising the love that dare not speak its name.
Jeremy Crow has the look and mannerisms of Coward, but for me his voice wasn’t posh enough giving us too many Northern sounding hard vowels. But that aside, he is the epitome of charm and elegance mixed with waspish petulant manipulation.
I imagine 10 minutes in Noel’s company would make him the master and you the incoherent slave and so here the bumbling well-intentioned Bill doesn’t have a chance and is caught in the older man’s embrace – quite literally.
The play is interspersed with snatches of some of Coward’s best and plaintive love songs, with their obvious double meanings, but we don’t get enough of them and Fernando Pucci the singer is mostly hidden from view.
Warren Saunders gives a quite heart-breaking performance as the reluctant lover in this largely true story set in 1958 New York, where both are appearing in Coward’s far from first-rate play Nude with a Violin.
And there are some marvellous Coward lines as well as ones invented by Preece. “I don’t like men with short legs; their brains are too near their bottoms,” quips Noel to the long-legged Bill.
The most poignant scene is a split-location one where Noel is phoning a friend to say he has found the love of his life, while Bill on the other side of the stage breaks down to a girlfriend who Noel has banished and contemplates suicide – which he indeed attempts in the next scene.
In our days of liberation and free will, it’s probably difficult for younger audience members to appreciate how people got trapped in unhappy relationships and how difficult it was to say no to an older predator – especially one as rich and famous as Coward.
Put more of Coward’s songs in this piece and it could well be a full-length show of some power.
Mad About the Boy is on again at the Rialto Theatre on Sunday, June 3 at 3.30pm.
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Review by Brian Butler