Desert Rose Playhouse’s current production is BEAUTIFUL THING by Jonathan Harvey and a beautiful thing it is! The setting is the early 1990’s in a Southeast London council estate, Britain’s version of subsidized housing. The residents of 3 adjacent apartments are the focus here. First there is the recently expelled Leah (Ceisly Jefferson) who is infatuated with everything related to the singer Mama Cass, who, for those of you not into ancient history, came to fame as a member of the Mamas and the Papas. Leah tries to hide much of her inner anger in cursing and firing off barbs of wicked humor. In the next apartment lives Sandra (Christine Tringali-Nunez) a single mom to son Jamie (Noah Arce) who is 15 and her current younger and rather ineffectual lover Tony (Brent Anderson). In the third apartment is another teenage boy, Ste, who is 16, along with his drunken father and drug dealing older brother, both of whom are unseen but apparently have no qualms about regularly beating up Ste, the results of which, psychologically and physically, are seen.
Through all of the hardships and struggles of these characters emerges one of the most beautiful things in life…..love. In a setting like this where space and privacy are at a minimum, people tend to get wrapped up in each other’s lives and that certainly holds true here. The women, though showing a tough outer skin both have hearts of gold. Leah reveals a vulnerable side hiding behind all the sharp tongued quips. Sandra, though often brusque and loud, really only wants happiness and a good life for herself and those she cares about. The boys at the center of the story are both facing that moment in life when, in order to be truly happy, they must accept the truth about their being gay. Being the early 1990’s in the U.K., this was not so easy. Just a few years earlier, Margaret Thatcher had signed Section 28 into law prohibiting local authorities from “promoting” homosexuality or gay “pretended family relationships”, and prevented councils spending money on educational materials and projects perceived to promote a gay lifestyle. Jamie, though still working through things, not the least of which, I assume, is how to come out to his mom, seems more at ease with himself than Ste does. Perhaps out of fear of what his dad and brother might do, Ste at first denies the feelings he has for Jamie. But as is often the case, love wins out.
What could have been a very heavy handed play in the hands of another author, is actually a very warm and often funny one, with moments of lightness balancing out the darker ones. Credit must be given to director Robbie Wayne for not allowing the play to ever slip into a melodramatic mood and keeping a very realistic and natural feeling throughout scenes of confrontation, humor, passion and anger.
This is truly an ensemble cast. As Sandra, Christine Tringali-Nunes, lets the caring and loving side of her show, thereby balancing the harsher, louder persona Sandra uses as a defense mechanism to get through the day. Ceisley Jefferson’s Leah lets the vulnerable girl peek out just enough to see how Leah hides her insecurities and fear behind a wicked sense of humor. The scene in which she was on an apparently acid driven high was really funny and believable and not over-played for a minute. Brent Anderson, does what he can to make Tony, the least developed role of the script, likeable and just goofy enough to let us see why Sandra possibly hooked up with him in the first place. As the two teens falling in love, Noah Arce and Robert Garcia do a great job in letting us feel that jumble of emotions associated with one’s first love! When Ste tries to deny it, we clearly see and feel the confusion and fear he is enduring. When he pushes Jamie away, the hurt is palpable on Jamie’s face as is the joy when they are about to have their first kiss.
Another kudo goes out to the entire production team for the ongoing excellence in the scenic and lighting designs as well as the continued creative use of the space to allow for more playing areas and scenic elements.
So for everyone who remembers the good (and the bad) about coming out and for anyone who still cherishes their first kiss with their first love (and come on, who doesn’t?), I strongly urge you to go see BEAUTIFUL THING at the Desert Rose Playhouse now through March 29, 2020. For tickets or for further information, call 760-202-3000 or go to www.desertroseplayhouse.org