Beautiful Thing | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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BEAUTIFUL THING, Famous Door Theatre Company, at the Theatre Building. There are essentially two kinds of plays in the canon of mainstream gay theater these days: facile discussions of "issues" by men in various states of undress and adolescent coming-out pity parties. The former, marketed to gay audiences, are superficial but harmless while the latter, packaged for skittish straights, are politically dangerous.

Jonathan Harvey's 1993 Beautiful Thing, given its American debut in a solid, likable production by Famous Door, falls squarely into the second category. Harvey may try to disguise the genre with a lot of decorative working-class-Brit angst a la Mike Leigh, but the basic story is pure formula: teenagers Ste and Jamie, next-door neighbors, make furtive attempts at affection, find their way into the sack, sink into shame and self-reproach, barf up confessions to the family (at least Jamie does), and end up skipping down lavender lane hand in hand.

In this genre gays are harmless, pitiable children (both boys in this drama are wounded by unstable families) who simply react to life; homosexuality is presented as a "problem" that straight people must "accept." The best any self-loathing fag can hope for is to feel good about being gay--rather than, say, challenging a heterosexist system that denies him his full civil rights. Once again, a stage-worthy gay life is taken to be a troubled adolescence and a cute boyfriend. --Justin Hayford

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