A couple have gone for a cultural trip cum “weekend of decision about their future,” but one of them has deliberately complicated matters — perhaps with the aim of putting off the moment of decision — by inviting one each of their respectively divorced parents. It could be the set-up for a romantic comedy, with plenty of light innuendo, a few unfortunate misunderstandings, and a happily-ever-after ending.
This is the set-up of The Lightning Field, the new play by David Ozanich that has just had its European premiere at the Oval House Theatre in South London, in a Banner New York production. And there are plenty of laughs in this fast-moving one-act production, but “light” it certainly isn’t — as you might expect from a production associated with the Shamelessboyz Theatre Company in London, which has previously presented work on some pretty confrontational topics.
The couple are Sam, a New York veterinarian who has plunged into the depths of the gay scene, and Andy, his much younger partner who has to decide how he’s going to respond when the question is popped. And so there are plenty of “social issues” questions in the air confronting Gerrit, Sam’s country club-frequenting, hard-drinking father, and Andy’s mother Lori, a former teen bride who is now a bitter divorcee.
But Ozanich doesn’t fall for the obvious ploy of making the elder pair, who are getting perilously close to becoming a couple themselves, homophobic. They both seem entirely adjusted to their sons’ homosexuality. What’s hanging over them, and their sons, are the scars of their own earlier failed, traumatic relationships. Whatever the sexuality, it seems the problems are almost the same.
All of this is skilfully brought out by Ozanich in a play that covers a lot of ideological territory without once threatening to become didactic or overtly “political.” The characters are entirely themselves, not cardboard examples of type.
The setting too is an inspired touch. The Lightning Field is a real place – an art installation by Walter de Maria in a field in New Mexico that can only be visited by six people at one time. It allows for a spooky, effective atmosphere in which the symbolism doesn’t overwhelm the emotion.
This is, above all, the story of a couple who are strongly attracted, yet who must overcome the conflicts of their desires if they are to decide to stay together. It’s a play that demands, and here gets, a strong cast, and it never threatens to fall into melodrama.
Rightor Doyle as Andy balances almost to perfection a potent mix of passion and vulnerability — a young love Everyman. Bekka Lindstrom plays Lori with a giddy energy that almost steals the show at times. H. Ryan Clark as Sam is slower to express the depths of his role, but they grow through the play, and Rick Zahn as Gerrit ensures that his character doesn’t slip into stereotype.
It is a tight, gripping production, but it is the writing that really makes the play something special. I’ll certainly be looking out for Ozanich in future.
The Lighting Field continues at the Oval House Theatre until December 8.