For the Love of Comrades
(With Script Development by Patricia Byrne & Mary Connors)
|Shane Fahey, Paul Rodrigues, Miles Duffield & Stephen McFarland|
Too often, important stories intertwined within the blaring headlines of the day are overlooked and soon forgotten as the next big event erases any hope of those stories being a part of our collective history and memory. Thankfully, Michael Kerrigan and New Conservatory Theatre Center have brought to the stage one such mostly unknown story of ordinary people who stood together to fight injustice in the U.S. premiere of For the Love of Comrades. The combination of a compelling and multi-layered script, astute and sensitive directing (Jeffrey Hoffman), a flexible set plucked right out of 1980s England (Devin Kasper), and an incredibly strong cast with emotional depth and convincing authenticity adds up to an evening where we as audience leave soberly stunned and deeply touched by a story we will now always remember and retell.
Following the lead of her buddy Ronald Reagan who had demolished the air controllers’ PATCO union in the U.S.A., Margaret Thatcher declared full war on the coal miners of the U.K. in 1984; and the result was devastating for the already-poor communities in places like coal-rich Wales. Seeing the daily attacks by riot-geared police on the striking miners on the TV of the apartment he shares with his music-major boyfriend, Sean suddenly becomes inspired not just to watch and pity, but to do something. Pulling together the unlikeliest of allies (other gay men whom the typical miner would likely spit at and call “poofs”), he begins organizing money collections at gay bars, making sandwiches for those on the line, and even inviting two burly, Welsh miners (David and Rhys) to stay in the tiny apartment with him and Gene. While this is a bit much and even highly irritating for Gene who is diligently practicing with his friend Candida for their conservatory thesis concert, even Gene is won over as late-night conversations (and a few Irish whiskeys) between these unlikeliest of four now-roomies reveal increasingly more similarities than the obvious differences among them. As the prolonged strike worsens the conditions on the lines and back in the miners’ hometown, David and Rhys are introduced to new worlds of Beethoven, portrait art, gourmet cooking, and even dancing donned with a boa. The resulting bonds shatter long-held stereotypes on both sides as we watch true brotherhood develop and flourish among these four. But underneath the outside world’s discord and this apartment’s inside comradery, a recurring nightmare plagues Sean of a 1971 deadly attack by British soldiers on his innocent-but-deemed-IRA-terrorist boyfriend Jim. A ghost he cannot vanish drives him both to take on ever-more causes of injustice far and wide and to avoid getting too close to anyone he might again lose, including Gene who is continually looking for signs of Sean’s true love.
Miles Duffield brings an intensity to Sean that is seen especially through piercing eyes that sometimes stare toward some unseen destination and other times dance with excitement of conviction or feeling of friendship. When the specter of Jim repeatedly appears (a haunting, sobering vision created by Adam Odsess-Rubin), Sean’s automatic convulsions of sadness and fear are bone rattling to witness. These scary bouts are equally matched by Mr. Duffield’s joyful and lustful singing and story telling in a late-night hoedown with his Welsh pals and Gene. His Sean is both mystery never quite solved and a heart that is totally transparent in its caring.
Stephen McFarland takes an initially cautious, skeptical Gene into realms of newly discovered friendship with the miners that is full of genuine liking and signs of real growth on his part beyond his own narrow world of music and self-interest. At the same time, he shows increasing signs of doubts and fears of his own future with Sean, leading to his own, powerful breakdown of confidence that is heartbreaking to watch.
That Paul Rodrigues and Shane Fahy are small-town miners carrying the scars and convictions of many generations before them is totally believable through their depictions of Rhys and David. Each enters with the gruff, homophobic looks and attitudes expected; but each undergoes a metamorphosis that is clearly genuine, heartfelt, and inspiring. Their individual journeys are marked with masterful acting that never appears scripted but seems as emotionally and motivationally bone fide as their homeland accents (theirs and all others’ vocally coached to a ‘t’ by Joe Wicht).
Alyssa Stone offers a crystal-clear singing voice as aspiring opera student Candida; but even more, she is exciting to watch as Candida’s upper middleclass biases for the Iron Lady Prime Minister and prejudices against the striking miners melt away as she too now has real faces and stories to counter the nightly news version of the world. Like all the characters before us, Candida sheds stereotypes, steps forward to help others in need in her own unique way, and becomes a different (and better) person before our eyes.
Originally entitled Pits and Perverts after a gay fund-raising ball for the miners by the same name, For the Love of Comrades is a gift to any audience that witnesses this slice of history on the New Conservatory stage. Courage, caring, and camaraderie lead everyday people -- gay and straight, working class small-town blokes and educated city dwellers – to break down invisible but very real barriers and to build solid bridges between two disparate communities that remain solid and strong, even until this day.
Rating: 5 E’s
For the Love of Comrades continues on at the New Conservatory Theatre Center through October 11, 2015. For tickets, contact the box office at 415-869-8972 or order online at http://www.nctcsf.org/2015-16-season/for-the-love-of-comrades .
Photo by Lois Tema