As someone who has written a lot on gay drama, I was delighted last year when there were a number of gay plays being produced in London. THE PRIDE at the Royal Court won awards and is on its way to New York. Joe diPietro's FUCKING MEN was an interesting look at sexual mores among gay men. After a successful run at the small but interesting Finborough, a pub theater near Earl's Court, it moved on to another pub theater, the King's Head in Islington, where it ran for months before a short sting at the ill fated Arts Theater near Leicester Square. THE BACKROOM was revived successfully at the aptly named Cock Theatre in Kilburn. Then the Above the Stag theatre (over a gay bar near Victoria) inaugurated a series of quite good new gay plays -- I particularly liked one called PROUD about a gay working class kid who wants to be a boxer. This fall, there is very little in the way of gay drama, but in general there are fewer new plays around.
Stewart Perlmutt's MANY ROADS TO PARADISE began life at the Finborough and after a sellout run has been transferred to the Jermyn Street Theatre near Piccadilly Circus. The Jermyn Street is a smallish, but not uncomfortable basement theatre that specializes in cabaret and small musicals. Clearly MANY ROADS TO PARADISE is not drawing too well. Last night there was a small audience comprised mostly of older gay couples who all seemed to know each other.
MANY ROADS TO PARADISE is not a great play, but it is amusing and in some cases touching. The six characters all connect in some way. Eighty-four year old Stella is in a Jewish nursing home, lovingly cared for by Sadia, a Somalian Muslim nurse there. Stella is far more attached to Sadia than to her fifty-nine year old daughter, Helen. Stella sees Helen as a homely loser and demeans her at every opportunity. Helen is in a twenty-five year relationship with Avril, a former director of radio drama, who spends her days drinking and insulting poor Helen in vicious, but funny ways. Helen works for Martin, a fifty-five year old owner of a failing small travel agency. Martin is also her only good friend (Avril has driven everyone else away). Martin has a history of brief, sad affairs with younger men. During the course of the play, he is seeing Leo, a thirty-three year old who wants to be cared for but also doesn't want to be tied down, a common male problem. Leo is assistant manager of the nursing home where Stella lives. Got it?
It's a perfectly enjoyable play, though far more episodic than it needs to be. Perlmutt, who has had a fair number of plays produced on the fringe, writes plays as if he were writing for television -- jumping back and forth between short scenes more than is necessary on stage. One misses a clear through line and sense of build to his two acts.
The cast was ore than competent, though there were age problems. Helen looks to be the same age as her mother (all those insults would age one). Thirty-three year old Leo looked more 45. Anthony Biggs directed it effectively on the small stage.
It was nice to see a play about middle-aged gay people rather than humpy young men.
MANY ROADS TO PARADISE by Stewart Perlmutt. Jermyn Street Theatre. October 29, 2009.