The less said by the characters in The York Realist, a sixties-set drama about an ultimately unrequited love between two young men, the better for all involved. (Except, perhaps, those two young men.)
And yet, what’s not said speaks volumes in The Studio Theatre’s beautifully realized stateside premiere of Peter Gill’s bittersweet drama. It’s an actor’s piece, the kind of play that expresses itself in the most humble manner possible. Its tragedy isn’t of the punch-in-the-gut, histrionic variety — it’s more insidious and honest than that. And by the time the clutching motive of one of the characters becomes clear, with the simple closing of a gift box, gay men in particular will nod in recognition at the extent to which desperate, lonely people will strive to keep others from feeling the truth buried in their hearts.
George (Markus Potter) is a rural lad in his mid-twenties. He lives in Yorkshire with his ailing mother (Faith Potts), and seems content. But into his life comes John (Tom Story), the ever-so-slightly flamboyant assistant director of a community play John has been tapped to star in. The chemistry between George and John seems tentative at first, but George — not the obviously gay John — pushes their relationship into the realm of sex, inviting his friend to stay over whilst grabbing a canister of Vaseline.
Over the course of their relationship, George’s family — doting mother (Faith Potts), his shrill sister Barbara (Nanette Savard), her doddering husband (Lawrence Daly) and slacker son (Joe Baker) and Doreen (Colleen Delany), a neighboring girl who fancies George — seem oblivious to the real nature of the friendship that’s developed between George and John. And yet, you know they’re politely sweeping reality under the proverbial rug.
When you add the British class system to the pot, it becomes clear that, barring any last-minute miracles, George and John’s happiness seems doomed from the start.
The York Realist is the kind of show Studio has built its reputation on — a deeply felt, intimate drama fueled by strong, unpretentious performances. It’s a gentle masterpiece, directed with keen and insightful mastery by Serge Seiden and acted by a cast that is so perfect, it’s almost uncanny.
Markus Potter has fine rural swagger as George, but there’s also a sensitive side to the young man that Potter ably brings to the surface. Tom Story’s John is mildly effeminate without being too overt — it’s a hard middle-ground to play, but Story catches it to a tee. Potts is entirely loveable as George’s mum, but it’s Savard that brings the play’s emotional core to the surface during a second act scene-steal. And Delany remains meek and mouse-like throughout, but her Doreen has a selfish mission to fulfill, and for one brilliant, fleeting moment we see the mouse for the rat it really is.
Seiden’s direction flows with the serenity of a country stream — like his mentor, Joy Zinoman, he has a gift for creating realism on stage. He’s aided by Russell Metheny, who has designed a single room set that seems as though it’s been lived in for centuries, and Dan Covey, whose lighting casts a natural golden glow over all. And yet beneath that glow lies the harsh light of a reality that two men can’t begin to fathom, as they hopelessly struggle to reconcile their feelings for one another in an attempt to live happily ever after.