Double bill buddies

Fag/Stag and Bali (The Last Great Hunt)

Theatre Republic, La Boite Studio

September 11 – 15

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According to the ever-reliable Wikipedia, the term fag stag describes a heterosexual man who socialises with homosexual men. It’s an appropriate, provocative title for a theatre work that is uncompromisingly honest in its exploration of contemporary masculinity and what it means to have a best mate. “Fag/Stag” shares the story of heading-towards-30 best friends Jimmy and Corgan whose lives are filled with a mix of Tinder, Grindr, binge-drinking and half-hearted hook-ups. It’s companion piece, “Bali” similarly sees the boys (because that’s how their privilege positions their behaviour) on a whirlwind typical Bali booze-up of a trip, to join Corgan’s affluent mother in celebration of her 60th birthday.

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The unassuming double bill from Perth’s The Last Great Hunt is written and performed by Jeffrey Jay Fowler and Chris Isaacs. Isaacs is the spoiled Corgan, pining over the loss of his ex-girlfriend in light of her looming wedding day, while Fowler is Jimmy, angst-filled and insecure about everything. (But their anxieties don’t stop there.) They have long been each other’s wingman; theirs is a friendship they have never questioned, assuming it will always stand the test of time, despite their differing emotional intelligences.

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Together they play Donkey Kong and share stories of hook-ups, without ever really talking; as Jimmy notes after breakup with his boyfriend, when attempting to turn to Corgan, “straight men can’t deal with feelings”. This is both the genius and joy of the works, especially “Fag/Stag”, as the characters tell the same stories from their own points of view. And this is literally the shows’ format – the two sit on stools and tell their tales. The result is thoroughly engaging and entertaining as the audience both appreciates and assesses what the unreliable narrators are reporting and what the truth in the middle of both of their perspectives might really be, switching empathy between the characters, such is the skill of the performers.

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The simplicity of the fast-paced productions and sharpness of their witty scripts are certainly assets that emphasise the skill of the performers, who serve as natural and engaging narrators. And when they finally look at each other rather than us, it with palpable poignancy that has us fearful that their relationship may not survive. There are actually many surprisingly tender moments, in both pieces, particularly when they each speak of their parents and realisation of their apparently sudden aging. It’s not all melancholic though; each hour-long show is filled with funny moments, mostly in recalled storytelling but also in a joyful “Dirty Dancing” dance number (sans lift). There is also apparent truth at the core of the stories, particularly in relation to big themes of toxic masculinity and homophobia, which give “Fag/Stag”, in particular, substance beyond easy laughs, especially in its climax, which sees the boys fallout after Corgan denigrates Jimmy’s sexuality, which is not overplayed to the point of demonisation.

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“Bali” has its drama too, especially for us, when Fowler breaks character to address the ongoing bad behaviour of a group of talkative and disruptive audience members (#whatiswrongwithpeople?). Regardless, however, “Fag Stag” is what establishes itself as dynamic, compelling theatre and comparatively, while it is still of worth, “Bali” seems to be an unnecessary and less engaging outing.

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