Fag Stag: Do gay men and straight men need each other to function in everyday life?

(On Assignment for Sydney Scoop)
Comedy (62 mins)

Credit: David Hooley – (Left to Right) Ryan Panizza and Samson Alston in “Fag/Stag” by Jeffrey Jay Fowler and Chris Isaacs – at the El Rocco Theatre in Potts Point!

A charming tale that lifts the veil on the dynamics of cross-orientation friendship.  Fag Stag brings an honest portrayal of the contemporary male finding it’s humour in the contrasting interpretation of events from the two perspectives of its principal gay and straight characters.

Credit: David Hooley / El Roco Theatre, Potts Point

A simple set design that’s illuminated at times in amber and blue hues for some deep emotional moments, newcomer Ryan Panizza’s portrayal of homo-archetype, Jimmy, is nicely complemented by Samson Alston’s, hetero-delta, Corgan.   Panizza’s raunchy tonality and dramatic embellishments of the gay life experience are rounded off by Alston’s boyish camaraderie.  The script only lightly sketches the history between these two old friends relying on the odd yet fitting dynamic to deliver its clever wisecracks. 

This light hearted story about two male friends soon to be attending a mutual friend’s wedding dabbles with topics of self harm, but in retrospect served no real purpose to the story which was already ocean’s above the typical “fag hag” stereotypes you’d expect in a comedy like this.  

Credit: David Hooley / El Roco Theatre, Potts PointSamson Alston as Corgan. Samson has had several years of training working closely with Pippa Grandison, Tim Maddren and Nicholas Christo. Samson has been lucky enough to have spent some time training in New York and has become a permanent student of renowned Acting Coach Sheila Gray who has mentored him. Since returning to Australia he regularly joins various top line professionals from all over the world to study with her online. Samson has also been invited at the first opportunity after the Covid crisis to become part of a small select group of young actors to have a month’s personal training with leading acting coach, Tony Greco (well known as former manager and coach of Philip Seymour Hoffman). Since gaining professional management Samson has starred in a national ad campaign for Vodaphone, Hungry Jacks, Shapes and Curtin Uni and performed in a Zoom virtual production of the classic Australian play “Three Winters Green””.  Samson garnered enormous acclaim in the leading role of Winston in “The Credeaux Canvas”, at El Rocco theatre, the first professional live theatrthinge production since lockdown. He followed this up with the lead role in “The Shape of Things” at the Flight Path Theatre in January 2021. Most recently Samson journeyed to Broken Hill in a key guest role in Channel 7’s new TV series “RFDS”(Royal Flying Doctor Service)

As the script swings between verbal-acrobatics of comedy and monologues of torment, Panizza and Alston articulate the tension and unpack the real issues around a friendship like this in a jam packed 60 minutes of one liners, sarcasm and humour filled storytelling.  

From assumptions of gay men’s lifestyles, to alpha male politics, non-gay friends being dragged into the world of homophobia just for being friends with a gay person, gaming and relationships, ideas are presented we can all relate to, leaving us plenty of room to ruminate on them without being told what to think. 

It takes us throught the highs and lows of life, highlighting the differences in perspective, approach, communication styles and priorities of today’s gay and straight man.  Yet somehow, subtlely, almost couches the question of whether gay men and straight men need each other to function and navigate the intricacies of life.  

“….it was mentioned to me what a weak number of plays there were for the Mardi Gras season this year.” recalls Director, Les Solomon, “Really only two in fact, one of which is a bit of an old “Nanna” show. “You should throw something on” “No” said I, “I’m still doing a show then I have to do all the finances and post-production paperwork on it.”

There aren’t too many production that explore a relationship like this one, and was much needed in these modern times and when deciding on a show to produce for the season he continues, “…it had to be smart, funny… and good” without the usual “gratuitous nudity” and “silly shock for shocks sake” tactics often found when trawling through the genre.

Credit: David Hooley / El Roco Theatre, Potts Point – Ryan Panizza as Jimmy. A graduate from Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, Ryan appeared in 2016’s ‘The Gateway’ and has appeared in multiple productions with the National Institute of Dramatic Arts including, And Tell Sad Stories of the Deaths of Queens, Lunacy, Ghosts, The Seagull and Marat / Sade.

Is there something to be learned from one another when really working at a plutonic and genuine friendship like the one depicted here?    After Jimmy’s (Panizza) break up with his boyfriend, he wants to stew in the drama of the post break up waiting for his mate to ask all about the nasty details but is met by Corgan’s (Alston) seemingly calm and collected “OK Cool” one word responses who thinks his friend just wants “him to be there” and not be bombarded with questions.   It’s little moments like these peppered through the story that show us the kind of friendship very rarely seen anywhere else and very interesting to observe on stage.  On the one hand, the support from Corgan calms down his natural flamboyancy to dramatise his experience, while Jimmy’s coaxing in contrast brings his friend out of his shell who’s hetero-normative gender role doesn’t usual prescribe the sharing of feelings as easily.

The very definition of success and love is a hot mess for any man, laden with regret of the  past and fear of the future.  Fag Stag offers no solution to the big questions it raises, but reminds us no matter what app we are using, whether its Tinder or Grindr, we’re all looking for someone to swipe right, but it’s our mates that will carry us through after every one has left.  

A great feel good show to enjoy this Mardi Gras season that offers a nod to the friendships of allies and today’s post marriage equality gay man.  

Credit: David Hooley / El Roco Theatre, Potts Point

FAG/STAG by Jeffrey Fowler & Chris Isaacs is directed by Les Solomon for Lambert House Enterprises and stars Samson Alston and Ryan Panizza. It plays Tues to Sun, 17 Feb to 7 March at El Rocco, 154 Brougham Street, Potts Point.

Performances:
Tues to Thurs at 7pm | Fri at 6 30pm | Sun at 7pm
(plus special Sun matinee Feb 28th at 2pm). No Show Sunday Feb 21st

Extra show Monday Feb 22 nd at 7pm. Tickets: $25 / $20 concession

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