These Troubled Times

Mon 10th – Sat 22nd August 2015


Caspar Jacobs

at 09:33 on 21st Aug 2015



Religion, sexuality and the value of family are immensely interesting themes for a play. The complexity of how these three relate can be explored in an infinity of different ways, respectful or offensive, divisive or unifying, good or bad. These Troubled Times is, to be frank, quite bad. The topics are treated without any subtlety. And there are aliens, which in this case is completely unnecessary.

The play revolves around a gay man babysitting his cousins and the ensuing involvement of a religious woman who thinks this is not okay. However, the play does not explore at all the motivation of any of these characters. The religious neighbour breaks out in pathetic prayers every few minutes, but does not even try to articulate where she's coming from.

Similarly, the homosexual main character doesn't even attempt to counter his neighbour's homophobia. This is a black-and-white portrayal of religion versus homosexuality. It might be true that in some places it really is like that, but by attempting to turn this into a funny situation the issue is never addressed.

Even worse; halfway through the play, aliens arrive, killing off the rather annoying dog that was present mainly through recordings of barking. Apart from this situation being quite ridiculous, there is no apparent justification. Perhaps this could have been a catalyst for unification of the two opposing sides, but the way the first half of the play was set up there was no credible way for this to happen. And indeed it didn't; instead, the religious woman was simply killed off by the foreign visitors.

The acting wasn't very good either. As mentioned, the main characters were extremely flat. If the homosexual man was feeling any pain, he didn't show it. If the religious woman was feeling any indignation, she didn't show it. The best actors, and the most interesting element of the play as a whole, were the cousins who the lead role was babysitting. The older boy was indoctrinated by his sex-ed teacher to believe that homosexuality is bad, but his younger sister was quite sceptical of the whole business.

The mini-subject of how younger people deal with these elements of society was worked out better than any other theme the play tried to discuss, which is an shame, considering there is such a variety of ways to explore and express the tension between religion and homosexuality. And aliens, for that matter.


Luke Howarth

at 17:51 on 21st Aug 2015



I am baffled by These Troubled Times. The play attempts to explore the Christianised homophobia in American suburbs – here the euphemistically titled ‘Clearwater’ – with irreverent and occasionally absurdist humour. Brother and sister (played by Shawn Mahoney and Marchelle Thurman) are left for three days in the care of their uncle (John Curtis). Troy Diana, who wrote the piece, dons a flowery blouse as bible-bashing homophobia-monger Mrs Raymond, an archetypally nosy, Holy-Spirit invoking neighbour who worries for the safety of the children with a gay man.

If These Troubled Times hoped to be funny, it isn’t. Besides the exuberant Mrs Raymond – admittedly played by Diana with satisfying aplomb – the humour is at best grimace-inducing, family sitcom fodder. The company roll their eyes or punch each other playfully on the arm with a nauseating sycophancy that somehow sits uncomfortably alongside the absurd elements that erupt in the second half of the play. As the street is attacked by aliens and Mrs Raymond bound and gagged by a kettle cable, the tone seems intensely confused. Should we celebrate the capture of the odious Mrs Raymond? Should we find an alien invasion funny? The incongruity is borne out by some dreadful performances: in particular, the chemistry between Curtis and his partner, played by Miguel Belmonte, is extraordinarily unconvincing.

If Diana’s play wants to tell us that being homophobia is wrong, it isn’t revelatory notion. If it wants to persuade us that it is pervasive, it doesn’t. The hierarchy of rationality established between the calm indignation of the uncle, the hysterical evangelism of Mrs Raymond, and the ludicrous abduction story related by Belmonte is completely usurped when the aliens actually do invade. The impressionability of the children – the classroom indoctrination of the son, the fickle romances of the daughter – is a hackneyed and truncated attempt at an interesting subject matter; the conversion of each is entirely unconvincing.

These Troubled Times doesn’t tell us anything new, and struggles to make us laugh. I’d struggle to recommend this play to anyone above the age of five.


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