International Stud

Wed 12th – Sun 30th August 2015

reviews

Alannah Jones

at 13:55 on 19th Aug 2015

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The play opens with CJ De Mooi seated centre stage, busily applying heavy makeup and miming along to sultry background music whilst transforming himself into 'Virginia Hamm', his character’s drag queen alter ego. Watching this metamorphosis take place is hypnotic and successfully sets the tone for the rest of the absorbing performance. The following monologue is indeed rousing; I suspect that De Mooi managed to lock eyes with every single audience member at one point of another during the course of his opening spiel.

International Stud is the first of a trilogy of plays written by Harvey Fierstein in the late seventies, chronicling the life and loves of Brooklyn drag queen Arnold Beckoff. It focuses on his wistful and passionate relationship with heartbreaker Ed; a young WASP-y and wealthy bisexual whom he meets in a Stonewall era nightclub.

Despite the Brooklyn setting, CJ De Mooi affects something closer to a southern drawl than a New York twang. His manic energy often worked against the portrayal, particularly in the scenes between Ben and himself. But he is a fine physical performer, with admirable energy, pulling off the solo scene set in the ominous ‘back room’ is pulled off with humour and aplomb. Reed Stokes playing opposite De Mooi gave a more subtle and reigned-in performance, handling Fierstein’s exploration of sexual identity with commendable sensitivity. The difference in approach had the unfortunate effect of making the characters seem discordant with one another to the extent that at times it felt as though they were acting in two different plays. Whether or not this was the intention of the director, it had a negative effect on the believability of the love the characters repeatedly professed for one another.

Whilst the Torch Song plays may have been revolutionary in 1979, International Stud regrettably seems somewhat dated now, partly since the plays it has paved the way for have come to eclipse it. Nevertheless, this remains an important piece of theatre and De Mooi gave the performance his all, and as a result his portrayal of Beckoff remained sympathetic and engaging in spite of the melodrama.

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Chloe St George

at 12:19 on 24th Aug 2015

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CJ De Mooi plays New Yorker and drag queen Arnold Beck. Beck – by night – is Virginia Ham and in International Stud we witness him physically transform on stage, as he offers us an insight into his life. Outside the back room of a gay club, Arnold meets Ed, and International Stud follows their relationship.

Arnold is guilty of wearing his heart on his sleeve and occasionally confusing sex for love, whilst preppy Ed (Reed Stokes) is guilty of trying to sweep things under the carpet, and ashamedly hides his sexuality in order to please others.

The play is an interesting exploration of identity – of one’s true self and the self that we show to others. The play forces us to consider that, almost paradoxically, the face full of garish make up, in a wig and covered in glitter may be the most honest of them all.

De Mooi certainly drove the performance in terms of emotion, building up from mere coldness to full-blown hysteria towards the end. Unfortunately, his accent needed work and at times flamboyance was exaggerated and caricature-ish.

Although the power balance between the two was well portrayed, for the most part, theirs wasn’t the most convincing relationship. A variety of dramatic techniques, perhaps intended to demonstrate something of the lack of communication between the two men, were largely to blame. For example, each character has a scene in which they are alone on stage, presenting one half of a dialogue. Although presumably meant to emphasise the barriers between them, it only served to emphasise the lack of believability in their relationship. If it hadn’t been for De Mooi’s desperate energy, I would have struggled to feel any empathy.

There were some extremely nice touches, however; sign language was used to good effect and the use of lighting and music to round off the production worked very well.

International Stud is by no means ground-breaking theatre, but it is thoughtful and genuine. Although it is perhaps guilty of self-indulgence at times, it is always interesting and De Mooi’s energetic, engaging performance is laudable.

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