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Gay coming-of-age drama, set in '70s Boston
‘46 Beacon’ is about two gay men connecting across two different generations and worlds. Set in July 1970, Bill Rosenfield’s semi-autobiographical two-hander sees fading British actor Robert (Jay Taylor) set out to seduce the much younger Alan (Oliver Coopersmith) – staff at the Boston theatre where he’s performing – in his hotel, the address of which gives in the play its title.
Rosenfield zooms in on the insecurities driving both characters. Robert’s suavely provocative front masks professional and personal loss, while Alan’s compulsion to stay mingles with his anxious talk of not feeling or being like the other boys at his high school. There’s an almost microscopic focus on small details here – a sense of suspense as Alan gets closer to coming out.
The effect, in Trafalgar Studios’ intimate black-box space, is sometimes engrossing, as Alan’s curiosity and naïve insightfulness causes Robert’s mask to slip. It adds nuance and a mournfulness to the rite-of-passage-ness predictability of the story. And Rosenfield tackles Alan’s guileless revelation that he’s only 16 without clumsy sensationalism. It’s another stitch in their lives.
The downside, though, is that, the script, while funny, tends to wander into wordy earnestness, with each character compulsively re-hashing his hopes and fears. Robert doesn’t so much hand over the symbolic gay baton to Alan as bash us over the heads with it at the same time. There’s also that cringy over-use of the words ‘fucking’ and ‘blowing’ that comes across like bad porn.
Alexander Lass’s direction is often a saving grace. Throughout, he keeps Robert and Alan moving just in and out of reach of each other. Theirs is an awkward little dance, full of overtures and telling gestures, from Alan perching on the very edge of Robert’s hotel bed, to – almost furtively – re-making it later. These silent moments speak volumes and are often sad and funny.
While Taylor is good as Robert, catching the damage beneath the façade, it’s Coopersmith’s fumbling awakening, as Alan, to who he is that gives ‘46 Beacon’ its heart. Every time he tucks his hair behind his ear, you can see a change flicker across his face. He’s the embodiment of this play, which sometimes movingly evokes the egg-shell crack of growing up.