- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Change is coming, but not soon enough for George (Markus Potter) and John (Tom Story), male lovers living in England in the early 1960s. Their “love that dare not speak its name” is, along with class distinctions, the focus of Peter Gill’s tender and acutely observant play, “The York Realist.”

A smash hit in 2002 at London’s Royal Court Theatre, the play’s American premiere at the Studio Theatre is impeccably, if bloodlessly, directed by Serge Seiden. The kitchen sink drama’s very British reticence and delicacy loses a little something in its voyage across the pond.

A sense of place, specifically an isolated village in Yorkshire, England, is essential to this play. We should be able to sense this milieu so strongly as to practically hear the bells pealing at York Cathedral. Unfortunately, from Russell Metheny’s meticulously appointed but generic English cottage set to actors’ accents that roam all across the British Isles, this “Realist” could be set anywhere in Old Blighty.

The story is set in motion when George, a physically graceful Yorkshire farm laborer, is coaxed into appearing in a local production of the York Mystery Plays, an all-day theatrical production of Bible stories that have been staged since the Middle Ages.

George meets John, the assistant director from London, and sparks fly. Their romance is discreet and urgent: discreet because George lives with his ailing Mother (Faith Potts), and homosexual liberation is years away; urgent because it is uncertain whether their liaison will last beyond opening night.

What ultimately compromises their relationship is not homophobia, but rather the pair’s mutually incompatible worlds. As marvelous as their love is, John cannot leave London, where he is accepted and lives the life of a cultural hedonist. And George would be lost without Yorkshire and the farming life, a heartbreaking reality considering that it jeopardizes what might be his only chance for companionship.

The mother, played with careworn patience and quiet acceptance by Miss Potts, silently observes the relationship between her son and John, not giving her consent but firmly expressing her stance of “live and let live.” The character of Doreen (Colleen Delany), the churchgoing girl next door, however, has far more at stake, since she wishes to marry George.

In other hands, Doreen would be a mere doormat, a figure almost comical in her cluelessness and guile, but Miss Delany makes her keenly perceptive and accommodating. In fact, Doreen’s feelings are so palpable you wish the girl some shred of happiness with George, sensing that any arrangement between the two would not be without its joys and comforts.

What is odd about “The York Realist” is the lack of sexual chemistry between George and John, other than a frisson of sexual tension in the opening scenes. A hint of smoldering desire would make you care more for their plight.

Instead, you wind up feeling concerned about poor Doreen and Mother’s chronic tiredness. Much of the dialogue is freighted with double meaning and is reticent to a fault (not that you need explicit language and sexuality), giving the whole play a repressed 1950s indirection that may be too much — or perhaps too little — for contemporary American audiences.

There is nothing horribly wrong with “The York Realist,” but there isn’t anything particularly gripping, either. Well-acted and competently staged, it oozes sincerity from every Yorkshire pore. The clash of the personal and the political was never so polite.

**1/2

WHAT: “The York Realist” by Peter Gill

WHERE: Studio Theatre, 1333 P St. NW

WHEN: 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Through Jan. 11

TICKETS: $25 to $45

PHONE: 202/332-3100

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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