Wickedly funny, terribly romantic 

‘Beautiful Thing’
Weekend Theater
Sept. 1

I had forgotten about my first slow dance. I was 12, at a Sadie Hawkins dance, and the song was “Blue Moon.” I was nervous, but also in heaven. My head on his shoulder, him whispering in my ear. The rest of the school seemed to disappear around us. I’ll never forget it again.

One reason I won’t is Jonathan Harvey’s drama “Beautiful Thing,” being staged at the Weekend Theater. The story of two 16-year-old boys living in a London housing project in the mid-1990s, “Beautiful Thing” is wickedly funny and terribly romantic.

Jamie and Ste are schoolmates and next-door neighbors. Ste’s father and brother regularly use him as a punching bag and he usually seeks shelter at Jamie’s house, where Jamie’s mother, Sandra, welcomes him. As the two spend nights together — Ste wounded and Jamie doing his best to comfort his friend — a romance begins. Initially shocked and angry when she finds out what is between Jamie and Ste, Sandra eventually becomes the fiercely loving mother both Jamie and Ste need.

Jackson Stewart, who plays Jamie, and Gabey Smoller, who plays Ste, are both students at Central High. If it weren’t so condescending, I would call these young men courageous for taking these roles. But let’s just call them actors instead. Talented actors. While Smoller is the stronger player of the two, the script gives him more to work with. Stewart’s role is largely made up of reacting — to his mother, Sandra; her boyfriend, Tony, and their neighbor, Leah. He simply gets to create less.

Samantha Porter, who plays Sandra, is quite a force. Until she softens towards Jamie, I found her so unlikable that I dreaded her speaking, which is a compliment. Sandra is bitter and angry. Porter is utterly convincing as Sandra and when it is time for Sandra to soften, Porter softens just the right amount. The character is not lost, but expanded.

Amanda Taylor’s Leah confused me. Taylor is a fine actress, if a bit over the top, but the role itself seems superfluous. Obsessed with Mama Cass, a foul-mouthed high school dropout, Leah does little to advance or enrich the play except to show that sometimes women are expendable.

Jerry Estill’s Tony steals the show. It’s not just that he gets the most laughs with his dry and seemingly dull wit. More than that, he is the moral center of the play. When Leah overdoses on drugs, it is Tony who takes charge. When Jamie comes out to Sandra, it is Tony who says, “It is OK.” Author Harvey and first-time director Tucker Steinmetz may try to trick the audience into believing Tony a dullard, but they give him all the tools he needs to shine out as a beacon of tolerance and love. I look forward to seeing Estill in the Weekend Theater’s upcoming production of “Take Me Out,” and not just for the nudity.

Someone generously thought to include a short glossary of English slang in the program. Somewhat less generously, the play is performed in British accents. Often the accents were just terrible, sometimes not even understandable.

I hate to give away the end of a play, but there’s a reason “Beautiful Thing” took me back to my first dance. That sweetness is something we should all experience. And there is something all the more special about the experience when it is shared by those of the same gender, who are so often cheated of the romance and tenderness of first love. It truly is a beautiful thing.

The play concludes its run Friday and Saturday, Sept. 8-9. The Weekend Theater is at Seventh and Chester streets. Call 374-3761 for reservations.



Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

More by Joy Ritchey

  • 'Yesterday' holds up

    The classic at the Rep asks: “Are the people gonna run the country or is the country gonna run the people?”
    • Mar 22, 2007
  • Near perfect 'King'; 'Daughter' hard to raise

    Lush and lavish, the Rep’s “The King and I” is a fantastic holiday play. "American Daughter," however, has aged a bit and the Weekend Theater crew may not have been completely prepared to take it on just yet.
    • Dec 7, 2006
  • George Wittenberg: downtown visionary

    When George Wittenberg sent me his address I didn’t look at it closely. It wasn’t until the morning of our interview that I read it and thought, “Huh? This isn’t near the River Market.” I was so certain that was where he lived. I plugged the address into
    • Nov 16, 2006
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • An uneven 'Macbeth'

    Michael Stewart Allen as Macbeth carries the play.
    • Sep 17, 2015

Most Shared

  • Welfare for the wealthy: More reasons to VOTE NO on ISSUE 3

    Voices on the left and right are lifted against Issue 3, the corporate welfare amendment to send tax money to private business and corporate lobbyists.
  • Little Rock police kill man downtown

    Little Rock police responding to a disturbance call near Eighth and Sherman Streets about 12:40 a.m. killed a man with a long gun, Police Chief Kenton Buckner said in an early morning meeting with reporters.
  • From the mind of Sol LeWitt: Crystal Bridges 'Loopy Doopy': A correction

    Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is installing Sol Lewitt's 70-foot eye-crosser "Wall Drawing 880: Loopy Doopy," waves of complementary orange and green, on the outside of the Twentieth Century Gallery bridge. You can glimpse painters working on it from Eleven, the museum's restaurant, museum spokeswoman Beth Bobbitt said

Latest in Theater Reviews

  • Standout acting

    In romantic 'Bridges.'
    • Apr 21, 2016
  • Life during wartime

    The Rep updates Homer with 'An Iliad.'
    • Mar 3, 2016
  • A modern Pan

    "Peter and the Starcatcher" adds a modern flair to the Peter Pan story.
    • Jan 28, 2016
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

Searching for diamonds at Crater of Diamonds State Park

Searching for diamonds at Crater of Diamonds State Park

A venture to this state park is on the must-do list for many, the park being the only spot in North America where you can dig for diamonds and other gemstones and keep your finds.

Event Calendar

« »


2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31  

© 2016 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation