Since Hilary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump in the 2016 US Presidential Election, the distinction between left and right politics and the reporting of each have become increasingly inflammatory and divisive. The Democratic Party have encountered harsh criticism for their inability to play dirty, to not compromise. But what would it look like for the left to try something new? Perhaps something extreme?
Bennett (Brynn Antony) is a staffer for Democrat Senator Allison Haines (Meg Shooter), a lesbian leftie looking to get re-elected against conservative candidate Peggy Musgrove (Monique Kalmar), but his faith in the systems of justice and democracy is wavering after watching Haines compromise for the sake of popularity politics. Mixed up with his politics is his personal life; when his ex-boyfriend becomes the victim of a hate crime, Bennett decides to fight back against the narrative of the passive, victim LGBT community. Through the influence of his outrageous best friend Cooper (Lachie Pringle), the two become far-left vigilantes, also known as terrorists.
Topher Payne’s script is witty and difficult to categorise in the way it weaves together pop and queer culture references with extreme violence, political policy with personal implications and consequences, and unique characterisation with larger social contexts. Originally written in 2015, Angry Fags was recently updated to include more contemporary references in a way that speaks directly to the current tumultuous political and social climate of the United States as well as the far-reaching ripple effects. Politics and political power becomes so much more than policy when it’s gamified and equated with a politician’s personal success. Senator Allison Haines represents corruption of ideals, where compromise and the comfortable status quo become more appealing than the radical change one set out for.
The narrative is about extremes but rooted in reality with nuanced argumentation and characters whose actions stray across the line of right and wrong. Bennett is at times an everyman but, when threatened, finds hard convictions within himself. While perhaps underplayed by Antony, it’s easy to see how the spontaneous and often reckless Cooper could sway a character like Bennett towards violence as the ultimate political statement. Their repeated determination to “Protect the tribe” is infectious as an idea of seizing power denied to marginalised communities. On the other hand, Bennett’s new love interest Adam (Tom Wilson) offers a similarly hard but more level-headed approach to change that relies on playing the political game from the inside. Pringle and Wilson are compelling in their alternate characterisations and provide convincing support to Antony’s casual dark horse character.
Direction from Mark G Nagle plays with the nearly imperceptible line between passion and extremism by heightening the drama of political discourse including popular buzzwords and centrism and down-playing the murderous plotting. Cooper, who is overblown in his storytelling of a drunken night out, seems almost cool in retelling how he beat a man to death with a paint can. It’s a choice of direction that prioritises the drama and the discussions of political bigwigs above the comedy and absurdity of Payne’s script. At the same time, this meant more subtle complications slipped through the story without much attention like Adam’s rant about Bill Clinton’s infidelity muddling Bennett’s conscience about his cheating ex-boyfriend. Bennett’s personal life and scenes that focus specifically on his ex-boyfriend feel superfluous and side-lined for the bigger picture.
The semi-realist set design from Nagle and Marta Rodriguez shifts location easily between offices, apartments, and a hospital with lighting design from David Marshall-Martin which worked well except for one heavy-handed hit at an angel of death tableau. Sound design from Glenn Braithwaite was almost exclusively a collection of pop anthems that cheekily pointed to the action during scene changes but it could have been improved with more substantial in-scene design to bolster mood and atmosphere.
Violence and terrorism are dark themes often explored in their use against marginalised communities like LGBTQIA+ people. This production asks what it would look like to see the power in the others’ hands but additionally challenges the state of respectability politics and the consequences of sacrificing your personal for the political.
Angry Fags is running at New Theatre from February 5th – March 7th