Wojtek Lipinski, Rowan Studti and Andre Lombard in The Beauty of Incomplete Things (Pic: Hayley Hopley)

“Honey, whenever there are young men who do not appreciate their beauty, and there are older men who do, there will be drama!” – Harvey Fierstein as a gay wedding florist in the 2000 TV film Common Ground.

I quote (with a little license) this fabulous line of Fierstein’s character because it speaks volumes to the latest play by Daniel Derecksen that enjoyed a good run in Cape Town earlier this year.

The Beauty of Incomplete Things is on at the Joburg Theatre Fringe until 1 August and simply put, should be seen by theatre lovers before it closes. An intimate story, it unfolds on stage in two acts almost an hour each, with a 15 minute interval.

Whilst some of our audience regrettably did not return for the second act, either by choice or because they mistook the play as being finished, they missed an evolution in the production that was in part highly entertaining and part raw emotional performance that I thoroughly enjoyed.

The story revolves around Tommy (Rowan Studti), a straight masseur who services gay clients via a parlour that recently saw fellow boys executed (a homage to the memory of the young men who were massacred at a male-to-male massage studio in Cape Town in 2004). He has an evolving relationship with regular client David (Wojtek Lipinski) and is brought to a cabin for David’s birthday “celebration” to which only the two, it turns out, have been invited.

Whilst David’s fractured relationship with older partner Steve (Andre Lombard) is discussed and alluded to during extensive dialogue scenes with the two younger men in the first act, the scene is set in the second act after Steve arrives unannounced.

He has more than ample opportunity to turn the tables on David and play Tommy, well, like a ‘harp from hell’. The ensuing plot development whilst obvious to some, is still engaging and deeply honest to the flaws of most relationships today, especially in the gay community between older and younger partners.

Charged with sensuality and some remarkably well performed nude scenes by young Studti, a sexless ménage-a-trois unfolds, where protagonists and antagonists are in fact not lovers (although one character would perhaps want more, another less and the last none at all).

Studti delivers a nuanced performance of a heterosexual man with enough demons to keep Dante entertained without coming across as cheesy or overly butch. He is sensitive and utterly plausible as a gay-for-pay masseur.

Lipinski’s David is a fascinatingly brittle character, with near-lyrical dialogue that tongue twists its way through alliteration and illusion, almost as if he’s painting with words. It’s a complicated set of lines to deliver and he does so with a gentleness and ever-increasing urgency which makes his character both entertaining and a little pompous – he reminded me of a lot of queens I’ve known. (Hugs and kisses to all those darlings, nonetheless!)

Pic: Hayley Hopley

Pic: Hayley Hopley

However it is scene-stealing (dare I rename her Stella, that thunder-stealing bitch) Lombard who’s Steve has the best lines to deliver in the play, and boy, does he deliver them well. Part asinine, part pathos, and all heart, it is older, mature queen Steve who’s cynical outlook and exasperated views of “David’s little obsessions with toy boys” that takes the tone and pace of the play in the second act into wholly new territory for all three characters and leads to a poetically, if not tragic climax.

Lombard’s performance was most notable for me because he personifies the supposedly stereotypical older gay man that gives youngsters today the shits. But just as they would assume a great deal about someone like that, there is much more story to learn about a gay man who is in fact, a complex human being, albeit older and more stuck in their ways than might be healthy.

His Steve is unrelenting in his honesty and perhaps because it’s just the three of them, he begins to reveal a truer version of himself to both the young stud Tommy and his long-term, long-suffering partner David.

This remarkable play is about inter-relationships and the complexities that arise over time between people. Moreover, the story could have been about a straight couple and perhaps a female prostitute, for it is so resoundingly universal in its telling. But as a gay-orientated story, and one many will relate to, the cast have fulfilled writer/director Daniel Derecksen’s wish in conveying a deeply human and quintessential story about the frailties of our love lives.

The Beauty of Incomplete Things is on at the Fringe at the Joburg Theatre until 1 August. Book through the theatre website.

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