Reviewed by Kym Clayton
Directed by Dave Simms and written by Terrence McNally, Lips Together Teeth Apart is another fine production from Mixed Salad Productions. It is about two couples – Sally (Tracey Walker) and Sam (Steve Parker), and Chloe (Nicole Rutty) and John (Peter Davies)–who spend New Year’s Eve at a beach house that Sally has inherited from her recently deceased gay brother who died of AIDS. The four holiday makers are all rigidly straight but the weekender is situated in a primarily gay beach neighbourhood. The play explores the intricacies of the relationships within and between each couple, and uses the topic of homosexuality as a device to assist in laying bare some of their raw emotions and beliefs.
Sally loved her brother, but hated the fact that he was gay and that he had a deeply caring partner. Sam spies two unseen men having sex in the sand hills and is strangely moved by an overt display of tenderness and mutual caring, something that he misses in his own life. Chloe, who is very theatrical, or at least thinks she is, can’t resist ‘flirting’ across the fence with the gay neighbours and finds comfort in being extroverted, something that she misses in the confines of her marriage to John who has recently been diagnosed with cancer and who aches to be back in his now concluded adulterous relationship with Sally.
The play was written in 1991, nearly nine years after HIV/AIDS was first recognised, and is a product of its time. Some of the dialogue is now arguably cringe-worthy, and society has moved on from some of the more narrow minded and ill-informed attitudes expressed in the play. Or has it? The play still has relevance for today’s audience, but Simms didn’t need to relocate the play from its original setting of Fire Island in the 1990s–a popular gay retreat near New York City–to the here and now in far north Queensland. But it didn’t really matter.
The play has no great theme or single underlying message – it is simply a provoking examination of human frailties and yearnings. There are no high-points when everything is revealed – in fact we learn many of the innermost secrets and fears of the characters through a series of monologues quite early in the play. This interesting device allows the action to evolve in a strangely disconnected way rather than move to the march of a tight programme. In some ways the characters are rather unsatisfying and by the end of the play we feel we have only been allowed to see a glimpse of them.
Parker plays Sam with an uncompromising hardness. We see him at his worst when he wrestles with John in a well choreographed but perhaps too intense fight scene. Davies gives John a detachment that is puzzling and unsettling. Walker imbues Sally with a restrained sensitivity and compassion. Rutty is superb as the unsettled and unsettling Chloe. She provides the comic relief intended by the playwright in a well directed and studied demonstration of timing, intonation, gesture and generally exquisite stagecraft.
The set was a simple deck with an implied swimming pool in the foreground, and a painted abstract backdrop loudly and proudly proclaiming diversity. The lighting comfortably supported the action of the plot within the limitations of the rig of Star Theatre Two.