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In his last New York theatrical outing, Five Women Wearing the Same Dress, Alan Ball wrote hilariously about a wedding wardrobe crisis. To say that his vision has darkened in the 14 years since is a little like saying that Hannibal Lecter was once a shy Parisian schoolboy.
Relocated to Hollywood, Ball retained an interest in infighting, but the problems got way weirder. His script for American Beauty left me cold, but his television programme Six Feet Under was often mesmerising, even when its signature clan, the Fischers, seemed the poster family for that now meaningless word dysfunction and, as the series evolved, more a species of California mutant than anything recognisably human.
With the off-Broadway All That I Will Ever Be, directed by Jo Bonney, the Los Angeles aliens have returned, although the main character, Omar, who is a Middle Eastern immigrant, feels adrift even among the misfit-rich world of showbiz. When Omar, a bisexual gigolo for men, interacts with Hollywood types Ball’s dialogue feels routine, as if he were ridding his hard drive of all the observations gleaned from a decade working in Hollywood.
Omar’s connection to a stoner, Dwight, forms the core of this drama. Dwight is supported by his father and is medicated to the max. He hires Omar, played by the magnetic Peter Macdissi, for sex, even though Dwight is sufficiently attractive to find it for free, and he tries to connect to Omar’s plight by talking, among other things, about his engagement with the ideas of Noam Chomsky – which he has downloaded from iTunes.
Dwight and Omar’s relationship turns sadistic, as does Omar’s with a young client named Eddie. Ball seems to be telling us something about the emotional adjacency of cruelty and kindness. If I sometimes wanted to slap the play’s characters out of their self-obsessed stupour, I have to admit that Ball’s distinctive vision of misery and its paradoxical joys was often compelling.
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