"Nothing stands for anything--everything is!" proclaims Roland, playwright, protagonist, and obvious autobiographical stand-in for Australian author Michael Gow in Furious, a play about a man confronted by extreme personal and professional crisis. Furious is being given its U.S. premier at the John Houseman Studio Theatre Too by the NativeAliens Theatre Collective, a theater troupe "dedicated to developing original works and unique interpretations of classics from a gay/lesbian perspective".
The intricate plot focuses on Roland (in a strong performance by Igor Goldin) a well-known yet empty playwright, who suddenly finds out that his past is full of secrets. In the opening scene, Roland is summoned to a mental institution where a woman named Bonnie, who has just died, has left him a box of photos and clippings. Who was Bonnie and what was his relationship to her? He quickly finds out that Bonnie was his father's first wife, that together the couple had a child named Lynnie (after which his father left), and that as a teenager Lynnie had a child who was given up for adoption. The loss of her husband, daughter and grandchild drove the already unstable Bonnie over the edge, and she spent the remaining years of her life in an institution, ruminating over old photos, fragmented memories, and news clippings about Roland, her ex-husband's new child.
Roland becomes obsessed by the search for truth: the truth about his past, the truth about his art, the truth about his life. His well-insulated world of artistic success and minor celebrity starts to disintegrate. His groupies (or "minions" as he condescendingly refers to them), the fact that his plays are taught in schools, the admiration of peers and of scholars suddenly all become meaningless. In an effort to find redemption for both his life and his art, Roland begins to experience disturbing "truth fits", moments where he abandons his usual diplomatic behavior and violently spews the truth, no matter how ugly it might be, at anyone in his vicinity. His minions do not understand nor approve of his new attitude, and quickly desert him.
Furious vacillates between Roland's life and the play which he is writing in an effort to confront his unknown past. In his mind he imagines reuniting the dead Bonnie and her daughter Lynnie, but even as a playwright restructuring his own past, he realizes he is unable to alter the truths about his own life. He soon learns that there is no tearful happy ending or easy resolution to his personal history.
Considering the mission statement of NativeAliens, it is not surprising that the most compelling part of the play is the relationship between Roland and his sexy, raw, 16-year-old boyfriend named Chris (fabulously played by the talented Jim Festante). This almost seems like a separate play, unrelated to Roland's desperate search for his past, and yet it is the most moving and involving aspect of the piece.
Furious covers massive, and often familiar, ground: everything from love, family history and teenage pregnancy, to art imitating life and unbreakable personal patterns. In fact, the play addresses so many issues it's hard to discern what its actual focus is. Furious clearly has pretensions about life and truth and art, but its message is muddled.
Furious is, however, a fascinating piece that benefits from a capable cast and excellent direction by Jeff Seabaugh. The set is an overpowering blood red, a color that clearly mirrors the intense emotions of Roland. The eerie music is mostly performed on stage by the cast, with cymbals and drums brilliantly integrated into the set. Seabaugh evokes some stunning images of madness and of love, and the final climatic scene where the characters degenerate into screaming fits of frustration is unforgettable. "Your past is always behind you," Roland says bitterly at one point. And in the end, for Roland, that's his greatest tragedy.