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Bobby Abid and Nathaniel P. Claridad in Radium
(Photo © Priyanka Dasgupta)
Despite its title, Radium doesn't exactly light up the stage. Written by Alex S. DeFazio, this tepid play raises some provocative issues but does not deal with them in a compelling manner. It revolves around five gay men who are connected in a daisy chain of sex and relationships. Alexis (Nathaniel P. Claridad) is a violist who thinks that his body is going numb and that he needs violent stimuli to feel again. He hooks up with J. (Bobby Abid), a self-described artist whose own body is his medium. We're also introduced to Ryan (Thay Floyd), Alexis' most recent boyfriend, who was previously involved with Louis (Dustyn Gulledge), a transsexual in transition. Zachary (Jon Deliz) is another of Alexis' ex-boyfriends, with whom Alexis awkwardly attempts to rekindle an affair.

The narrative structure of the play is disjointed, with the action flashing forwards and backwards in time. Though director Jody P. Person makes these transitions clear by having different actors announce the time frame and characters involved at the top of each scene, it takes a while for the story to cohere. One of the problems is that the relationships between the characters are not well established, and the actors are not adept enough to demonstrate to the audience the different levels of physical and emotional comfort that they have with one another at different points in time.

Granted, much of the play revolves around intimacy issues, but the actors seem more inclined to indicate awkwardness, nervousness, confidence, etc. rather than convincing the audience that their characters actually have such feelings. Nor is there much chemistry between any of the cast members. As a result, several of the scenes that are supposed to demonstrate the possibility of an emotional connection simply don't work. Slow pacing is another problem, but there are a few bright spots in the show. J.'s second act monologue is entertaining, largely due to Abid's intensity and sly, comic demeanor. Portions of Alexis and Zachary's scene together are also nicely rendered, particularly by Deliz.

Still, there's only so much that the cast can do with the play as written. Via dialogue such as "I believe in freedom, being free as the air, free as an Icarus soaring through the sun," it seems like the playwright is trying to be poetic, but the results are stilted and unnatural. DeFazio is unable to make his characters' interactions sound like real conversations. His penchant for symbolism, including the title metaphor, is often awkwardly put into practice. Revelatory monologues and contrived confrontations don't help matters.

The production boasts a multiracial cast and is a refreshing change from representations of gay life that often seem to exclude people of color or tokenize them as exotic fetishes. However, the play itself doesn't address the subject of race in any concrete manner. It does touch upon transgender issues, which are also often overlooked, but not in a particularly progressive fashion. Louis is "mirrored" by his ideal feminine self, Louise (Elizabeth Sugarman). Their dual monologue, which opens Act II, is full of tropes about self-loathing and split identity; the more concrete, everyday challenges facing transgendered individuals are barely acknowledged.

Radium is a presentation of Elixir Productions, a relatively young theater company that is "committed to theater of immediacy and daring that represents the marginalized voice." It's a fine mission statement but, unfortunately, this show doesn't live up to it.

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