BEAUTIFUL THING at Celebration Theatre
Beautiful Thing at Celebration Theatre

The play version reviewed by Oliver Carnay

Beautiful Thing is one of the most memorable gay-themed coming of age movie I’ve seen in years. And I did not know that it was a theatrical original hit play in England in 1994 before it was made into a movie in 1996 until I head up the Celebration Theatre this last Saturday to watch the play version. The teen love story and drama is about two teenagers worrying about falling in love and coming out in the open.

I was curious on how the movie was adapted originally as a play, as I’ve only seen the movie version. I have questions on which scenes and which of the characters would show up in the play, so, I called my favorite theatre publicist and got two comp tickets.

Jamie and Ste (played by Nathan Frizzell and Michael Tauzin) are teens who are neighbors in a low-working-class flats of suburban London. Jamie would rather watch television rather than play football with Ste. He lives with his sharp-tongued but industrious mother Sandra (an excellent portrayal by Sarah Taylor) who works long hours to support him and his boyfriend Tony (Nate Clark). Ste lives with his abusive father and beats him up every time. When Sandra invited Ste to stay over at her house because of the beatings, Jamie’s feelings to Ste escalates. He starts to discover his own sexuality through Ste. But the romance is controlled by fear of homophobic rage by the people around them, especially when Sandra discovers that Jamie and Ste starts to frequent an old gaybar (scenes from the movie were removed in the play, it was only suggested and mentioned).

Like her neighbors Jamie and Ste, Leah (Chicago-based actress Kelly Schumann), is another soul who is looking for her own identity and acceptance in the society. She finds moments by becoming delirious, at times imitating her favorite singer Mama Cass (thus serving the audience as the play’s music background).

In the movie version, Leah’s character is so strong, magnificently played by a colored British actress Tameka Empson. But in this Los Angeles production, Leah is actually being played by blonde actress Kelly Schumann. I asked after the show if she had seen the movie version prior to playing the role, and was she afraid that she would be compared to the actress in the movie version? “I did see the movie, but I think it doesn’t matter to me who portrayed it before, as long as I did a good job in portraying her,” she explained. Leah provides the best laughs in the story as she has the best lines among the five characters in the play. Like Ste’s abusive father, the character and scenes of Leah’s mother was scraped in the play.

There is a lot of touching moments in the story. It was rich, and intelligently produced in the original play. One of them was when Sandra offered the leftover salad to Ste, indicating that there are more stories to tell regarding the abused kid. Ste, looking hungry, brings the salad to Jamie’s room and ate it. Inside Jamie’s room, Ste finds comfort with Jamie, who offers ointment to do a backrub on his bruises. The romantic exploration between the two is seen in the next phase at this point. The core effective scene of the story is seen when Sandra confronts Jamie about his real sexuality. This is the most touching scene in the play. The last scene where the two teenagers are dancing outside of their flats, unmindful of the fact that they can be seen by the public is very significant in the story. Sandra and Leah gladly dance to the tune to support them. In the end, each of the characters found an acceptance in this heartfelt gem, timeless piece of story.

There’s a lot of reason to go and watch this Celebration production. The play is good. The story is good. The message is good. The actors were good (although, in the first scene, Michael was just a bit too overacting, his face would burst for a slight reaction). Considering that all were American actors speaking with British accents, their twangs were pretty clear and spontaneous! I guess there is no point to compare the movie from the play, because the execution and adaptation of the play itself, is still brilliant, engrossing and very entertaining.

(Photo by Lito Torres: Beautiful Thing cast members Kelly Schumann, Michael Tauzin, and Nathan Frizzell with writer Oliver Carnay)
Nathan and Michael were not able to watch the movie version. “We were both classmates before we auditioned and we just thought to stick and follow our director’s instructions.” Both are seasoned actors at the Celebration Theatre, “we appeal to everyone to make a donation to this theatre because the rent itself is $5,000 a month, and we need to keep this theatre going,” both said.

Directed by Michael Matthews, with the original play by Jonathan Harvey, Beautiful Thing is currently playing at the Celebration Theatre (7051-B Santa Monica Blvd. one-half est of La Brea Ave.) will run for five weeks (until April 15, 2007). Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 3 PM. Call (323) 957-1884 or log on to www.celebrationtheatre.com for more information.



03.23.07