William & amp; James
nytheatre.com review by Robert Weinstein
July 15, 2007
William & James, A Village Scene Productions' contribution to this year's Fresh Fruit Festival, takes place in Victorian England and begins with a seduction. James, the older and more established of the two, invites William, his young, blond, lanky charge, into the main bedroom of his country estate in England. William, an impetuous, not-so-subtle social climber, wants to jump right in but James slows the proceedings to ask a couple of questions. William doesn't mind this: he says he enjoys the chase. As the scene progresses and William, circling him, taunts him with a flirtatious finger or a well-parried double entendre, James fires a question which causes William a bit of discomfort. "What would you do if you knew you were going to die in two years?" William dodges the question as morbid and the proper seduction ensues but the question hovers over the entire scene: who is chasing here and who is being chased? Is William in danger? Is James?
The answer begins the following morning when James proposes an arrangement: For two years' companionship, James will support William financially and sexually and, in the end, bequeath him the entirety of his estate. James makes it very clear that he isn't interested in love: he's tried it and it seems to have worked out horribly. William, a naïve but scrappily self-educated man-child, accepts the offer, adding that love doesn't interest him either. This struck me as the greatest "friends with benefits" situation since the dawn of man. To two fairly jaded men at two ends of the social spectrum interested in sex and the appearance of companionship, what does love—to paraphrase Tina Turner—got to do with it?
Well, this play says, everything.
The last four scenes of William & James follow the pair as they live out the reality of this arrangement and it's to playwright Robert Tsonos's subtle credit that the love which cannot be named in this play is not homosexuality, which is always taken as a given, but love itself. The play does a great job of illustrating not only love's glories but also the scorched earth remnants it leaves in its wake. Love stops for no one, it seems to be saying, and as jaded and cynical as we may become, it isn't always pretty and will not be denied. William and James' affections and dependence grow scene by scene but they consistently undermine their feelings by denying they exist or convincing themselves that love is not what they are looking for. Love is having none of that though, and the show's drama springs from the characters' failure to acknowledge and deal with it.
Ryan Brown and Christian Bugden are excellent as William and James respectively. Davyn Ryall's direction passes over emotional nuances at times but he and the actors display a remarkable patience with the material, allowing it the space and time to reveal itself. And though the program doesn't say who created them, the costumes are a pleasure to look at.