If it comes down to a choice between being loved and feared, wrote Machiavelli in The Prince, it is better to be feared than loved.
Two gay men arrive at much the same conclusion in Angry Fags, US playwright Topher Payne’s satire on America’s culture wars. Gay pride parades and tolerance messages can only take you so far, they come to believe. To fight fire, you have to use fire.
Payne sets the play in his hometown – Atlanta, Georgia – in the present day. We drop in on two men, Cooper and Bennett, bickering and picnicking in a park overlooking the headquarters of a right wing evangelist with an anti-gay agenda.
While Bennett snacks on pistachios, Cooper pulls out a remote control.
The building is levelled. Sixty people are dead.
How did we get to this?
Payne switches into flashback to depict – in black comic terms – the radicalisation of gay men against a background of partisan politics, a senate election campaign, moral hypocrisy, and a late night assault that leaves Bennett’s ex-boyfriend in a coma.
Angry Fags mashes elements of gay rom-com and HBO-style political satire into a play that tests your patience (it’s more than two-and-a-half hours long) and demands you ride the jumping shark as our fundamentally smart and progressive protagonists bash a man to death with a paint can and put a sleazy pastor and an unfortunate colleague to death with chloroform.
Directed by Mark G. Nagle, this production moves at a good pace and, thanks to efficient design, with minimal fuss.
That said, the sheer number of words Payne puts into the mouths of his characters does tend to bog the show down at times. More focus needs to be placed on driving each scene to its conclusion rather than lingering on emotional beats identified by the cast.
Solid performances keep you in there, however, led by Lachie Pringle as the emerging psychopath Cooper and Brynn Antony as the easily swayed Bennett.
Tom Wilson is very effective as Adam, the ambitious backroom political operator with a crush on Bennett. Their evolving relationship is tenderly handled at times, especially in the lead up to their first kiss.
Phoebe Fuller has some funny moments as senate office colleague Kimberley, who gets her kicks daydreaming about Bennett and Adam getting it on. Meg Shooter and Monique Kalmar contrast effectively as the liberal lesbian senator and her conservative rival. Emily Weare is very good as the leathery local TV anchor Deidre Preston.
Convincing videography (George-Alex Nagle), some lively passages of play, and reasonably authentic-sounding Georgia drawling lubricates the show to some extent, and the violence is played for laughs. But in the end, Angry Fags is made cumbersome by Payne’s Sorkin-esque talkiness and confused messages and finally sunk by the unplayable mayhem demanded in its climax.