2019 Fringe Festival Review: FLAWED___like a b_y

What: FLAWED___like a b_y
Who: BJ McNeill
Where: Owl Room at Gluttony – Masonic Lodge
When: Until March 10
How much: $22

Australia is a land famous for being laid-back, casual, larrikin. Sun, surf, sand, and barbecues. Unless, of course, you’re gay…then things are a little different. In FLAWED___like a b_y, BJ McNeill tells an intimate story of his experiences growing up gay in rural Australia. How to be a boy in Australia? McNeill’s defiant answer in this show is ‘do whatever the f*ck you want’.

McNeill cuts a beautiful, imposing figure on stage: tall, long locks, sharp features, and lace stockings. The story of his journey as a gay man coming into his own is funny, heartwarming, and sometimes painful. He talks us through his innocent childhood, the struggles of his teenage years, his escape overseas, and his ultimate acceptance of who he is. Empowerment is the endgame, and it’s a great message that will undoubtedly resonate with many audience members.

Unfortunately, the delivery of the message could use some refinement. McNeill aims for a stream-of-consciousness style of monologue, but it doesn’t always work. The script feels like it’s written to be read rather than performed; it often feels like McNeill is reading out a Virginia Woolf excerpt. He tends to rush through the text, and as a result many scenes are somewhat wasted. The moment he is first assaulted at school for being gay, for example, completely lacks emotional resonance. The delivery is better later in the play, when McNeill laments the self-loathing, self-destructive spiral he falls into as a young adult. He’s curled in a ball on stage, blood dripping down his arms. It’s here that we most intimately feel the pain of being gay in a homophobic, heteronormative society.

That aside, the musical numbers are suitably fun and empowering. McNeill raunchily shimmies and grinds across the stage with his two talented backup dancers, reveling in his unconventional masculinity. The choreography is occasionally repetitive, but the performers bring enough pizzazz to make the songs exciting. I think the show could have utilized these backup performers much, much more. In many places, they simply sit on the side of the stage while McNeill monologues, but more interaction and re-enactment would enhance the show considerably.

FLAWED____like a b_y is a relevant and prescient exploration of the challenges of being queer in Australia, and it’s a show you will definitely appreciate if you are part of the LGBTQ community or just passionate about the issues at play. However, I think McNeill and his performers could benefit from the old wisdom of ‘show, don’t tell’.  Although I agreed wholeheartedly with the political messages of the play, I honestly would have preferred it if it felt a little less like a Facebook rant at times. Still, McNeill clearly pours his heart into his story, and it’s worth seeing if it resonates with you.

3/5 stars

Tamika Glouftsis

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