Open Relationships have provided excellent material for a growing number of LGBTQ + writers in recent years. With recent polls showing that around a third of gay men are in ethical non-monogamous relationships – and with gay Londoners showing seemingly higher tendencies – it’s really no surprise to me and my friends.
One of my recent favorites of this genre is four play by Jake Brunger: A detailed and nuanced portrayal of four very different gay men and their complicated attempts at non-monogamy, which effortlessly resonated with a sold-out audience at the Theater503. The play is now regularly licensed and performed across the UK.
Excellent theater is based on drama. So, naturally, the conflict in many of these plays stems from the protagonists’ decision to open up, leading to the “inevitable” messy fallout. But always focusing on the negative aspects of an open relationship perpetuates an inaccurate myth. In fact, many decisions to consensually explore new relationship dynamics arose out of an honest and healthy desire for abundance. This is the perspective that I want to explore in my own pieces.
So if the drama doesn’t come from the open relationship itself, then where will it come from? Answering this question liberated and galvanized me to use the recognized “threesome” paradigm as a theatrical tool to explore something else entirely. But what?
My work so far has lovingly challenged and developed a wide range of aspects of the contemporary experience of gay men – from navigating not-so-nuclear families while twisting ourselves into knots to avoid stereotypes in My father’s sabbatical, to a partner living and thriving with HIV, while negotiating intimacy with a lover who rides a swing of complex addiction and mental health issues in Undetectable.
While it is important to describe and explore these challenges, it is also important to remember that it is a privilege to have such problems when our LGBTQ + brothers and sisters beyond face much more serious consequences for us. to have dared to love or even to exist.
Incorporating this uncomfortable truth with the threesome paradigm inspired the character of Quasim: a young LGBTQ + refugee, struggling to make his own way and become his own man. An impressive and complex person that the central couple (and, hopefully, the audience) instantly fall in love with. Once Quasim came to life, so did my new room, Very special guest star, a socially conscious sex thriller that challenged and even scared me to write.
Representing the experience of migrants was important, but also required me to grapple with critical questions. Who am I so that Quasim’s story becomes part of mine? What do we have in common? What can I learn from this character’s story? What are my intentions and what will be the result? How can I honestly explore these themes while avoiding the damage caused by misrepresentation for gay people of color like Quasim?
I reached out to talented director and longtime collaborator Rikki Beadle-Blair, and together we dramatically questioned these questions as the relationship dynamics in the play became a metaphor for these writer’s concerns.
How much does the couple really want to help Quasim, or is their goodwill fueled by their desire to have sex with him? How do these intentions develop when their own desires fade away or die out altogether? Why didn’t they help sooner? What is really holding them back and why? Is there a completely selfless act?
In the play, these questions take a dramatic turn with the arrival of a bold, satisfying, yet disturbing twist. As the characters discover Quasim’s true identity, the audience is immersed in truly original terrain. Nervously watching an interracial gay couple come to terms with their middle class and / or white privilege by meeting and negotiating sex with this queer person of color, from their past, feeling both included and challenged by this painfully honest , gloriously comical and precise cringe-worthy central premise.
The result is a whirlwind, loving but critical examination of British gay privilege. It’s also a study of same-sex families, intergenerational dating, sexual role-playing, father-related issues and, of course, open relationships.
While there is so much more to tap into in all of these rich areas – and endless inspiration amid the larger LGBTQ + experience, both contemporary and historic – we are excited to see and hear how this story resonates with audiences now. We need to discuss both what the audience likes and what they think is missing from the growing but still too narrow portrayal of our experiences on stage.
This is our mission: to investigate the extent of our queer culture (s) and together find the courage to watch – and sometimes even laugh – who are. To explore bravely, before heading home and presenting deeper truths about our beautiful, gnarled, messy, and deeply human queer lives. Represent.
Very Special Guest Star is at the Omnibus Theater from November 23 to December 12. Book your tickets here