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A familiar plot doesn't diminish the power and beauty of RTP's "Beautiful Thing."

A Thing of Beauty


Two youngsters, struggling with difficult home situations and their own adolescence, discover each other and fall in love. It's a story that has been told a thousand times, most recently in "Beautiful Thing," the first production of the year from the Richmond Triangle Players (RTP). Of course, since this is RTP, there is a small wrinkle in the traditional plot: The youngsters are both boys. Gay-themed plays have been mainstream for a couple of decades now, however, so even that wrinkle has lost its novelty. But even though it is saddled with this burden of familiarity, "Beautiful Thing" ends up being an enchanting little piece of theater. Two people deserve the most credit for its success: the playwright Jonathan Harvey, who filled the script with cheeky and coarse good humor. And actress Pam Beatty, a newcomer to Richmond who delivers a captivating performance as Sandra, a middle-aged pub manager whose heart of gold is well concealed under a gruff and unforgiving exterior. Those who don't think they write good parts for women should take a closer look at this gem of a role. What makes Beatty's role so juicy is the prominent dark side of her character. A bit of a drunk, a bit of a floozy, and, at 35 years old, still a bit of an arrested adolescent, Sandra seems ill-equipped to be a mother. But, in "Beautiful Thing," she is raising a sensitive and smart-alecky 15-year-old named Jamie (Michael Boyton) by herself in a blue-collar neighborhood near London (the heavy English accents the actors use are a bit distracting at first but you'll get used to them). Jamie is attracted to Ste (Dan Sanders-Joyce), the handsome boy-next-door whose family regularly abuses him. When Ste takes refuge at Jamie's house — sleeping side by side with him — what develops between them is not exactly surprising. Perhaps more surprising is the level of acceptance of those on the periphery of the relationship, from Sandra's young boyfriend, Tony (Daniel Stackhouse), to Leah (Lauren Holland), the neighborhood "slag" [slut]. Director Ted Boelt has pulled together a good ensemble here and leads them through their paces with confidence. If the pace lags sometimes, it also establishes a realistic cadence for the blossoming romance between Jamie and Ste. Sanders-Joyce plays the reluctant Ste with a quiet strength that is astonishing for a 17-year-old. As the geekier but ultimately more aggressive Jamie, Boynton takes a while to hit his stride. But his performance becomes more assured as the play goes on, and when the relationship between Jamie and Sandra escalates into a violent confrontation in the second act, neither actor hits a false note. Boelt doubled as scenic co-designer with Michael Gooding, and the two have effectively used a faux brick paneling throughout the theater to expand the play's setting beyond the relatively small Fielden's Cabaret stage. Sound designer Mary Isemann provides a sometimes-plaintive, sometimes-playful sonic background to the action. Taken altogether, the production has a relaxed and comfortable feeling. Sure, the story doesn't break new ground, but in the end, it's kind of like a cozy, old comforter: Familiarity doesn't diminish the pleasure of spending an evening wrapped up in it.

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