46 Beacon is the address of an apartment building in central Boston, ideal for transients such as actors to take out short leases. Robert (Jay Taylor) is such an actor, coming from London to perform in a city where English accents are revered. One night he brings home with him a schoolboy, Alan (Oliver Coopersmith), who is working as a part-time waiter at the theatre restaurant. His intention is seduction.
In many ways, the genders of the two characters in this new play by London-based American writer Bill Rosenfield are irrelevant, as he is simply offering a version of the familiar coming of age story, showing an encounter that will be quickly forgotten by the experienced party, but forever remembered by the newly initiated one. However, in other ways, the play is more specific, being set in 1970 when the word “queer” was just being replaced by “gay” in everyday vocabulary. Robert makes reference to another play, Mart Crowley’s The Boys in the Band, which, when revived in London recently, seemed dated because of the expressions of feelings of guilt by its characters. Notwithstanding Alan’s nervousness, there is no guilt here, the pair seeming as confident in their sexuality as are their equivalents in the modern day LGBT community. The framing of the narrative, looking back on the evening from the distant future, emphasises that the play’s attitudes belong to the 21st Century and not to the time of its setting.
Taylor’s Robert is a nonchalant serial seducer, much older than Alan is able to guess, but not a cynical predator. He knows that Alan may be theatre mad and slightly star-struck, but also he senses correctly that he is a willing party to the seduction and fully aware of what is happening. Richard and Alan begin tentatively with gin & tonics followed by foot massages and then they circle each other suspiciously, as if engaged in a mating ritual. Their awkward exchanges bristle with lively wit. Dictated to by the needs of comedy, Rosenfield writes Alan as smarter and more quick-witted in repartee than feels natural for one so young, but Coopersmith compensates with a performance of beguiling innocence that embraces the as yet unsullied wisdom of youth.
Robert informs us at the beginning that his account of meeting with Alan will last precisely 83 minutes and Alexander Lass’s gently humorous production delivers on that score, the audience sitting around the borders of the bedroom in this perfectly suited studio space. The play’s most poignant moments come after the seduction is complete. Alan emerges from between the sheets to mimic, delightedly, the scene from Stephen Sondheim’s Company in which a one-night stand parts from another Robert (“Bobby”) on her way to Barcelona and then he begins to absorb his first lesson on how casual sex and emotional entanglement relate to each other. This is the key area that Rosenfield is examining throughout a play that is consistently perceptive, truthful, tender and funny.
Performance date: 13 April 2017