Garry (White Bear Theatre)

Posted: June 7, 2019 in Theatre

Writer: Sophie Treadwell      Director: Graham Watts


Sophie Treadwell’s most famous play, Machinal, is widely held in high esteem and was revived in London only last year at the Almeida Theatre. Therefore, it is surprising that one of her later works would have to wait 65 years to receive its World Premiere here. Or is it?

Garry is a psychological drama that highlights the angsts of young Americans in the mid-‘50s and condenses them into an intense two hours. The play can be interpreted as subverting the American dream and it is not difficult to understand why audiences of its own era could have struggled to digest it, if given the chance to try. Treadwell addresses taboo topics – homosexuality, prostitution and rape – but her approach is much more head-on than that of her contemporaries, most obviously Tennessee Williams.

Vulnerability and danger are contrasted well in Thomas Martin’s Garry, showing touches of both James Dean and James Cagney. At one point, he is the lost adolescent, deeply damaged in childhood and craving for love and, at the next, he is volatile and unpredictable, as he gets drawn inexorably into violent crime. Having always been a target for predatory gay men, he fights to come to terms with his own latent homosexuality.

His marriage to Wilma (Phebe Alys) is eventually consummated after several months, but, as his sister Peggy (Claire Bowman) astutely points out, Garry needs to commit an act of violence in order to be capable of bringing this about. The marriage is more mother-son and father-daughter than husband-wife, as both Garry and Wilma look to find substitutes for their respective parents. The play is filled with Freudian references, as dead parents also haunt Peggy and Dave (Matthew Wellard), a newspaper reporter who is trying to prise Wilma away from Garry.

The central theme of Machinal – finding an escape route out of the drudgery of life for America’s oppressed underclass (particularly female) – resurfaces here. Peggy is a brassy society hooker, who urges Wilma, a naive country girl from Oklahoma, to follow her lead in preference to working for a pittance and achieving no life at all.

Director Graham Watts’ production is solid, but Treadwell has left him with too many problems to resolve everything satisfactorily. Her narrative arc feels incomplete, with inconsistencies in characterisations and plotting. Some scenes are marred by stilted dialogue, made to sound worse in this production by dodgy American accents. That apart, the actors give it their best shots to make the drama absorbing.

When a work by a notable playwright lies buried for over half a century it would be unreasonable to expect it to turn out to be a masterpiece. Garry is certainly not that, but it is an intriguing curiosity and, for all its flaws, a compelling piece of theatre.

Performance date: 6 June 2019

This review was originally written for The reviews Hub:

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