Crossing the Line: Heartbreaking, for all the wrong reasons

To stand still and deliver is the art of acting, said one of our most powerful contemporary actors during a rambling conversation. Those weren’t his exact words. They were probably more along the lines of: “Don’t fidget. Don’t move your hands, don’t shift your feet. Just fucking stand still and say your words.”

Similar to photography, where the art mainly lies in excluding all elements that detract from the composition, the art of acting may predominantly lie in excluding all extraneous gestures. Only the essential should remain. This also applies to script writing. Which is why Crossing the Line stumbled at the start. And never found its feet. Like those excruciating videos of high-heel failures on the catwalk, the play just kept desperately flailing along. For an hour. Until finally, thankfully, it fell over.

Roger Thomas as the main character Shayne just never fucking stood still, or even sat still. Fiddling with his clothes. Fiddling with his crotch. Fiddling with the cushions placed on two black boxes supposed to indicate a couch. And yet, and yet, trouble was taken to create a vertical bed on the back of a flat. With pillows and a sheet and everything. It was awful. Better they’d pretended another black box be the boudoir than the multiple personality mix of sham and faux-realism. This is why set design exists.

But back to the being still issue. Oh, fuckit, nevermind. It’s just that, my god man, a timorous schoolboy called upon to present a surprise acceptance speech for a computer programming award would be more contained. And no, I doubt I can be persuaded it was a case of ‘acting anxious’.

Written by Thomas, Crossing the Line is essentially the confessions of a rent boy, a supposedly 9 to 5 job to pay the rent like any other, only with more peculiar clientele, and your body parts as your tool(s). Based on interviews with actual male prostitutes servicing gay clients, it’s a subject potentially rich in desolate comedy. Yet between Thomas’s delivery, which strives for deadpan but only really achieves the dead part, and a constantly grating panoply of distractions such as the ever-intruding phone, together with some truly jarring lines given to the potential emotional complication that is George (played admirably by Wojtek Lipinski), there is a distinct lack of pathos.

It’s not that I didn’t like Shayne, there was little to make me feel anything for him at all. Probably there was too much to grimace at to be moved by the character. Even the most heart-rending scene, in which Shayne describes the first time he ‘crossed the line’ into being paid for sex, did nothing except create the thought: “well there went that”.

Lipinski, well described at least as ‘Shaggy from Scooby-Doo’, is endearing as the emotionally-starved youth who mistakes Shayne’s paid-for attentions as real affection, but director Jason Potgieter would have to harness a lot more electricity to galvanise this play to life.

Crossing the Line played at the Alexander Upstairs Theatre last week. Perhaps life may be breathed into it before the next run.

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