I didn’t want to write a review for Riding in Cars with (Mostly Straight) Boys mainly because I’d already done an interview with two of the three people involved. But the thing is, after going to their premiere performance on Monday night, I can’t help but feel that I need to share the heart-wrenchingly cuteness of the play.
The play starts like this: those in the know have already grabbed the key spots around the Toyota Starlet (actor Tim Earl’s own car), and those who’ve heard of it through some other means are meandering around, slightly confused as to where the set actually is. The car’s interior is dark, but there are two large speakers curiously positioned in front of its headlights. You suddenly hear Earl, as Kyle, say “I love you. In a gay way.” And Earl and Geordie Holibar are illuminated, the play underway.
Having met Earl as himself, seeing him in such a camp and anxiety-ridden character was quite a change. I already knew that this play is practically a biopic of Sam Brooks’s (the playwright, director, producer, master-of-all-trades) life, so it was rather interesting to see the manifestation of Brooks in Earl, both physical (the painted nails, for one) and habitual (the occasional nervous squeals).
This play is most definitely a personal experience; Brooks’s, specifically. Seeing as his aim of taking this play to provincial New Zealand is to reach out to rural youth, I’m not entirely sure how many people the character of Kyle will resonate with. That being said, there is a counterpoint in the play itself, which does say that being gay doesn’t need to be a certain way.
There is something courageous about Kyle’s character that does make him relatable to practically everyone though: he’s willing to go out on a limb and profess his love, whether that be verbal or a “cock scoop”. We all wish we’d just bite the bullet and blurt it out, whatever the consequences, and the constant analysing of situations that goes on in Kyle’s monologues is something we’re all guilty of.
It runs as a continuous story, with Holibar’s costume changes a guide as to which friend is driving the car. Does it get confusing? Yes, a little. But this may have been fuelled by my initial expectation that it would be an ever-changing ‘cast’ of characters, when, in fact, we seen returns of best friend Jay, first boyfriend Trent and the-one-that-got-away Shane.
Both Holibar and Earl carry exceptional performances throughout, with particular commendation going to Earl for exuding the adorableness of a teddy bear, such that you just want to hug him. It’s also worth noting that they were performing in t-shirts during not favourable weather, to say the least – the audience was covered by umbrellas for half the performance. It was cold to the point where I wasn’t sure if Earl was shaking from the cold or because he was getting that emotionally worked up – a testament to his acting skills, if nothing else.
The writing also holds its own too, full of little gems like “brilliant, adorable, retard cunt!” It never gets to Will and Grace-y with its to-and-fro, yet it remains relatively light. It speaks to those greater truths you expect from good (and great) theatre, and it also carries the unmistakeable Millenial voice.
As a whole, the play is one of those things that will lift you up. In my interview, Earl said (and pleaded me not to publish), “it’s good to be part of things that are good”. It may seem simplistic, but walking away from that Toyota Starlet, I couldn’t think of any other way to explain how I was feeling.
Riding in Cars with (Mostly Straight) Boys plays at Te Pou Theatre from 15 to 17 November, Unitec on 18 November, Mangere Arts Centre 19 to 22 November, Victoria University Amphitheatre from 28 November to 1 December, the Red Gates at Te Papa from 2 December to 6 December, Tapac from 9 to 11 December and The Pumphouse Theatre in Takapuna to finish from 13 to 16 December. Stay up-to-date with latest developments, and tickets on the Facebook page.