Road Movie
Dirk Hoult @ Adelaide Town Hall – Prince Alfred Room
7:30pm, Mon 27 Feb 2012
In hindsight, it’s a pretty bleak premise – AIDS-ridden Joel, who initially turns his back on his lover, then decides better of it and treks back across the United States in an ultimately futile attempt to reunite… the road trip for this road movie.
But Road Movie is also a commentary on AIDS in America – whilst it’s not explicitly stated (that I can remember), there’s a tangible sense that the play takes place in the mid-eighties, when AIDS was feared like a plague and the gay community were ostracised as the carriers. Joel’s encounters with other characters on his trek – in particular, the Diva in Atlanta who buried her son, and spends her nights roaming the known gay hangouts handing out condoms – seem to help paint the picture of an America divided; the sequence where Joel takes in the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington (in which he imagines a similar monument for those who had fallen to AIDS) is particularly poignant.
But Godfrey Hamilton’s script isn’t perfect, by any means – at times it’s clumsy, making me feel assaulted by its intent instead of leading me to it. The characters of Dharma & Deirdre feel wasted; colour for the sake of it. And there’s an undercurrent of self-destruction to a lot of the characters that often makes it difficult to empathise.
Road Movie has garnered a lot of critical plaudits, both here and interstate; however, something didn’t quite work for me. There’s no doubting that Dirk Hoult can act – the ease with which he switches characters, adopting unique voices and mannerisms almost instantly, is impressive. But the principal character of Joel is given a very effete treatment that seems at odds with his efforts (especially given his condition); his lover Scott, on the other hand, has a much more engagingly pointed and eager delivery. And Hoult’s Atlantean Diva is fantastic.
But I just couldn’t believe in Joel. And, given that the road trip at the centre of this story surrounds him, that proved to be too big an impediment.