Opinion Piece, after NEXT FALL

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I used to be a Christian. A thing that stood out for me, having watched NEXT FALL last night is, apart from the rather beautiful performances from Nancy Crane, Mitchell Mullen and Ben Cura (it’s a pretty strong cast), what the Christian character Brandon says about why he stopped being friends with his gay, Christian friend, Luke who had earlier in the play placed the idea that yes, he believes that being gay is a sin*. (Through the play, his atheist boyfriend Adam cannot get his head round Christianity (and religion), Luke’s dedication to God, nor his desire to save the soul of his beloved.)

Adam meets up with Brandon to ask him advice on how to deal with Luke praying for forgiveness for having gay sex. It is Brandon’s response that is wriggling around in my head:

It is understandable to succumb to the sin of gay sex on occasion, but it is the active, knowing choice of Christian Luke to enter into a continued and/or loving gay relationship that Christian Brandon cannot accept.

Incidentally, the character Holly asks if she will go to hell for being a fag hag on the premise that she is “aiding and abetting” homosexuality.

In THE HARD PROBLEM***, opening late Jan at The National, a character who is a believer gives thanks and prays for miracles and forgiveness relating to her life choices.

I am interested in the questions around choice and culpability. With my history of having been a Christian** who genuinely believed that anyone who didn’t accept Jesus as their personal savior would go to hell, I spent some time being distressed, worrying about the souls of my loved ones. The church I went to as a young person made complete sense to me and still does, to be honest, if you’re thinking about things from within the belief system e.g. don’t marry a non-believer; create and maintain a supportive network of people of your culture and belief around you, who will sustain and nourish your faith. Do what you can to bring people to God but it will be difficult if you’re in a continued and/or loving relationship with a non-believer. How could it not be?

Discussing NEXT FALL with a friend, we talked about mere tolerance versus full acceptance. This is interesting. We can decide what we accept into our lives; we have the freedom to make space and absorb others depending on how much we decide to. How much of life do we allow into our lives? What is the cost to us? (BALLYTURK, a recent play I saw and adored asks this.) The character Brandon asks Adam to consider the cost Christian Luke has taken on in order to accept his boyfriend, non-believer, Adam into his life. In CLOSER, a character has scorn for people who hold their hands up and say, oh, I just fell in love. For her, there is no “just”, there is a choice. In THE FEVER, Shawn says he likes to listen to classical music and understands that his love for opera means that someone somewhere is being tortured or starving. He is aware of his choices.

Choices. Culpability. Life.

It’s not a bad thing to think about relationships in terms of cost, however unfashionable that might be.

Finally, I like this RCA talk by Brene Brown. Elsewhere in a TED talk, she talks more about vulnerability but here, it is the points during the Q&A at the end which are particularly striking and practical to me in terms of looking at choices and blame. For example, saying, “ I am a liar,” is worlds apart from saying, “I lied.” Locating the incident, one can do something with the consequences – apologise, make amends, move on. Labelling a person XYZ allows for the much easier route of denying culpability. We deny ourselves freedom.

*This is in the play and not my view.

**And of course there are many branches and groups within Christianity and ideas of God, heaven, hell, salvation, sin, etc. differ.

***I will be rehearsing this new play by Tom Stoppard from December.

PS – I am reading Rosemary Tonks at the moment, thanks to poet and artist Sophie Herxheimer. This just popped up and I’m not sure what I feel about it, but it’s interesting, nevertheless.

Rosemary Tonks in 1965

Rosemary Tonks in 1965. Photograph: Jane Bown for the Observer

No, this is not my life, thank God …
… worn out like this, and crippled by brain-fag;
Obsessed first by one person, and then
(Almost at once) most horribly besotted by another;
These Februaries, full of draughts and cracks,
They belong to the people in the streets, the others
Out there – haberdashers, writers of menus.

Salt breezes! Bolsters from Istanbul!
Barometers, full of contempt, controlling moody isobars.
Sumptuous tittle-tattle from a summer crowd
That’s fed on lemonades and matinées. And seas
That float themselves about from place to place, and then
Spend hours – just moving some clear sleets across glass stones.
Yalta: deck-chairs in Asia’s gold cake; thrones.

Meanwhile … I live on … powerful, disobedient,
Inside their draughty haberdasher’s climate,
With these people … who are going to obsess me,
Potatoes, dentists, people I hardly know, it’s unforgivable
For this is not my life
But theirs, that I am living.
And I wolf, bolt, gulp it down, day after day.

• From Iliad of Broken Sentences (The Bodley Head, 1967), copyright 2014 © Estate of Rosemary Tonks.

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