The Flea Theatre has been, in my experience, a home to interesting, thought-provoking, high-quality work that challenges and creates in ways that other theaters simply don’t. Even if I didn’t necessarily like what I saw, there was always something to admire about every one of their shows. Until now. A.R. Gurney’s new plays, Ajax and Squash, the last shows to appear at The Flea’s White Street address, are a one-two punch of bigotry and disappointment.
Each play is an hour long, and both hours dragged on as I sat cringing in my seat. In Ajax, a disruptive student is humored by the adjunct professor, who allows him to undermine her authority, flout class policy, and flirt incessantly. The student somehow writes a play in a matter of days, if not hours, addressing Homer’s Ajax as an American soldier with PTSD after fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. He pleads and finally persuades the adjunct, a wannabe actress, to play his lover.
This is the point at which she literally lets down her hair out of a bun and ceases wearing glasses. It’s neither subtle nor creative. The student’s play is acclaimed, but it’s not good enough for him, so he changes the Greek to Jews and the Trojans to Palestinians. Then Jewish moneymen and university directors pull the funding as well as pulling strings to make sure it never gets performed again.
It’s trite, it’s predictable, it’s full of cliché’ and it has elements straight out of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This is a terrible show, and it’s difficult to say if the hackneyed script or the anti-Semitism was more offensive.
The second show, Squash, again deals with a professor of ancient Greek literature. It opens in a locker room after he has finished playing the titular game and a male student approaches. The professor gets naked in front of the student, who has come with the excuse of handing in a paper early, but admits that really he just wanted to ogle the muscular teacher. And somehow this is the beginning of a friendship?
Rodney Richardson and Dan Amboyer
The professor continues to talk to the student, who invites him out for dinner and drinks at a local bar. The professor tries to keep the talk professional, but is obviously uncomfortable and still continues the relationship. The student asks him to come back to his place. The professor has a wife and kids at home, so of course not. But then he starts questioning and feels open to experimenting—at this point his wife has taken the kids and gone to her mother’s house—but apparently this student who was so out and proud is no longer gay because…he’s met a woman.
Once again, the writing was full of clichés and types rather than fleshed-out characters. The only plot element that couldn’t be seen from a mile away was the gay student’s change to hetero-normalcy because…seriously? All it takes for a gay man to go straight is the love of the right woman?
Though the staging and costumes for Squash were fabulously 1970s fleek, the script was again fraught with stereotypes, misguided ideas, and stale dialogue. I look forward to see what The Flea has planned for its new space, but if it’s anything like this I will mourn for what was.
Photos by Joan Marcus
Top photo: Ben Lorenz and Olivia Jampol