If scientifically possible, should we be allowed to eradicate undesirable aspects of human nature? It’s an ethical question that has adorned august scientific journals to dystopic science fiction tales and is evoked here to lend weight to American playwright Charles Forbes’ otherwise slight tale of regret and self-denial.
Henry, a successful molecular biologist, is in Washington DC the day before giving a presentation to the Department of Energy outlining his new genetic engineering theory, and has arranged for a rent boy, Chad Lindsey’s sardonic Felix, to meet him in a dingy hotel room. Their meeting is not by chance; Felix and Henry are old high school classmates, the latter secretly arranging the tryst to dredge up memories of their youth in small town America. Amazingly though, he has called Felix round while his wife has just nipped out to the shops, presumably a choice by the playwright to add some consequential tension to the evening but it’s hardly believable.
Swinging between sexual desire and self–disgust; Henry nervously vomits one minute, screams at Felix the next, begs him to stay, and it is only after much maudlin reminiscing and sexual false starts that it's revealed the neurotic biologist has developed a gene altering therapy and-binding his self-denial about his sexuality with his science- advocates it use to eliminate ‘unpalatable social inadequacies’, in his view one of them being homosexuality. It is in this vein that he declares “I am Henry Bates, a failed human being.”
The space is well used as a generic hotel room and the two actors (from the original American cast) complement each other adequately; Chad Lindsay’s Felix providing witty commentary to the uptight patter of Brian Patacca’s Henry, but this 70 minute piece can’t sustain its big ideas and is on much surer footing with the finger off the rewind button and eyes off the science text book. The only real tension comes in negotiating their present: having to face their real selves at close quarters.
Like using a bulldozer to crack a nut, changing the face of human biology proves too large a device for getting two men in a room and despite director Tony Speciale’s best efforts the play dribbles to an unsatisfying, unilluminating end. As the story of a man living a false life of abnegation this is in essence a simple tale begging to be simply told.