Edinburgh Fringe 2017
Gypsy Queen is a new play from Rob Ward about two men who find themselves and each other in the unlikely macho world of boxing.
It would be hard to imagine a professional sport where being gay would be more confronting than in the world of boxing. And Gypsy Queen deals with this issue head-on and brutally, yet delicately and beautifully.
It’s a story of street fighter ‘Gorgeous’ George O’Connell’s (played by Rob Ward) foray into the world of professional boxing, where he meets seasoned and openly gay boxer Dane Simpson (played by Ryan Clayton) at Dane’s family-owned boxing gym. Dane comes from boxing royalty, and was raised by his father while George was raised by his gypsy (and devout Catholic) mother. The impact of being raised in these single-parent families dominates these men’s lives and the way they respectively deal with their being gay.
We meet George following a triumphant street fight. He’s a natural fighter and always eager for the next opportunity to brawl. We meet Dane, a gifted boxer (thanks to his professional training by his father and uncle) who is somewhat jaded with the sport and his achievements – an attitude that carries into all aspects of his life. He’s is also somewhat of a non-committal playboy in the gay scene.
Dane, although comfortable with his sexuality, submits to his fathers machismo that he adopt a ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ approach in relation to the sport. When George arrives at the gym for his first training session, the two of them have a steamy post-training shower room exchange and encounter on the subject of Dane’s sexuality, culminating in a sweaty and heated moment between them. And so begins George’s journey of self-discovery, with his closeness to Dane being noted publicly, and to the chagrin of his close friends and family.
It’s a beautiful moment of pathos in the play where each of them give an interview to the press with Dane bravely talking about his sexuality in the sport, while George, chastened by his family’s perception of him, lambasts homosexuality in a vitriolic manner echoing his conservative Catholic upbringing. It leads to their falling out as friends and part time lovers, and impedes George’s preparation and ultimate failure in his first professional fight. It’s during George’s fight that Dane encounters the randomness of intolerance and hate that still stigmatizes homophobia, with tragic consequences.
The set design is simple and effective as the props morph from gym locker room to Gypsy caravan to intimate bedroom to church and more. The actors seamlessly and with cheeky pleasure take on the other bit parts to inform the stories of the individual characters. Simpson as George’s mother and Ward as Dane’s jilted lover are equal to their main performances in how they keep the main characters honest in their actions.
This play is a delight. It’s raucously funny and abruptly harsh. Of course it’s a love story first and it’s a beautiful one at that in how it deals with tenderness, severity and tension. And second it’s a brutal reminder that in this world of professional boxing, like in many other environments, being gay simply still does not have a place.
The legendary Mohammed Ali said that in the ring you float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. Ward certainly heeded this advice in scripting this stunning play.