are they who in this sea of frailty,
climb aboard a piece of ass as it floats by."
- J.P. Donleavy from The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B
art of lechery"
by Eric Shorter
WHETHER he makes us think of Wilde or of Restoration comedy, J. P. Donleavy makes us glad that he has come back to the theatre with his own brand of boisterous eloquence for men in search of sexual satisfaction. Yes, lechery is the theme of his latest effusion, "The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B."
For although his two young university blades from Dublin seem to think and dream of nothing but girls, their thoughts and fancies make such exuberantly theatrical material for Simon Callow and Patrick Ryecart that for most of the evening at the Duke of York's Theatre, we can forgive the obviously casual attitude of the author to dramatic construction or development of character.
Mr. Donleavy is a novelist and it has always been shown, since "Fairy Tales of New York" came out at the Pembroke Theatre, Croydon, twenty years ago. What passes for plot tends to pass us by. That is to say, he cannot make us take much interest [in plot] because he himself is not interested. What fascinates him is masculine attitudes and desires and (more particularly) the way in which his heroes try to define themselves.
And what fascinates the student of theatre is the way in which this classically trivial chatter is turned to such stylish account that the actors (and the play is at heart a double-act) can share with us their relish for the self-consciously rhetorical fun. This is where we think of Wilde or Wycherley: and in the case of Mr. Callow's plump and bouncy lecher who rejoices in his priapic zeal without a glint of regret Mr. Horner seems to live again. Was ever randyness funnier?
This is a performance of such booming self-assurance and split-second timing that it almost overshadows Mr. Ryecart's shy confederate with his wistful yearning for the girl who proposed to him and his tendency to muff his sexual chances. But the contrast of temperament between both men, as they are sent down from university and out on the prowl for moneyed brides, finally tilts our sympathy in favour of Mr. Ryecart, though Mr. Callow grabs most of the laughs.
There is a large supporting cast which comes and goes from sketch to sketch and Liz da Costa's neatly flexible setting earns its round of applause. If the slender basis of the evening is felt for some time before the final curtain, let us be grateful that a writer with a Restoration sense of humour has been restored to the theatre. Director: Ron Daniels.