“Gay incel” is the first thought that might come to mind when you watch the opening moments of this show. The show then proceeded to actually flesh out the two characters in ways which well-written, two-man plays tend to do, and did undermine that feeling. As part of Melbourne’s Midsumma Festival, this play at the Butterfly Club down off Little Collins Street should be something to check out, and even if you are not involved in the LGBTI+ scene yourself, the story and characterisation, emphasised by well thought out direction and acting, Good to know awkward, self-loathing gay guys have troubles finding love as much as us awkward,self-loathing straight guys at any rate.
The Boy I Paid For, according to writer and director Wayne Stellini, actually got a look over by a male escort, who then provided tips and thoughts. Perhaps it was this, or perhaps it was a combination of Stellini’s strong focus on character development with strong acting that helped lift this performance up. Minimal performances can run the risk of self-indulgent monologues and overly clever metaphors in lieu of strong character development or humanising real situations, but fortunately The Boy I Paid For does not fall into these traps.
There was a lot of gratuitous lack of shirts in the play – solid choice, given that the two actors were good looking guys. But this directional decision was also part of the general element of the show, which explored how the two characters strip away their exoskeletons and start to reveal the truth to each other. This played itself out in everything onstage – the use of props was very deliberate, and much thought went into developments (or if they have not, there were some very good coincidences).
Even the almost obscene moments in the show are all carefully hidden, both from a practical perspective to make sure the play is not overly pornographic but also because it adds to the elemental aspect of the story – hiding the true self behind something, whilst the face you show the world is friendly and smiling.
Overall, a strong show that explores human elements of sex work and the bitterness of loneliness. Well thought out, well written, and well acted, The Boy I Paid For provides a healthy examination of a sensitive topic in a realistic and engaging manner. It is clear that much work went into this performance, and for those interested in the artistic parts of the Midsumma festival this play should be on your list.