Rupert Everett learned to his cost that outing yourself in Hollywood can wreck a promising career. Whatever you do, darling, you don’t let your secrets out of the closet. You must play the game.
Many big names of the silver screen harboured predilections that were only exposed once they’d died. Everything was done to preserve a fantasy so that box office takings and fans’ dreams weren’t destroyed by a few inches in a gossip column.
Dylan Costello’s The Glass Protégé, which opened at London’s Park Theatre tonight (Wednesday), goes behind the myths of the dream factory to shatters illusions in a spectacular, if predictable, fashion.
The story flits between 1949, the golden years of movie-making, and 1989, signalled by a neon sign that alternates from vintage Hollywoodland to its later abbreviated form (though at times the lighting dept were behind in the changeover).
It opens with the audience watching snatches of old black and white films including one from legends Cary Grant, Loretta Young and David Niven.
A young blonde woman wanders onto the set. At first I thought she was a late-comer but this is Ava (Sheena May), an East German mail-order bride, bought by a desperate George who can think of no other way of getting a woman (and he’s probably right).
When it comes to characters George is right up there with Norman Bates. Weird doesn’t cover it. He demands she stays inside his museum of a house and help care for his recalcitrant and foul-tempered elderly father.
Ava is disappointed that George isn’t as handsome as the photo he sent. “This town is built on lies,” he admits.
It turns out the father is Patrick Glass, a one-time Hollywood movie star, who has chosen to lock himself away after a lifetime’s heartache.
Then we meet a very different trio of actors. Young and handsome Patrick Glassman is straight off the boat from England hoping to make his name in films. He is thrust into the limelight after the leading man on the latest blockbuster is named and shamed for a drug-fuelled orgy.
Lloyd, a sleazy agent, producer, and general big cheese, declares: “You are in Hollywood where vice reigns supreme”. The message is that you can do what you like so long as no-one finds out.
Glassman, now Glass, the protégé of the title, is young, naïve, earnest and innocent – until he meets the town’s bad boy, handsome Texan Jackson Harper, whose matinee idol good looks make female fans’ hearts’ flutter but who is brazen about his preferences.
And there is the street-wise but emotionally damaged blonde bombshell Candice (Emily Loomes) who is used as love interest by the studios to help sell films.
“In this town towing the line is more important than learning your lines,” says a defeated Candice.
The three of them are abused, bruised and battered, by an industry that uses up the talent and then disposes of it without hesitation. There are some grim, but memorable lines, from Costello’s sorry cast of characters.
In a moment of candour Jackson admits: “Sons are supposed to make their dads proud. He wanted me to be a baseball player”. When Patrick asks how the rugged hero keeps up the pretence, he adds: “You gotta make ‘em believe they can have you.”
And circling around, trying to sniff out the scandal is gossip columnist Nella (Mary Stewart modelled, no doubt, on Hollywood’s legendary Louella Parsons). She’s a cliché, from her aggressive style of clothes and make-up, to the pantomime sneer on her blood red lips.
There’s some fine central performances from Alexander Hulme as a tormented Jackson (this was, remember, set during a time when homosexuality was illegal) and David R Butler’s unworldly Glass.
Paul Lavers plays the older Glass with less conviction. There’s just not enough depth to the character. We get a lot of rage and guilt but no real explanations as to why he leaves it 40 years to seek redemption.
Stephen Connery-Brown is marvellous as George. Throughout you can’t help wondering if there’s a serial killer waiting to be unleashed but it turns out so completely different. He’s yet another victim and I couldn’t help but warm to him.
The play gives a fascinating snapshot of a tarnished Hollywood but doesn’t really tell us anything we didn’t already know. Director Matthew Gould throws in a bit of male nudity but there’s nothing erotic about this story of doomed relationships and broken dreams.
The Glass Protégé runs in the Park 90 until May 9.