|Nick Bucchianeri & Tony Travostino in "Lines in the Sand"|
(photo: Jim Dalglish)
In relating an earlier incident in which a fifteen-year-old initially identified only as Boy in the play Lines in the Sand by Jim Dalglish exaggerates his reaction as feeling “brave and strong and free”, we're given a window into what the world of being bullied is like today. The play, being given its world premiere currently at the Cotuit Center for the Arts, is in some ways reminiscent of the playwright's Unsafe which was produced last season. In about ninety minutes of dialogue between two protagonists (the other initially identified only as Man), there persists a feeling of dread, that something wicked this way comes. The title refers to those points beyond which one will proceed no further, or once a decision is made, it is permanently decided and irreversible. The fifteen year old Boy, Billy (Nick Bucchianeri), a high school student who has been the object of stereotyping and anti-gay bullying, meets the thirty-two-old Man, Tom (Tony Travostino), an apparent stranger, by whom he is rescued from a gang of violent seniors. What develops thereafter (and won't be revealed here) is somewhat predictable in that it's perfectly logical, leading to a treatment of larger issues such as redemption and the question of forgiveness.
The two at first agree on little but the realization that the catch phrase “it gets better” is just so much bull that teachers, coaches and counselors say with respect to bullying, especially when directed toward gay youth, or those perceived as gay. They also tend to agree about the “bull...you hear every day. About everyone being special...they're assholes and losers in their own special way”. It's a cynical view, though not based on abstract issues but on how the system works today; as Tom cryptically puts it: “always somebody out there”. The older man advises the boy about his instinctive flinching from threats: “gotta work on that”. His most sage advice is about Billy's reaction, in that “there's this little part of you that believes them. That's what kills you”. His solution is literally a graphic one: “you gotta draw the line...fight for that line with everything you've got...inside those lines, that's you. Who you are”. At times the dialogue is a bit arch, such as when Billy describes his sketching: “what's left blank is just as important as what you can see” or when Tom opines that “forgiveness can be a difficult thing”. Other times things are left unremarked upon, such as Billy's choice for his alternate name: Christian (as a person who suffers passively?). Most of the time, however, the writing is in character and rings true, such as when Billy longs for “a place where you are not afraid to show who you are inside”, for which “all you have to do is close your eyes”.
A two-hander by nature is extremely dependent on the skills of the actors portraying the two roles, and in this case they're exemplary. Both Bucchianeri (belying his age and relative inexperience) and Travostino (so memorable in the former play, Unsafe) are, to use an adjective too often loosely applied, riveting. In such a tiny black box, each threatens to blow the place apart. As Directed by Dalglish and Ian Ryan, they come close to doing just that. The play has been selected to be performed at the fourteenth annual International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival this May, and it's easy to see why. Presented here with Artwork by Jackie Reeves and Original Music by Sam Holmstuck, it's another example of Dalglish's mixing of powerful “in your face” writing and wise restraint, not a mix that an awful lot of playwrights have the wit to threaten as well as to withhold.
The truth is, it does get better, but not because of external forces, but from what grows within. One need only close one's eyes to the banality of bullying and be open to the myriad of more positive forces that are inside oneself and mirrored in accepting that in communities there is “always somebody out there.” Like great theater, It gets braver, and stronger, and freer.