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Free and Proud review at Assembly George Square, Edinburgh – ‘slick but dispiriting’

Faaiz Mbelizi and Michael Gilbert in Free and Proud
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In order to make sense of the present, it’s important to examine the past. This is the earth-shattering revelation made by New York playwright Charles Gershman in his latest play Free and Proud. In a loosely woven duologue, Hakeem and Jeremy dissect their time together, including a brief, unsuitable marriage. On the day Hakeem is due to move out, he is killed in a road accident, leaving Jeremy behind to contemplate his feelings.

Gershman paints such a vivid portrait of the lazy, unfaithful Jeremy that it’s very difficult to find any empathy with the character. Michael Gilbert nails this preening, man-child with frustrating accuracy, while Faaiz Mbelizi portrays an emotionally solid Hakeem, prone to hard work and level-headedness. It’s such a mismatched relationship that it almost hamstrings the ending of the play, when Jeremy is trying to process his grief. He has lost his husband but emotionally wasn’t it over anyway?

Peter Darney’s fluid direction allows the action to flow freely and the twisted timeline makes sense. Gershman’s script aims to explore the constructs of the modern marriage, but it unravels as a dispiriting sprawl of homo-cliché, rather like Jeremy – nicely put together but not much going on underneath.

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Slick production of a thin, dispiriting play