For all its public carnality, Green Park, the play, might strike some as a little old-fashioned.

Why, in the middle of Australia’s largest metropolis, in 2021, is this man, saddled with guilt and shame and fear, seeking anonymous same-sex gratification from so deep within the closet? Why is this other man, a boy really, who flung open the closet door as a pre-pubescent, afforded more freedom and equality than any generation in history, seeking sex almost as punishment, drugged and dangerous and seemingly intent on self-destruction?

Steve Le Marquand and Joseph Althouse in Green Park. Photograph © Brett Boardman

But that’s the big lie: these men aren’t old-fashioned at all. If you’ve ever spent any time trawling through a gay hook-up app you’ll know these men are very much of the here and now. Trust me. You know them, even if you don’t know them in this environment.

What good is marriage equality to Warren, a buttoned-up 50-something family man visiting from rural parts, who followed the only path that seemed possible – a girlfriend, a wife, kids and a steady job to provide for them all? He loves his wife, he’d do anything for his kids. But what to do with that nagging desire for flesh of a different sex?

What good is gay marriage to Edden, just 19 or 24 (it depends who’s asking and what they’re looking for), barely afloat in a choppy ocean teaming with men who want him, or at least his lithe, giving body? Domestic life is the furthest thing from his mind right now, here seeking sex of the subjugation flavour. So much for equality.

They don’t understand each other, and they couldn’t be more different, but they’re both as trapped as each other.

Also, did I mention, they’re in public? Literally in a park, the eponymous Green Park. We’re all here, socially distanced on fold-up chairs and picnic rugs, eavesdropping on their conversation, surrounded by the ghosts of gay and curious generations past.

Warren and Edden met in an apartment in an earlier draft of this work performed in Melbourne. Young playwright Elias Jamieson Brown has taken the men outdoors, fulfilling a brief from incoming Griffin Theatre Company boss Declan Greene for an alfresco show for these plague-pocked times. Greene very smartly directs the piece, too, capturing Griffin’s patented brand of intimacy – the actors are miked, the audience wired for sound with supplied headphones – in a space dauntingly larger and lusher than his cosy theatre a few blocks away.

You can only admire the initiative. While other companies, with theatres much larger, can return to work almost as normal, Greene has had to think outside the box. Brown’s play is suitably adaptable and newly imbued with the rich history of this place – a park that has long served as a meeting point for illicit sex, bordered by “The Wall” (once a market of male sex workers) and St Vincent’s Hospital, where so many gay men were treated for AIDS, so many unsuccessfully.

As the sun sets (and the rain clouds, thankfully, part) the men who played and died here seem to haunt the space as Warren and Edden get down to consummating their Grindr foreplay. Warren, played by the accomplished Steve Le Marquand, a tight coil of fear and desire, has been coming here for decades, whenever he can get away from the family. Edden, flying high and full of daring as inhabited by Joseph Althouse, words carelessly fired from his lips in quick succession, is the sexual aggressor but projecting a blank submissiveness for the taking. The colour of Althouse’s skin – he’s a Tiwi/Arrernte man – adds, perhaps, yet another layer of intergenerational trauma that binds them both. In this brief moment, at least one of these characters’ lives is about to change irrevocably.

In this natural space they’re wholly naturalistic performances, well judged by the actors and choreographed by Greene. Mostly, they just sit on a bench and talk, negotiating the rules, the boundaries, the wants and needs, inevitably poking at sore spots. Park life continues around them. People walk onto the stage, as it is, a little confused but causing no fuss. They are part of the piece, whether they like it or not. Just like the park, the suburb, the city, and all of us watching now and before.

I wished I wasn’t so far away. I missed seeing the faces a few feet in front of me, as I would in Griffin’s Stables Theatre. Through the headphones you hear every ragged breath, together with an intermittent but almost overbearing soundtrack (composed by David Bergman), yet I still couldn’t quite get a read on the characters. The lawn of damp leaves between us, or Brown’s script, or both, keeps the audience at a distance.

Just like, of course, Warren and Edden in their almost 60-minute encounter. They are two men with so much in common but a world apart, failing to really understand each other and, especially, themselves. Public acceptance, even in Green Park in 2021, only goes so far.

Green Park plays in Green Park, Darlinghurst until 6 March. The season is currently sold out but you can email to be included on a waitlist for tickets

Supported by the City of Sydney

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