A Generous Lover follows La JohnJoseph through the struggles of loving someone with bipolar disorder during a manic episode. This queer love story draws on classical mythology and epic poetry, promising great things, but not completely delivering. Though thematically important and stylistically unique, the result feels somewhat incohesive.
The play's strongest point is its realistic and humanising depiction of an understudied psychotic illness. The seductive ‘generous lover’ of the tale is the mania itself, and JJ adeptly encompasses the paradox of the manic sufferer – why would someone who feels energised, powerful and important want to stop feeling that way? JJ’s feelings of helplessness and confusion are touching, and brought out an emotional, personal response in me.
The play is a mishmash of styles, switching between straight story-telling, musical interludes, and character studies of patients and visitors of the psychiatric institution where lover Orpheus is a patient. A Generous Lover is ethereal, described in its copy as “somewhere between a séance and a recital”, building a dreamlike trance world. The story-telling is engaging, and the story itself is important, but the musical numbers are weakly-written and add little to the overarching narrative. The piece doesn’t quite come together as one.
JJ has charisma and a naturally engaging stage presence, and the occasional jokes all land well. Unfortunately though, the performance is exaggerated and melodramatic – which though almost certainly a stylistic choice, cheapens the narrative and integrity of the piece for me. The through-line feels clichéd and the pseudo-intellectual references to Freud, Medusa, Dante and Orpheus add little to the story; the likening of the institution to the underworld is easy and unhelpful.
JJ’s story is truthful and heart-felt, and has the potential to work well under development. But that’s just it – it needs development. A Generous Lover is worth seeing – especially if you have a personal connection to its themes – but isn’t yet ground-breaking theatre.