A Generous Lover is La JohnJoseph’s heartfelt account of caring for a bipolar partner. Orpheus and La JohnJoseph pass through various institutional limbos including health services, art therapy seminars and medication focused recovery plans.
A Generous Lover is a sermon with a broken heart
La JohnJoseph commands the space in Summerhall’s Anatomy Lecture Theatre with a poised albeit occasionally aloof grace. An ensemble of characters step with stylish distinction from La JohnJoseph’s gorgeous Katharine Hepburn-influenced persona; this is a ribald and realistic cast straight from the pages of experience.
La JohnJoseph’s vocal work is the best I have seen at the Fringe this year. Each character is vocally stylised to an extent that the Katharine Hepburn core, although ever present, is almost forgotten. Within each voice is pathos, a personality, and a character – specific history. This is no easy feat and La JohnJoseph continues to awe as they perform short but deeply moving musical numbers (all original), which document a kind of emotional passing as Orpheus grows ever more distant.
The famous myth of Orpheus is his covenant with Hades (or Pluto, dependent on which pantheon you subscribe to), when attempting to retrieve his lover Eurydice from the Underworld. Using nothing but his musical prowess, Orpheus infiltrates hell to demand that Eurydice is returned to the living. Impressed by his gall, Hades/Pluto agrees that Eurydice can leave his domain, but only if Orpheus promises to not look behind him, at her, until they are both safely within sunlight. Orpheus fails at the last hurdle, and Eurydice is condemned to eternally reside amongst the dead.
La JohnJoseph positions the institutions of medicine as an Underworld in their own right. It is a deeply affecting and moving image. Classical and mythic allusions can often feel contrived, yet this imagery tessellates perfectly with the subject at hand. Throughout their fluid, genre-switching performances, as well as within their music, La JohnJoseph blends the sterility of medical procedure with the emotional infinity of the ecclesiastic: in an image, this play is a hospital bed beneath a vaulted ceiling.
This is where A Generous Lover scores significant emotional hammer blows, yet also drives the nails of its own crucifix crookedly through the supplicant and ready hands of the audience. This play is achingly close to being devastating, but somehow, glances away from the emotional core it wants to pierce. My (subjective) view of this problem is that it is structural – I believe the music, imagery, and La JohnJoseph’s own performance are highly accomplished. However, there are pacing problems, which can make the performance suddenly feel stilted and unrhythmic – this clashes entirely with the overall aesthetic, where pacing, poise, and euphonic prose are the pillars of La JohnJoseph’s narrative temple. The middle of the play is the best – and perhaps more of the stage time belongs here, including the opening. As they stand, these structural disjoints do the content and performance within this play a disservice. Were they resolved, I have no doubt that this play would be a fast-track to emotional Armageddon.
La JohnJoseph’s A Generous Lover is a play that must be seen when you can, as it ties together images and themes that pounce upon the audience with mesmerising class. It is a sermon with a broken heart, and a sensitive interpretation of impossible spaces and emotional reckoning.