When Matt Stinton and Michael Moran appeared in the memorable 1998 Famous Door Theatre Company production of "Beautiful Thing," this pair of skilled and guileless young actors effortlessly and exquisitely conveyed the charm and vulnerabilities of English teenagers on the cusp of the pleasures and pain of adulthood.
Gary Griffin's unforgettable American premiere of this sweet and unusually authentic Jonathan Harvey drama about young love in a southeast London council estate (the British term for public housing) was one of the best off-Loop productions of recent years. Given the quality of the supporting cast and the pitch-perfect tone of the direction it fully deserved its subsequent run off-Broadway.
And since pretty much all of the original cast were available this summer for another trans-Atlantic trip to a world of tough love and unexpected tenderness, you can see why Griffin wanted to revisit the scene of one of his greatest directorial achievements.
But Stinton and Moran both of whom are now in their early 20s have changed a lot since 1998. And while there are indications in this revival that both have deepened and matured as actors, the show now bumps up against the reality that both of these young men are obviously too old for these roles. And in a play that relies on the mutual innocence of two young friends exploring their sexuality, neither actor can entirely recapture the mood of the first time around. Nor can the skilled Susan Bennett, who's just a little more studied this time as an angst-ridden teen obsessed with Mama Cass.
It's always a dangerous practice to fall for a show and then think one can go back to it. Usually as is the case here circumstances have changed. But "Beautiful Thing" remains a lovely and rewarding play honest, straightforward, sweet and wise.
And even if sentiment maybe got the better of some of Griffin's usually stellar casting instincts, the production otherwise is directed with care and intelligence. And Kirsten Sahs is every bit as splendid as before in the role of a struggling single mother who does everything she can for her growing boy.