Of all the required high school readings, one tends to linger well beyond the teen years: John Knowles' A Separate Peace is a 20th century classic, a beautifully woven tale of adolescent boys who grow apart under the shadow of World War II. Interestingly this book was also among the top 30 most-banned books of the 1990s, based on crimes of "foul language and sex." There is no sex in the book, but the potential for homoerotic undertones between the narrator, Gene, and his best friend/archrival, Phineas, was enough justification for censors. The mere mention of a one-man adaptation of A Separate Peace at the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center should be enough to send the censors screaming in the other direction. But rather than falling into the "gay or not gay" debate, this presentation remains loyal to the simple essence of the story.
It is a pleasure to see this brilliant novel come to life, adapted for the stage and devotedly performed by Brian Foyster. Pacing energetically across the expansive stage, Foyster takes on the roles of several boys at the fictitious Devon School-based on Knowles' own East Coast alma mater, Philips Exeter. A small group of students spends a carefree summer session in 1942, despite the inevitability of a war draft looming before them. The script sticks very closely to the novel-almost verbatim minus a few seamlessly excised portions. As a result, this particular adaptation comes across as complete but not overworked.
Clad in prep-school attire, with a boyish handsomeness and energy to spare, Foyster certainly captures the right look. At times, his characters tend to blur, most noticeably in exchanges between Gene and Phineas. The former has a Southern accent, while the latter -though from the outskirts of Boston-has none; but there is little physical distinction between the two. When Gene pays a visit to Phineas, whose leg has been shattered, Foyster almost seems to get lost in the stiffening and relaxing of his right leg as he alternates roles.
The set is nicely uncomplicated, with just a school desk and chair, a wooden bench, and two suitcases serving multiple roles. An interesting twist is the large white screen set behind the stage, sometimes projecting the image of the impossibly tall tree and other times serving as the recipient of intense lighting. For those who have read the book, this performance is a pleasure to watch. For the rest, it may just encourage an impromptu trip to the library.
"A Separate Peace," presented by the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, in association with SHE Group and Running Horse Productions, at the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center's Renberg Theatre, The Village at Ed Gould Plaza, 1125 N. McCadden Place, Hollywood. Thurs.-Fri. 8 p.m. Apr. 10-May 16. $15. (323) 860-7300.