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Brokeback Mountain on London's West End

by our Editors in Media & entertainment , 25 november 2015

Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar

It started out as a short story, became an Oscar-winning film, then an opera, and now Brokeback Mountain will be rewritten for the stage. Producer Tom O’Connell secured the rights of Annie Proulx' short story about two farmer boys. The play is expected to open in London in 2016.

“I am really looking forward to the stage interpretation of the two lovers on Brokeback Mountain. Thanks to producer Tom O’Connell, they went from paper to the screen, and now to the stage. It is a strange journey for the twosome from Wyoming,” Proulx notes. “The actors stepping into their boots are entering a difficult period in a harsh place.”

The 2005 movie version, with Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal as lovers, was nominated for 8 Oscars, and won three. The New York City Opera made an opera version of the story in 2015, with Charles Wuorinen responsible for the music, and Proulx herself for the libretto.

Brokeback Mountain the movie is carried by the two male leads. From the very first scene, they reign supreme. Both characters are flawlessly portrayed in the first minutes, in which very little seems to happen. The normally colourless Heath Legder excels as the introvert Ennis. What Ennis cannot say in words, is expressed in his glances - the desires, the struggle. He is afraid to go for what he truly wants, and through this, is also determining the life of Jack. I am very curious if this stage performance can add to this.

The story goes as follows:

1963 – Ennis del Mar, a ranch worker, and Jack Twist, a rodeo cowboy, meet each other asking for work at the farm of sheep farmer Joe Aguirre. Their job is to bring sheep to Brokeback Mountain and make sure they survive the summer unharmed. In these long months of complete isolation, the two develop a strong bond.

One day, Jack invited Ennis, who sleeps outdoors, to join him in his tent in base camp after some drinks. They sleep, but when they wake up, it becomes obvious that it is very difficult not to give in to their sexual orientation. Ennis warns Jack that it was only a ‘one-time incident,’ but the relationship keeps growing stronger, and they fall in love even deeper.

When their summer ends abruptly they end up in a fight, both with blood on their shirts. While going down the mountain, Ennis realises that he left his shirt behind on the mountain. After their summer on Brokeback Mountain, Ennis marries his fiancée Alma, and Jack finds himself in Texas, where he meets rodeo princess Lureen Newsome and marries her. The two meet again four years later, when Jack visits Ennis. They cannot restrain themselves again, and Alma watches them kissing intensely. Jack asks Ennis if he wants to build a life with him on a ranch, but Ennis, who is haunted by a memory in his youth, and is afraid it will only lead to misery. He remembers the killing and most likely torture of a homosexual. He also does not want to leave or neglect his family. They agree to only meet for fishing trips, where they truly can be themselves.

The years go by, and the marriages of both men do not improve. Alma finds out Ennis is not fishing with Jack at all, and their marriage ends in divorce. Meanwhile Lureen only wants to see her husband as a business man, but Jack does not agree with this. When Jack hears of Ennis' divorce, he visits him and asks him again if he wants to build a life together.

But Ennis does not want to leave his children and is still afraid of the reaction of outsiders. On their next trip they get into a fight again because Ennis is busy with work and wants to cancel the trip. Ennis blames Jack for the mess in his life; they almost fight again, but end with an embrace.

Later on, Ennis gets a postcard he sent to Jack back with a postmark - ‘Diseased’. In shock, he calls Lureen who tells him Jack died while changing a tire. The hub-cap came off in his face, and he suffocated in his own blood. Images of Jack being beaten up and dying because of this follow, but it is not clear whether this is something Ennis suspects or really happened. Lureen informs him that Jack wanted his ashes to be scattered over Brokeback Mountain, but she does not know where that is.

Ennis visits Jack's parents and offers to scatter his ashes. Jack's father flatly rejects his offer. He also knows where this ‘damned mountain’ is. The mother offers to take Ennis to Jack's room, and there he finds Jack's and his own blood-stained shirts. Ennis takes the shirts with him. Symbolic here is that Ennis's white shirt is still under Jack's blood-stained denim jacket.

In the next scene, Ennis is in his trailer, and is visited by his daughter Alma Jr. She is getting married and asks for her father's blessing. Ennis, who has learned his lessons in life, asks Alma if she is sure he loves her, and Alma says she is sure. After Alma is gone, Ennis finds out she forgot her vest and hangs it in his wardrobe with the blood-stained shirts of Jack and himself, with a card of Brokeback Mountain. Now, Jack's denim jacket is inside Jack's white shirt, a symbol of the protection Ennis now can finally offer Jack.
He straightens the postcard, and the movie ends with the words: ‘Jack, I swear…’.

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In the New Issue of Gay News, 322, June 2018

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