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Gays and Stages

LGBT characters and themes are more prevalent in theater than in film or TV, unless you're watching Bravo, which is a gay man's paradise, with more bitchy queens than a Miss Continental pageant.

There's Off-Broadway and then there's Off-<i>off</i> Broadway

Fortunately for LGBT theater, there's Off-Broadway, Off-off Broadway, and regional theater companies, where countless LGBT shows have first gotten noticed, although not always in a positive way. Let's be honest; LGBT theaters have produced some real stinkers, half-conceived concepts that highlight catty dialogue in the place of true plot development and witty but purposeful dialogue. To those guilty of such offenses, let me remind that Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf has been done. Just making all the characters gay men or lesbians doesn't improve it.

Still, when gay theatre hits, it can provide a great evening out that doesn't involve a disco beat and mojitos. It can also be eye-opening, such as The Pride, which tells the stories of relationships as they might have played out in 1958 as compared with 2008. Also thought-provoking is Marc Wolf's Another American: Asking and Telling, in which Wolfe relies on interviews with service men and women, gay and straight, as well as judges and politicians to craft his play. The subsequent one man show was featured on both Fox News and CNN.

The plethora of LGBT productions is a welcome development, but I imagine that about now, lesbian readers are thinking, "Why is he just discussing productions about gay men?" (Hey, I mentioned transgender Bianca Leigh). OK, you're right, no lesbian productions have been discussed thus far, simply because theatre focused on the lesbian experience has yet to be celebrated in the same manner as gay theatre. That doesn't mean that lesbian artists aren't out there working. Last year, Curve featured an article on ten new lesbian-themed plays, including Hedda Gabler, which refashions Ibsen's classic as a lesbian drama, and The Lieutenant Nun, about "Catalina de Erauso, a 17th century nun who dressed as a man, seduced women and joined the Spanish Army."

Although lesbians have done well individually in the theatre, from acting great Cherry Jones to legendary lighting designer Tharon Musser, plays and musicals about lesbians haven't hit Off-Broadway or Broadway with much frequency and must therefore count on regional LGBT theatres to be produced (one exception being this season's Looped, with Valerie Harper as Tallulah Bankhead). Many lesbian-themed plays premiere at women's theater festivals, as well as LGBT theaters. However, one festival focuses solely on the lesbian experience. This coming June 2011, the Women's Theater Project in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, will present "Girl Play - The Third Annual Lesbian Play Festival", presented in conjunction with the Pride Center. According to the festival's website, the plays were selected from 100 submissions, coming from around the globe.

Back in December 1998, Lambda Book Report asked the question "Has Lesbian Theater Come of Age?" The answer, unfortunately, is still "no". Yet, in true "hell, no" lesbian fashion, lesbian theater will not sit quietly against the wall while the fags and fag hags dance. Not to be outdone by the boys, this past year saw the premiere of The Lesbian Love Octagon, self-described as "a musical for anyone who has ever loved wimmin's bookstores, cats or tofu" which, frankly, describes the tree-hugging, hippy straight man who used to be my neighbor. Written by Kimberlea Kressal, with some assistance from Will Larche, the musical was a critic's pick by Time Out New York. Among its songs is "Building a Butch":

As lesbian plays and musicals gain wider audiences, the number of LGBT productions that become part of popular culture will increase, as well. Although we statistically are a larger part of the theater community than we are, say, the construction industry, we haven't always been able to get our story out. Today, that's changing, but as with all things regarding the LGBT community, it's coming slowly. Film adaptations of gay plays generally aren't successful outside the LGBT community, and few gay plays get rotated into regional, mainstream theater's playlist. To be honest, I was a little surprised when the Jewish Community Center here in Louisville, Kentucky, put on a production of La Cage. Apparently, it was quite good.

While it may be easy to fault mainstream theater for not featuring more LGBT productions emerging out of the innumerable LGBT regional theaters, the reality is that mainstream theater must accommodate a multitude of genres. It's doubtful that many of the families that traveled to New York to see Mary Poppins also took in Next Fall. Big family musicals fill seats, even if they are "gay" in theme, such as La Cage, while serious dramas depend on the intelligentsia for enough audience to stay open for any length.

However, the bottom line is the same, regardless whether a play is LGBT or straight in nature. Quality is what will get you noticed. For each successful LGBT production, hundreds of trite, predictable pieces of bad theater are written by men and women hell-bent on being the next Terrence McNally or Jane Chambers (who wrote soap operas by day and plays by night), just as multitudes of straight individuals write dribble thinking they are Sam Shepard or Wendy Wasserstein. Fortunately, as societies grow more accepting of LGBT individuals, more plays and musicals featuring our lives, aches, pains, and joys will be seen, as straight people grow to accept "gay and lesbian" drama/comedy as human drama/comedy. Besides, who can put on a show better than a bunch of queens and dykes?

Cheers, Queers to Glenn Lawrence Burke, the first and only pro baseball player to be openly out to his teammates and club owners. See Cynthia Fuchs review of a new documentary about Burke here on PopMatters.

Here's Mud in Your Eye to those African countries in which movements to execute homosexuals are gaining momentum. Not to step into your business, but if you start executing all the so-called "sinners" in your countries, then you won't have anyone left. Of course, the same applies for Western and Eastern countries.

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