New York has no shortage of gay theatrical attractions, but did you know there are also plays about trans issues and polyamory? The theater truly has something to offer folks of every persuasion this June, as we celebrate LGBT Pride month. Here are seven highlights:
1. The Artificial Jungle
An inspiration to the likes of Bette Midler, Charles Busch, and Tony Kushner, Charles Ludlam is the most influential American playwright you've likely never heard of. Best known for his drag-tastic two-hander, The Mystery of Irma Vep, Ludlam wrote, directed, and starred in 29 plays for his Ridiculous Theatrical Company between 1967 and 1987 (just eight fewer than Shakespeare). The Artificial Jungle was his last before his untimely passing (like so many stars of the theater, he was claimed by the AIDS epidemic). Ludlam brings a gay sensibility and unapologetic frivolity to this send-up of film noir, which overflows with hard-boiled howlers like, "Love is a disease, and you gave it to me!'' This revival is directed by Ludlam's longtime partner, Everett Quinton, who originated the role of Zachary Slade in the original production. Don't miss this rare opportunity to revel in the ridiculous.
In 1923, the run of Shalom Asch's debut Broadway play, The God of Vengeance, was cut short when the entire cast was indicted on obscenity charges. What was so obscene about the play? Its central love story was between two women. Katrina Lenk and Adina Verson sensitively portray the actresses who played those women in Indecent, the long-awaited Broadway debut of playwright and educator Paula Vogel. It tells the behind-the-scenes story of The God of Vengeance, a classic of Yiddish theater that became an international sensation in the early part of the 20th century. Under Rebecca Taichman's haunting direction, the impact of that controversial work resonates into our time.
3. The Boy Who Danced on Air (Closes June 11!)
Sexual categories like "gay," "bi," and "straight" don't always comfortably apply to non-Western cultures. For instance, in Afghanistan it is still commonplace for an ostensibly heterosexual married man to sleep with a young boy on the side — as long as that boy isn't old enough to have facial hair. Composers Tim Rosser and Charlie Sohne tackle the disturbing practice of Bacha Bazi (literally: "boy play") in this new musical, which imagines a clandestine love affair between two teenage boys, both owned by wealthy older men. As hard as it is to imagine, there are still some places in the world where a consenting relationship between two men is more taboo than sex slavery. Rosser and Sohne apply a classic musical theater sound to an unexpected subject for a surprisingly rewarding theatrical experience.
In much of the West, relationships between two men are no longer considered verboten, but what about three men? This new play by S. Asher Gelman explores the still-furtive subject of polyamory: It tells the story of Josh and Alex, two married gay men who invite over a third, Darius, for what they assume will be a one-night threesome. But when their connection with Darius proves to be more lasting, all three men have to reevaluate their assumptions around love and relationships. Expect more plays like this as the polyamorous inch their way out of the closet.
5. Fierce & Deadly 1988 (June 17 at 2pm Only!)
Live In Theater invites you to the ball…specifically a drag ball circa 1988. Fans of the documentary Paris Is Burning won't want to miss this immersive play inspired by the tragic death of trans performer Venus Xtravanganza (one of the most quotable subjects of the film). While this country has progressed leaps and bounds on LGBT rights over the last three decades, rates of violence against trans people are still shockingly, unacceptably high. This murder mystery with a social conscience invites its audience to follow the clues around an unsolved crime from New York's past and consider how we can better protect a vulnerable population in the future.
6. Rotterdam (Closes June 10!)
What if the woman you fell in love with told you that she no longer identifies as a woman, but as a man? Could you still be in a relationship with that man, even if you consider yourself a lesbian? That is the dilemma faced by Alice, the protagonist of Jon Brittain's new play, Rotterdam. It is also a very real question for those in long-term relationships with trans people: Did you fall in love with that person, or their gender? The play, appearing at 59E59 as part of the "Brits Off Broadway" season, recently won an Olivier Award and will transfer to London's West End later this month.
7. Hello, Dolly!
OK, we know that this Jerry Herman-Michael Stewart musical isn't specifically about gay people, but there's a reason we labeled the Bette Midler-led Broadway revival "gay church." Following the machinations of a New York City matchmaker circa 1885, this mischievously funny comedy features a parade of memorable tunes and impressive dances. Everything about director Jerry Zaks' production is bright and wonderful, from the costumes, to the singing, to the smiles worn by the members of the chorus (the hardest-working on Broadway right now). Shows like Hello, Dolly! remind us why we fell in love with the theater in the first place. Plus, it's Bette Midler (a.k.a. "Bathhouse Betty," for those who used to frequent the old Continental Baths, where Midler got her start). We really cannot think of a better way to celebrate gay pride than this fabulous revival.
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