Justin Wilson and AJ Trianoin Tom Kelly's The Virgin Tango(Photo: Ron Peaslee)
Justin Wilson and AJ Triano
in Tom Kelly's The Virgin Tango
(Photo: Ron Peaslee)
"Often, I think when people hear about gay theater, what they think of are underwear plays--naked bodies, lots of sex, always funny," says Mark Cannistraro, director of Homosexual Acts, currently playing at The Duplex (a West Village hotspot with a two-drink minimum). Produced by SourceWorks, the program consists of seven short plays and songs examining various aspects of gay life. "For a gay evening, there's not a ton of sex involved," comments the director. "I mean, there's some. But you know, not what you'd imagine."

Cannistraro chose the pieces because they are "gay humanistic in nature." That is, their basic focus is the hopes, dreams, and feelings of people who happen to be gay. Obie Award-winner Susan Miller's "It's Our Town, Too" is a gay and lesbian retelling of Thornton Wilder's classic play. James Edwin Parker's "The Virtual Closet" tells the tale of an average looking older gay man who chats up a cute 23-year-old on the Internet by telling him lies about himself, then arranges a face-to-face meeting. Eric Lane Barnes has contributed a brand new song to the evening, "Available," which speaks to the joys of being completely open to a relationship...with the wrong kind of guy. Other pieces on the bill deal with first kisses, ex-boyfriends, mysterious strangers, and obsessed fans.

Since 1996, SourceWorks has focused on gay theater. The turning point came when Cannistraro, a founding member and the current producing director of the company, directed a revival of Christopher Durang's Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You. "I noticed that the audience that supported it was primarily gay men," says Cannistraro, "and I started specifically focusing on trying to produce work for that audience."

Previous efforts by SourceWorks were financial failures; that fact left Cannistraro as the last of the founders to remain in the group by the time of the production of Sister Mary. "It's so hard in Off-Off-Broadway because, so often, you end up losing half the money--or more than half the money," he laments. "It's one thing when you're a big commercial producer and you have investors; it's another when you realize that you can't pay your rent."

Although the focus on gay-themed works has built an audience for SourceWorks shows, Cannistraro is unwilling to compromise his artistic values by catering to popular trends. "I often lay awake nights and think that I could make a fortune if I would just do some kind of underwear play," he says half-jokingly. "But I can't bring myself to do that. One of the things I always shoot for in my work is identifiability. If I'm an audience member, I have to identify with a play somehow. I have to see myself there. It can't be a fantasy of something I can never involve myself in; that might entertain me, but it won't move me."

One of the challenges the director faced in putting together Homosexual Acts was giving the evening a sense of unity. "It's like walking seven different puppies in different directions," he comments. "The idea was to try to create a mosaic where things feed into other things." To that end, he is working with an ensemble of eight actors who play various roles in different pieces. "The actors and I found it really challenging," says Cannistraro. "Usually you're working on one play and one playwright with one voice, and that voice is what carries you through the entire rehearsal process. Here, we had seven different pieces."

Audience response has been very positive. "People stood up and cheered at the end," says Cannistraro about the opening night performance. "The audiences for gay work tend to be, mmm, a little more boisterous than the average theater audience," he ventures. "The fact you make them buy drinks might have something to do with that."