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New York theater gets fabulous for Gay Pride Month. logo
Rocking, out: Melineh Kurdian and Emily in
Lesbian Pulp-a-Rama, part of [email protected]
"Anyone can produce straight theater," says Douglas Leland, artistic creator and producer of Tea for Two Productions, "but not everybody can produce gay theater." Yet, come June--Gay Pride month--it often seems that just about everybody is willing to give it a try. Some companies specifically plan events to coincide with the Pride celebration; other gay-themed shows play in June by sheer coincidence.

Tea for Two, presenting its third annual Gay Pride Series, is definitely among the former. In previous years, the series has been composed solely of staged readings. This year, the company is being more ambitious and mounting three full productions--George M!, and When Pigs Fly--all in the space of three weeks. The first of these shows, a musical toast to legendary Broadway composer, lyricist, and star George M. Cohan, may seem like an odd choice for a gay pride celebration; but as Tea for Two co-producer Bruce Robert Harris explains, "Part of our mission statement is to present shows of interest to the gay community. At this time, after 9/11, we felt it was important to do something patriotic."

HERE Performance Space definitely planned [email protected], the theater's sixth annual celebration of queer performance, around Gay Pride Month. While many gay theater events tend to be male-dominated, HERE's festival is quite diverse. "Lesbian Pulp-a-Rama is one of my personal favorites," says executive director Kristin Marting. "It's campy but it has a lot of bite and a lot of social commentary to it." Other acts include the New York debut of transgender cabaret artist Veronica Klaus; and Raymond Luczak's A Pair of Hands: Deaf Gay Monologues, about a deaf, straight woman and a hearing, gay sign language interpreter. The show promises to be "voiced for the signing-impaired."

American Fabulous
(Photo: Gacin, graphic design: Boland Design Company)
Several gay-themed events in June were not specifically geared towards the Pride Month celebration. Some close in the early part of the month, like Robert Coles's Cute Boys in Their Underpants Versus the Wicked Queen, presented by the Vortex Theater Company. "We don't usually plan a season in advance," says the company's managing director, Tony Lizzul (who also stars as the Wicked Queen). "It just happened that we had a time slot here that was open." The show--sixth in the "cute boys in their underpants" series--is directed by Ridiculous Theatre veteran Eureka. "I cannot say enough about her contribution to this production," raves Lizzul. "It's extraordinary."

American Fabulous was also not conceived as a Pride Month presentation: Troy Carson's adaptation of a Reno Dakota documentary about a "white trash" gay man named Jeffrey Strouth was originally scheduled to close in April but has been extended through June 23. "Gay Pride is kind of a weird way to talk about Jeffrey," says director Jonathan Warman. "He certainly had no shame about his sexuality but I think he felt a certain distance from the rainbows and triangles element of the gay community." Strouth, who died of AIDS in 1992, was born poor and had to prostitute himself to get by. According to Warman, the show is "a window into this other gay world that you just don't see from your 14th-floor apartment in Chelsea."

Among gay theater aficionados, one of the most exciting events of the past year is the re-emergence of TOSOS (The Other Side Of Silence), originally founded in 1974 by Stonewall veteran Doric Wilson. In January, Wilson and artistic director Mark Finley started up TOSOS II with a series of concert readings of pre-AIDS gay plays and quickly followed up with a highly praised revival of Wilson's Street Theater, about the Stonewall Riots. Now, TOSOS II is presenting a pair of one-acts by company member Chris Weikel called Tales Told. According to Wilson, "It has a gay subtext because of the writer but it's not a gay pride piece." The longer of the one-acts, Penny Penniworth, tells the story of a third-rate British traveling theater company presenting a "lost" Charles Dickens work. "It's about sexual identity," Wilson states. "Everybody plays gender-changed roles throughout. It's Ludlamesque in a way, but a little more literary."

Gay as the Dickens: Igor Goldin, Jamie Heinlein,
and Christopher Borg in Penny Penniworth
(Photo: Ellen Reilly)
The above-mentioned plays are only the tip of the iceberg: All across the city, theaters are showcasing works with gay themes. The Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance (BAAD!) is offering Out Like That! 2002, a cultural festival celebrating gay pride and featuring performances by Marga Gomez and other queer artists. Meanwhile, the Genesius Guild is producing Frank Stancati's play Just Us Boys, which looks at the backstage banter, antics, and romantic interplay among five chorus boys in the dressing room of a Broadway musical.

Speaking of Broadway, Seth Rudetsky--the Great White Way's musical theater guru and host of the Broadway Chatterbox series at Don't Tell Mama--is featured in his one-man show Rhapsody in Seth every Sunday in June at the Ars Nova Theater. Rattlestick Theatre presents another gay one-man show called Cologne, or The Ways Evil Enters the World, written and performed by Tony Abatemarco. Comedian Julie Goldman joins in the fun with an all-Pride installment of her monthly comedy show at Caroline's entitled Full Frontal Julie.

"The terrific thing that's happening is that we have a voice and it's a really positive and forceful voice, socially and dramatically," says Tea for Two's Doug Leland. "I am one for inclusion; we have to be bigger than just our community. But at the same time, our unique voice--like an ethnic voice or a national voice--still needs to be raised and heard."

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