Dallas — In front of the audience are five stools. Five actors enter: Cameron Casey, Whitney LaTrice Coulter, Mark Quach, Mia/Mies Quatrino, and Daniel Mooney. (The last two understudy for Valerie Collins and Christopher A. Dawson, respectively, and were seen at the performance reviewed.) Each one is wearing blue jeans and identical shirts with the Flexible Grey Theatre Company logo. Only minimal accessories hint at the differences among the characters. But despite the monochromatic costumes and barebones set, this production of Bridges: LGBTQ+ Then & Now, performed in Oak Lawn’s Resource Center, is perhaps the most diverse range of actors on any Dallas stage these days.
There are different skin colors, of course; different apparent ethnicities. But there is a multitude of sexual identities and gender expressions present, both among the actors as well as the characters they portray: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender/gender-fluid, and queer. The five actors not only identify as either LGBT or Q but they are also here to tell the stories of other, older LGBTQ people who ostensibly made it possible so that these five young actors could more fully be themselves today on stage and open to the audience.
It’s a vulnerable position to be in, openly divulging to a group of strangers one’s sexual preferences and gender identity. Each actor, though, has a host of forbearers to lean on whose stories are told over the 90-minute show. Those stories come into focus while the actors themselves seem to recede into the background.
A chorus of voices erupts with names, ages, and birthplaces. The ages range from the late 30s to the 70s. Each actor relates multiple stories. Though some of the overlapping details are lost, the show settles into a rhythm of one story at a time. As one story winds down, another story emerges.
Each consecutive story gravitates around a theme: coming out, family, first loves, religion, infidelity, and activism, among others. For the most part, the stories are overwhelmingly optimistic. Uplifting, even. Surprisingly, they are not seeped in violence, though one person was in a physically abusive relationship and another was shot by a sawed-off shotgun.
There is one mention each of an attempted suicide, of being HIV+, and of AIDS. It seems like all those interviewed were from middle class, suburban or urban backgrounds. Granted, there is no need for the interviews on which the performance was based to adhere to any kind of strict social science methodology, but the acutely upbeat tone of the performance seems a bit suspect, as if the stories suffered from some kind of rose-colored bias or self-censorship.
That is not to say, however, that these stories aren’t equally necessary. As the call to arms at the end of the performance acknowledges, LGBTQ+ people have two powers: to come out and to tell their stories. This production does a laudable job at bringing those stories to the public. Just hearing them is inspiring and empowering.
The actors seem to truly enjoy their storytelling task. They naturally shift between poignant and funny. It’s easy to imagine that they feed off each other’s enthusiasm and support, both on and off stage. The camaraderie among them is irresistible.
Artistic Director Seth Johnson says that the company “really wanted to create a show that answered the ‘Where We Came From’ question in our season’s theme.” So beginning in August 2017, they began gathering questions from LGBTQ+ Millennials (generally, people between the ages of 18 and 34). Eventually they put together a questionnaire that served as a guide during interviews conducted with older LGBTQ+ generations. Once Johnson had recorded about 30 hours of interview material, Flexible Grey’s board of directors shared the task of transcribing the interviews and arranging them into a coherent, performable structure. The plan is to continue interviewing and updating the script even after the show closes.
This is Flexible Grey’s second production of its first season. By casting younger actors to bring these stories to life, this new theater company shows that it takes seriously its mission to present accessible entertainment while cultivating Millennial talent. Bridges is a noteworthy production with a passionate artistic team. Be the first of your friends to embrace and support them.