Dallas — Last year in the review of TeCo Theatrical Productions’ first PlayPride LGBT Festival, my biggest complaint was that it was all about the G; the B, L and T weren’t represented (um, not the sandwich, although I don’t remember one of those, either). As is typical of gay-focused arts festivals, especially with gay film festivals, it’s often mostly about cisgender gay men.
Yes, that’s a little nudge for writers anywhere on the rainbow spectrum—and the people who them.
The G is still dominant in the second annual PlayPride, although I’m pleased to report that L is the focus of Carol M. Rice’s Accept, Except and there’s a possible B in Christopher Soden’s A Christmas Wish.
And if there’s a theme of this year’s festival, it’s the clashing of religion and homosexuality, pretty much the same as last year. But the quality of the writing and performances is higher this year.
The funniest and tenderest of the six short plays is J. Sanders-Nelson’s My Gay Husband, directed by Buster Spiller. The title refers to Myron (Rickey Wax), labeled so by his bestie Jocelynn (Latreshia Lilly), who is dying of cancer. The plan for the single mother is to leave her children to Myron and his fiancé Blake (Montre Bible). That doesn’t sit well with her Bible-thumping sister Kathleen (Catherine Luster). It’d be easy to criticize Myron and Kathleen as stereotypes, but truthfully, most of us have known them in real life. Bible and Lilly give the best performances; Luster goes too broadly, but the emotional heart of this play feels genuine.
Soden’s A Christmas Wish happens in the lobby of a hotel on Christmas, where a flirty conversation between gay traveler Walker (Steve Frawley) and straight employee Chase (Magdiel Carmona) leads to a game of strip poker and then…well, turns out Chase isn’t so straight. Soden has the best command of natural-sounding dialogue of this bunch, and as directed by Kevin Westbrook, it’s among the most successful of the shows. Maybe a little too much movement around the set in the first half.
Best of the lot is Paul Engle’s Dissonance, directed by Ruth Cantrell. These characters aren’t deep: Ash (Olivia Grace Murphy) is basically the Christian God and Lucinda (Stacy Ann Strang) is Satan (score one for clever character names), who each get some time with Monty (Brandon Simmons), a gay man who is hit by a truck and killed at the beginning of the play. Did he commit suicide? What are the implications of that? Where will he spend the afterlife? Nothing new here, theologically speaking, but the debate about Christianity’s treatment of homosexuality is always worth hearing. Hands down, the best acted show of the six.
Reginald Hanna’s Beulah Land, directed by Richard Quadri, also involves mystical good/evil characters, as boyfriends Miguel (Carmona) and Raphael (Frawley) show up a bed and breakfast in a secluded area. The appearance of Many (Priscilla Rice) adds a supernatural twist, and it turns out Raphael is in Miguel’s life for a reason. The writing’s a little clunky, but it handles the element of surprise nicely.
Carol M. Rice’s Accept, Except, directed by Westbrook, shows the experience some parents go through after learning that a child is gay. Mom (Kiani Stone) still won’t believe that her daughter Cara (Sarah Nicole Thompson) is a lesbian, not even when, after a tragedy, Cara and her wife Brittany (Murphy) show up at Mom’s house. Cara’s brother Pete (Timothy Kersey) is on Cara’s side. It’s a straightforward message that comes close to being too didactic, but in same cases, that is needed. The performances from Thompson and Murphy are beautifully honest.
Arnold Shelby and Sam Young’s Until When, Until Then is set in the summer of 1976 in a small town. Roger (Carmona) doesn’t want to wait (for at least two more decades, we now know) for it to be OK for him to come out in their community. His boyfriend Glenn (Simmons) knows it’s too early, and their visit to a clinic, where Roger is treated by nurse Alex (Frawley) brings up several issues that won’t be addressed in America for awhile, such as hospital visitation rights for same-sex couples. There's an additional turn with an infidelity subplot. Under Cantrell’s direction it’s a sweetly told hope for a brighter tomorrow. One minor writing gripe: Jimmy Carter is mentioned as president but he wasn’t elected until November 1976 and didn’t take office until 1977.
Overall, this is the strongest new play fest, in both writing and performance, I’ve seen at TeCo (that includes its longer running New Play Competition in February), and the idea of an LGBT-centered festival of locally written works is a good one in a Metropolitan area where short play festivals are becoming a dime a dozen.
Can we put some energy into developing fuller length, more substantial works?
But at least it’s giving writers a chance to flex their muscles; and plus, one (or more) of these could be the seed for something bigger. Buster Spiller's play Pot Liquor, seen in last year's PlayPride, has been expanded and will be presented at TeCo's space at the Bishop Arts Theater Center next weekend.
Here’s to an even healthier future for PlayPride. Maybe next year it’ll be served with some T, too.