Dallas — TeCo Theatrical Productions has added another feather to a cap that’s decorated with new play competitions, and this time it’s devoted to gay-themed work. The first PlayPride LGBT Festival is winding up its two-week run at the Bishop Arts Theatre Center this weekend.
It’s a laudable effort, giving not only another outlet for local writers but also one with the gay community in mind. Its importance cannot be underestimated, especially considering the nonsense that keeps happening with high school theaters being forced to cancel musical productions because of gay themes. I mean c’mon—Spamalot?
Each of the one-acts at TeCo, all presented in one evening, have highs and lows; but what’s slightly disappointing about the overall evening is that there isn’t much thematic or stylistic diversity. That problem, which is more curatorial, is easily forgiven considering it’s the first year for this event. Perhaps this year’s success will encourage more writers to enter the competition (the winner of most audience votes gets $1,000 for the charity of his or her choice), and the selection committee will have a wider array of entries from which to choose.
For instance, there is absolutely no “L” or “T” represented this year, and there’s barely a “B.” The majority is about gay men longing for approval by family members and/or religion. Granted, tolerance is a major concern for anyone who identifies as something other than heterosexual or cisgendered. Trust me—as the gay son of a Pentecostal preacher, I get it.
But this is the theater, where all views, stripes, situations and storytelling styles are welcome.
That said, there is much to be enjoyed in the inaugural event.
By far the best acted work, and the most tightly constructed, is Trapped: A Confessional Tale by Bill Richard, directed by Kevin Westbrook. Michael Raines plays a priest, Father David, visited in the confessional by Joe (Jonah Munroe), who is struggling with his homosexuality and religious upbringing. It hits many of the points you can see in the comments section of any online article about equal rights for LGBT folk, except with less (or any) vitriol. Richard, himself a former priest, has thought this one out carefully. It builds nicely and is filled with compassion, best evidenced when the Father assures Joe that no matter how anyone perceives what Leviticus might say about homosexuality, “the Bible has so many more verses about love.”
Also addressing issues of religious and familial acceptance is Buster Spiller’s Pot Liquor, which the author directs. Jeffrey (Gerald Taylor II) hopes to win the acceptance of Mee-Maw (Jerrica Roy), as he has from his aunt Gladys (Nadine Marissa). Things are more complicated when we meet his partner, Montre (Quintan Davis), who’s dying of stomach cancer. The favorite character here is Mee-Maw; she might not be completely accepting, but there’s no way she’ll let anyone in her presence not eat. Compassion is often the first step to tolerance. Performances are uneven, but it’s one of the more entertaining entries.
Mama’s Boy by Antay Bilgutay, directed by David Kelting, brings up the same issues, as Jerone (Buster Spiller) isn’t sure about bringing his boyfriend Carson (Timothy Kersey) to a family get-together. Jerone’s gal pal Michelle (Kiani Stone) has some words to say about it. There’s some funny material here, with references to Dionne Warwick and a mention of vaguebooking, and Spiller gives one of the standout performances of the festival. Nothing earthshattering, but it’s sweet.
Lon Rogers’ Foreplay, directed by Kevin Westbrook, gets the award for most potential. Sadly, Brandon Giddens' performance is littered with amateurish acting mistakes, such as over-indicating. He plays Barney, a gay high school baseball player who visits the neighborhood prostitute, Darlene (an engaging Timi Grogran). There’s touching dialogue between them as we learn that Barney’s father is a well-known preacher (religion again) and other members of the baseball team might not be what they seem. There’s a lesson about judging people, but it’s lost in a messy production that misses some comic opportunities.
Christopher Soden’s Water, directed by Ruth Cantrell, is one of the best written shows, and that’s because the author leaves room for mystery. Evan (Quintan Davis) stops by the apartment of older man Floyd (Selmore Haines), asking for a drink of water. The conversation that ensues is intriguing, and by the time one of the men moves in to kiss the other, the shift in power dynamics is palpable. It has something to say about expectations and not always being in control of emotion or sexual urges. Sometimes, it just happens—just like you can't choose with whom, and of what gender, you fall in love.
Three Guys in a Bed by Randy Frank Eppes was the impetus for TeCo starting this festival. It was submitted for the group’s annual New Play Competition earlier in the year, and the producers deemed it a bit too risqué. Not because is deals with a three-way between two boyfriends (Tyler Larson and Andrew Bryan) and their one night stand (Gerald Taylor II), but because it uses nudity. It is the morning after the three have had a presumably wild night, after all. Some of the nudity is just silly and gratuitous (such as when one man gets completely out of bed to stretch, and then pops back under the covers), but most of it feels natural and with the appropriate level of discomfort that comes the morning after a random sexual encounter. The dialogue, which deals with monogamy and the concept of open relationships, is funny enough to transcend uneven performances. It’s definitely the crowd pleaser.
Overall, this is a welcome effort from TeCo. Here’s hoping playwrights expand their themes next year. Gay marriage is gaining considerable ground and could very well become legal in every state within a year’s time. Straight allies are speaking out more about equal rights. And there’s a wellspring of satire to be mined from rightwing opposition to equal rights and the dying conversion therapy movement. LGBT people have the same life issues as everyone else, from death and taxes to marriage and child-raising to, well, anything you can think of.
We’re here, we're queer and we have as many layers as the rest of humankind.
Update Sept. 15, 2014: The plays were voted on by audience members, and the winner was Buster Spiller's Pot Liquor, with 69 votes. $1,000 will be donated to his charity of choice, Living Faith Covenant Church and Abounding Prosperity. The top three winners were:
- Buster Spiller: Pot Liquor
- Bill Richard: Trapped: A Confessional Tale
- Antay Bilgutay: Mama's Boy