Things I Learned in the Theatre #8349

So I finished the play I was in, it went well, reviews and audiences were kind. The play is called Vanya, Sonya, Masha and Spike, it was written by Christopher Durang originally for Sigourney Weaver and David Hyde-Pierce. I played DHP’s role, which is a fifty-ish somewhat closeted gay man. At the end of the show, this character has a ten minute monologue. It was a great challenge and one reason I wanted the role…to see if I could do it. I also really only play gay roles at this point in life, because — well, because.

Theatre isn’t like tv, where you get the same episode in reruns. Every performance is its own thing, and it’s supposed to be because there’s a live audience there. The script and direction is the same, but it’s the earliest form of interactive art and it changes and surprises you and the script keeps giving you more and more and more. Even when you think you keep it the same, it evolves on you and it’s frightening and wonderful.

So this great Durang monologue gets triggered by some inappropriate tweeting, and my character (Vanya) explodes and laments Facebook and Twitter and 785 channels and you can pick the channel that matches what you already think. So it robs people of life experience. As the monologue progresses, what really started to come through as time progressed was that, as a gay man, Vanya had lost his life experience because he couldn’t be himself. He had a crush on Ol’ Yeller’s Tommy Kirk, who was fired by Walt Disney for being gay. Meanwhile, Tab Hunter was gay but just went on pretend dates with starlets. So there’s lots there about Tommy Kirk not playing the straight game, and Tab Hunter being a step-n-fetchit and Vanya lost is the middle, and as a result, still lonely, and still living in his childhood home.

Here’s the disturbing part. American Theatre magazine convenes three critics to do a podcast, and one of the critics they pick is from my city. They discuss the play, and then the big monologue, and they roll their eyes about the Twitter and Facebook rant, but basically allow it to exist. Not once do they mention the gay content of the monologue. A gay playwright writes a monologue with gay content and gives it to the only gay character in the play to say to the straight people and — this never comes up in their discussion. Oddly, had it been a black playwright writing this for the only black character in the play to say to the white cast members, they might have figured out the monologue wasn’t about Twitter.

Decades ago, I wrote a gay play called Earl, Ollie, Austin, & Ralph and I noticed back then straight audiences laughed at one set of jokes, and gay audiences at another. Give the critic’s reaction to Vanya’s monologue, it seems sad that things haven’t actually changed.

But it is an interesting thing to note.


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