Thursday, April 16, 2015

We Are Family

One often hears about people who hunger for unconditional love. But the opportunity to receive unconditional love starts very early in life. A great deal of one's success depends on the type of parenting a child receives.

The Washington Post recently published a provocative article by Jennifer S. Hirsch entitled "A Scientific Look At The Damage Parents Do When They Bully Their Gay Kids." Its findings are no surprise to anyone who is gay or who has experienced adverse reactions from their family upon coming out. My mother didn't talk to me for two years after she learned that I was gay but, by then, her use of the silent treatment as a weapon was pretty much old news. Over the years, much of her love was so  specifically conditioned on her feelings about how much her children and grandchildren weighed that, as painful as the experience might have been, we learned not to seek her out as a source of affection.

In recent years, each of the Left Coast Theatre Company's writers' workshops has led to an evening in which a half dozen short plays are staged in rapid succession. According to the program notes for its latest show:
"LCTC was formed in the spring of 2012 from the successful gay men's writing group, GuyWriters Playwrights. After several successful productions of the Eat Our Shorts series of short plays, the main writers/producers decided to create our own company to focus on producing original queer-themed plays written by local and national playwrights. No longer concentrating on the works of just gay men, Left Coast aims to foster the works of all writers interested in producing the best queer-themed works possible. The company has also expanded its productions from one show a year to two anthology shows, a staged reading series, a 24-hour play festival, and a holiday show."
If the company's current offering (#WTFamily) succeeds better than some of its past efforts, I suspect it might be for two reasons.
  1. A stronger synergy evolving through LCTC's writers' workshops.
  2. Finding a topic which might be more inspirational to writers than usual.
Nearly a half century after Mart Crowley introduced audiences to a group of glib, self-hating homosexuals in 1968's The Boys in the Band, the literature of gay drama is taking a turn for the better. Instead of people dying under falling trees or being gay bashed in locations ranging from New York City to Laramie, Wyoming, playwrights and screenwriters are writing material for LGBT people who are fully out of the closet and have stopped anguishing about the fact that they're gay.

From Queer as Folk to Will & Grace, from Transparent to Modern Family, Americans have been exposed to LGBT people who know who they are, are not necessarily begging for acceptance, and no longer feel doomed. The writers whose works are featured in #WTFamily have taken that premise and applied their imaginations to it with surprisingly cogent results. Subtitled "Six plays in search of the reason families are so.... full of character," #WTFamily includes the following six shorts.

* * * * * * * * *
Written and directed by Chris Maltby, Who Are These People? follows the self-inflicted trials of Josh (Richard S. Sargent), a neurotic gay man who, after several unlucky adventures in love, has finally found happiness with Michael (Chris Nguyen), a sweet and gorgeous hunk who, instead of getting caught up in Josh's whirlpools of anxiety, is just as content to look at his smartphone. With things going well in their relationship, Josh's best friend, Susie (Melanie Marshall), has to calm him down when the spectre of bringing Michael home to meet his family at Thanksgiving looms on the horizon.

Michael seems to have no problem with the idea of meeting Josh's family. Nor does Dan (Joel Canon), Josh's very butch brother, who insists on calling Michael "Mike" and asks "Mike" if he'd like to smell his new bowling ball.

Gabrielle Motarjemi and Richard S. Sargent in a scene
from Who Are These People (Photo by: Jake O'Kelly)

Just when Josh thinks things couldn't possibly gets worse, his mother, Sarah (Gabrielle Motarjemi), starts talking about the naked wine tastings that she and her husband, Bill (John Sampson), have started attending. While this is much too much information for Josh to handle, Michael seems completely unfazed by it, explaining that (just for starters) he has one elderly family member whose shotgun always has to be loaded with blanks by a family member before company arrives. No one cares that Michael is gay. Besides, he loves Josh and has no plans to look elsewhere for romantic or sexual satisfaction.

* * * * * * * * *
Written by Eli Effinger-Weintraub and directed by Scott Boswell, Wingman gives new meaning to the phrase "How I Met Your Mother." Deb (Janessa Olsen) is a newly single and highly stressed lesbian who owns a bakery. For the past six weeks she has been coming to a women's bar to ogle Brenda (Dezi Soley), a sexy bartender

Janessa Olsen (Deb), Dezi Soley (Brenda), and Maya
Mahrer (Marian) in Wingman (Photo by: Jake O'Kelly)

On this particular evening, Deb's pushy mother, Marian (Maya Mahrer) has convinced Deb to make barhopping a mother-daughter night out on the town. While Deb has been in the ladies' room, Marian (who has a thick New York accent) has been handing out her daughter's business cards to anyone she thinks is single. When mother and daughter start to argue, Marian tells Deb "You should thank me. I could save you a fortune on batteries!"

Much to Deb's surprise, Brenda finds Marian absolutely adorable and informs Deb that she plans to make use of the business card she was given while Deb was out of the room.

* * * * * * * * *
Monogamy is a loaded word in relationships that are just getting started. Some people want a steady supply of one person's love, others prefer to approach sex "cafeteria style." Written by Terry Mahoney Haley and directed by Tracy Martin Shearer, Falling spices up the old formula. The two people who are enjoying a moment of post-coital bliss are:
  • Tina (Melanie Marshall), a lusty young woman who was raised by two gay dads; and
  • Dylan (JD Scalzo), a handsome young man who was raised by two lesbians and who tried having sex with a few men before deciding that he was straight or, at the very least, bisexual.
Melanie Marshall and JD Scalzo in a scene from Falling 
(Photo by: Jake O'Kelly)

Their different perspectives on how to define sex and/or love show the effects of gay parenting once the children come of age. Needless to say, there are lots of nervous laughs during this short play.

* * * * * * * * *
Runaway takes an impressive new twist in examining the source of tension between a straight mother and her gay son. Written by Charles Zito and directed by Debi Durst, the action focuses on Tommy (Michael Navarro), a 16-year-old who runs away to visit his gay uncle Tony (Chris Maltby) in Manhattan because Tommy's helicopter mother won't let his boyfriend spend the night with him under her roof.

Michael Navarro and Chris Maltby in a scene from Runaway
(Photo by: Jake O'Kelly)

The conflict turns out to be less about Tommy's burgeoning sexuality than about the fact that his uncle still thinks that no one in the family knows he's gay. Kim Saunders delivers a powerful performance as Tommy's hysterical mother (who is in no mood to take any crap from her gay brother).

* * * * * * * * *
In Shiny Pair of Complications (written by J. Stephen Brantley and directed by Richard Sargent), a high maintenance homosexual named Kevin (JD Scalzo) is about to get married to his boyfriend. While Kevin has no trouble managing a high-pressure fashion-related reality show on television, he's much more troubled and unsure of himself in the presence of his estranged father.

John Simpson and JD Scalzo in a scene from
Shiny Pair of Complications (Photo by: Jake O'Kelly)

Although Kevin has lots of unresolved issues with Tom (John Simpson), the truth is that his father (who has never liked wearing a tie -- much less cufflinks) is just trying to understand a whole new world and find a way to tell his son that he loves him unconditionally.

* * * * * * * * *
The evening's final piece is a rowdy farce written and directed by Rodney Rhoda Taylor and co-directed by Debi Durst. In Motherly Advice, James (Neil Higgins) is an extremely nervous gay man who is worried about a sex tape he and his older lover made and stored on a DVD (which, no matter how hard he searches, he cannot find). Sam (Justin O'Kelly) is a much more level-headed Daddy type who is eager to marry James.

Gabrielle Motarjemi, Justin O'Kelly, andNeil Higgins in a
scene from Motherly Advice  (Photo by: Jake O'Kelly)

Complicating matters are James's obnoxious sister, Mel (Lauren LeBeouf), whose smartphone is all too often set on "Record" and their mother, Diane (Gabrielle Motarjemi), who is a licensed sex therapist. When Diane returns home and finds her son having trouble committing to Sam, she goes into her professional therapist mode and, to her son's utter chagrin, starts bonding with Sam. Once Diane has resolved all the issues in the room, she informs her son that she really enjoyed watching that DVD his sister slipped in with the movies she watched during her weekend getaway!

Performances of #WTFamily continue through April 26 at the Shelton Theatre (click here to order tickets).