LGBT Time Travel
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St. Louis in 1944. Hollywood in the 1950s. New Orleans in 1973. Uganda in 1999. New York in 2018. These are some of the destinations where New Conservatory Theatre Center will explore LGBT issues in its just-announced 2018-19 season. Artistic Director Ed Decker calls the upcoming season a "smorgasbord" of productions "with historical relevance and contemporary urgency" while also offering "an escape from the daily slog." Six of the seven shows are San Francisco premieres, with "Avenue Q" returning for its sixth holiday production. Here's a look at NCTC's new season.
Red Scare on Sunset (opens Sept. 29) The theater launches its season with Charles Busch's campy comedy of how the Communist witch hunts threaten the career of a Hollywood leading lady. Busch, whose previous works seen at NCTC include "Die Mommie, Die!" and "The Divine Sister," played Mary Dale in the original 1991 production, and while subsequent productions have been staged with both women and men (in drag) as Mary, it's a good bet that NCTC will take the latter route.
The Cardboard Piano (opens Nov. 3) South Korean playwright Hansol Jung's recent play takes place in Uganda of 1999 as the lesbian daughter of American missionaries and a local girl take refuge in church when their plans to consecrate their forbidden love areß interrupted by the arrival of a wounded child soldier from the civil war outside. The second part flashes forward to 2014 as survivors reassemble at the church.
Late Company (opens Jan. 26) Canadian playwright Jordan Tannahill takes on bullying in his play, first seen in Toronto in 2013 and London's West End in 2017. The parents of a teen who committed suicide have invited one of his high school tormenters and his parents to dinner to better understand what happened. It turns out blame is not so easily apportioned in the increasingly emotional gathering.
Steve (opens March 9) One character in Mark Gerrard's play describes his social group as "four middle-aged men, and our occasional lady visitor, interested in the slightest recognition that we're still sexually desirable to the sexually desirable - or even to the almost sexually desirable." This serious comedy, first seen in New York in 2015, looks at monogamy, aging, and show tunes in a contemporary gay crowd.
The Gentleman Caller (opens April 13, 2019) Philip Dawkins' 2018 play elaborates on the known facts of an encounter between William Inge and Tennessee Williams when Williams' "The Glass Menagerie" was in its pre-Broadway run in Chicago. Inge, who would go on to write "Picnic" and "Bus Stop," was a starstruck journalist in 1944 whose assignment to interview Williams turns into a boozy night of secrets and confessions. The Chicago-based Dawkins has previously been represented at NCTC with "Le Switch" and "The Homosexuals."
The View UpStairs (opens May 18, 2019) When 32 gay men and women died in the 1973 arson attack on the UpStairs Lounge, New Orleans city officials treated it more as a joke than a tragic crime. Max Vernon's musical, seen off-Broadway last year, sets out to put a human face to this largely forgotten event with songs styled to the period. The story focuses on a contemporary entrepreneur who buys the French Quarter building where the UpStairs was once housed, only to be transported back to its heyday as he meets the bar's larger-than-life patrons while learning about the prices paid in the battle for LGBT civil rights.
The return of "Avenue Q" opens on Dec. 8, and is an optional choice in the seven-play season. Series tickets are now on sale. Call (415) 861-8972 or go to nctcsf.org.
Now it's time to say goodbye
After 20 years, and upwards of 2,000 articles, I find the time has come to ring down the curtain on my career at the Bay Area Reporter. Barring any surprises, this will be the final issue in which my byline will regularly appear. The reasons are fairly straightforward even if the emotions are complex.
Palm Springs will soon be my new hometown, not for the cultural opportunities that await, but for its affordable housing in another city where straight is not the default assumption, nor is youth, as I join other golden girls and boys in a town where both Sonny Bono and Marilyn Monroe are patron saints.
Whatever new life I can carve out for myself in the desert can't possibly match the opportunities that writing about theater has given me in San Francisco. As a lyric from "Oliver!" says, I felt like part of the furniture. And it was the Bay Area Reporter, and its supportive and understanding Arts Editor Roberto Friedman, who have provided me with a welcome home.
Most folks, including myself, don't always look at bylines when reading a newspaper article, but I hope you occasionally got a glimpse of mine, and more importantly, sometimes found something enjoyable, meaningful or helpful in the stories beneath that byline. A fresh voice will soon be filling these pages, and that's a good thing even if I'm already feeling jealous.
There's a venerable journalistic tradition to end a story by typing "-30-." I was going to invoke -30- to conclude this column, but I hope that this is not an end-of-story missive but only the start of a new chapter.