Mac Wellman's 7 Blowjobs has a few things going for it. It has a dynamite title, of course, which even now must be giving editors at the local dailies a swelling headache. But, title aside, the playwright's script is fine nonsense. Wellman, in a very satisfying tizzy, dedicated this play to Sen. Jesse Helms and Christian media paranoiac Donald Wildmon, whom he deemed "those supreme clowns of our sad times"--this back in the early Nineties, which were chilly times indeed, particularly where the arts were concerned. It is a decade later and the times are no less sad. In fact, the times never were anything but sad, and only a conservative would argue to the contrary.
It is with this sociopolitical class that Wellman takes issue. His play pits a handful of right-wingers in a hyperverbal squabble when a small batch of sexually explicit photographs appears unexpectedly at the door of a vitriolic Republican senator named Bob. In terror, the senator's shrill receptionist, played by Erin Anderson (who co-produced this show, along with the Sound and the Smoke company), begins referring to her boss as "Senator X" in an unceasing series of meaningless phone conversations, during which she beseeches the caller not to rob the office. "We have nothing of value," she screeches repeatedly, and closes her calls identically. "Yes," she declares, and then qualifies, "No. Maybe."
Wellman's script shows a great fondness for this sort of repetitive idiocy. His senator, (played here by Dan Nycklemoe in thick glasses, a Southern accent, and an extended lower lip) has a conversational palette that consists exclusively of occasional explosions and even more occasional homophobic rants. In one scene, the senator's asinine, grinning son (Larry Pontius) wanders in, followed, moments later, by an identically dressed doppelgänger (Steven Kath). The son is beset with frantic questions by the senator and his staff, who suspect him of being a figure in the obscene photographs. Their conversation with the boy is then repeated, in entirety but in a high-pitched and frightened manner, with the young man's peculiar twin. This puzzling behavior is never explained, except in the program notes, which identify the twin as "an idea of surveillance." The play's characters show a peculiar terror at this same idea: Every time they mention surveillance, they collectively rise and spin in place suspiciously.
But if such behavior is bizarre, the motivations behind it never are. Each act in this play is motivated by fear or hate, and the characters are marked by it: Nycklemoe's jutting lip suggests a man who has made a disapproving face so often that an ill-timed wind has frozen it into a scowling mask. Nobody is safe from his scorn, even such conservative favorites as the country's founding fathers, whom Nycklemoe condemns as homosexuals in the play's appalling final monologue. "George Washington was a confirmed sodomite," he declares in a hypnotic, bitter monotone. "Abraham Lincoln? A fag."
Perhaps a bit prematurely, GAYDAR's newest production, titled This Queer Life, has declared victory over the culture of conservative disapproval that 7 Blowjobs so relentlessly satirizes. Based on essays by popular humorist Michael Thomas Ford, the play includes an extended scene in which its cast of seven explains the economic failure of the Southern Baptist Convention's boycott of Disney after ABC's Ellen DeGeneres outed herself. In Ford's equation, there were simply not as many Baptists refusing to buy Disney paraphernalia as there were homosexuals obsessively collecting it.
Ford's storytelling is light in the extreme, including Top Ten lists and vaguely witty histories of queer cinema. But the cast of this production, with Rick Anderson at the helm, is almost goofy with good cheer. A muscular performer who goes by the single sobriquet of "Andravy," as an example, has managed to turn petulant flouncing into a full ballet. And Ford's script repeatedly returns to the idea of community and the small successes and related failings of gays and lesbians in this endeavor. His is a world of late-night What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? screenings, disastrous Christmas gatherings, and gay-themed dances at Disney World.
None of this points to a clear victory over the forces of intolerance--arguably, the management at Disney count among those supreme clowns of our sad times. But laughs are worth getting where you can find them, and This Queer Life has more than a few.
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about arts and culture events in Minneapolis & St. Paul and offers you won't hear about anywhere else.