Queer aims for acceptance
With a string of impressive victories — bye, bye D.O.M.A. — the legal standing of the GBLT community continues to improve. Social acceptance increases year by year, with the stigma shifting from being gay to being homophobic.
That doesn't mean being gay is a picnic by any means, as Gadfly's intriguing if flawed new piece, Queer, shows. On a person-by-person level, there are still battles to be fought, especially for those who fall outside of the "norm." That can be exacerbated within the gay community, where there seems to be as many divisions and cliques as at any high school.
Gadfly's Immanuel Elliot and Cassandra Show crafted the play, which opened during Pride and continues through the middle of July. The pair collected experiences, stories, and thoughts from a myriad of community members over several years. There is obviously a great deal of material to sift through and mold, and it appears that the molding hasn't quite been finished.
The show moves from the familiar pieces of the GLBT community — opening with an older HIV-positive gay man who lived through the dark, early years of AIDS — and then searching more and more into the ever-shifting areas of gender and sexual identity. We meet characters who see themselves as sexually fluid, asexual, and pansexual.
One of the most intriguing performances comes from Kelsey Strong, who plays Gina, a genderqueer person. Gina identifies as neither gender — biologically female, more comfortable as a male but not interested in making a physical transformation — and becomes a sort of symbol for the whole spectrum. In part, that's because Gina's story is fascinating, but it is also because Strong gives one of the most assured performances of the evening.
Elsewhere, Jay Kistler introduces us to Paul, a gay man who can only open the closet door without fully coming out. He's pure working-class — Paul works in a lumberyard — and is afraid to lose his job if it's known that he's gay. Then there is Ankur Garg as Aditi, who runs head-on into Indian culture's arranged marriages (though with a rather unexpected result).
There are plenty of rough edges in Queer, both in the performances and the material itself. The first act could use some trimming away of pieces to make for a tighter, more compelling experience. Some of the monologues stretch on too long or cover emotional, social, or personal territory that is taken up in a more compelling fashion in a different segment. The monologue structure doesn't help. While some of the performers are compelling, others don't have the acting heft to make their moments in the spotlight memorable.
That the show becomes more engaging as it goes doesn't come as a surprise then, as we are treated to quite a bit more interaction between the actors in their scenes. There are still monologues, but they intersect with stronger moments of onstage drama. Beyond that, the stories themselves shift away from issues of acceptance in the outside world and into ones centered on acceptance in the community itself.
As I said earlier, the community can sometimes feel like high school, and it's easy for the marginalized to marginalize those who don't seem as "normal." It happens in any subculture: People will feel privileged because they were there first or have the loudest voices. In turn, they will try to push down those around them who don't fit into their norm. The bitterness starts to run deep, as no one is really willing to trust the other.
It's fitting that this is represented by a cacophony of voices, as each actor argues without listening to the others. It's a dizzying moment, as the noise from the stage represents the frustration that often lies at the heart of the GLBT community: everybody talking, no one listening, and all losing sight of the final prize. That also helps the show to earn its final moments, when the community of actors, orientations, genders, and identities accept each other as individuals, which is what we all want in the end.
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