"Traveling Light" is a ghostly dramedy that points to a pivotal moment in history

This week's CP will feature my review of Theatre Pro Rata's Traveling Light at Layman's Cemetery in Minneapolis (short take: a flawed but intriguing world premiere historical what-if, performed in a graveyard); in the meantime it's interesting to throw out a couple of notions evoked by the play and the era it seeks to portray.

The action takes place (conveniently) in a cemetery in London in 1967, where Beatles manager

Brian Epstein

(David Beukema) has come in the middle of the night with thoughts of suicide in mind. Whatever his plans, they are derailed when he's trailed by incendiary playwright

Joe Orton


Wade Vaughn

), who demands to know why the Fab Four won't be appearing in the script he was commissioned to write.

None of this really happened, of course, but the scenario has weight because, by the end of August of that year, both men would be dead (Orton murdered by his partner, Epstein done in by an ambiguous overdose of pills). Traveling Light has the two jawing it out into the night, the rough Orton and the urbane Epstein emerging (after some convoluted happenings) into the dawn with new optimism.

Much of what the two men have to talk about revolves around their homosexuality, the ways in which it affects their lives, and their paranoia about being found together and arrested. It's a strong reminder of a time in which being gay was effectively criminalized, and the lengths to which prominent gays such as Epstein went in order to hide their sexual nature.

Pro Rata throws another wrinkle into their performance schedule on July 28, which is the anniversary of the U.K.'s 1967 Sexual Offenses Act, which was a bit of a mixed bag legally but contained one important step forward: it effectively decriminalized private homosexual acts, and removed homosexuality as a condition for compounding the charging of crimes. We tend to take such things for granted these days, but in Orton and Epstein's time this was a very big deal indeed.

A shame they didn't live long enough to see the changes in the decades to come (we certainly haven't eliminated bigotry and caveman thinking, but we've at least moved the ball forward).

Traveling Light plays July 23, 24, and 28 at 8:00 p.m. at Layman's Cemetery, 2945 Cedar Avenue South, Minneapolis. For tickets call 612.874.9321.

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