A NIGHT AT DYKES WHO DATE
Lionheart Gay Theatre
The first piece on this double bill of one-acts is a monologue, A Night at Dykes Who Date. I have considered this play's value as entertainment, as propaganda, and even as a community service, and I'm left with one overwhelming response: boredom.
The setting is a lesbian dating service. A woman enters, takes a seat, and responds to tape-recorded inquiries reminiscent of The Dating Game. After a few probing warm-ups--"Describe your ideal woman," and "What do you like to do on a date?"--the recorder drops the big one and asks the woman to share the gruesome details of her last failed relationship. Her last lover, it turns out, was a man. After several unsatisfying lesbian companions, the woman thought she'd, what the hell, try a man. It didn't work out. The man was insensitive and bossy. Sex with him was painful. Birth control was a hassle. And the gynecologist kept his instruments in the refrigerator. Hence the dating service, and though she's embarrassed to be there, she proudly concludes the interview by vowing to never again allow another man or woman to hurt her.
The tedium of this monologue is only periodically alleviated by a witty line, such as the woman's description of the contraceptive sponge as a nerf diaphragm. But occasional wit is insufficient to buoy the weight of the jokes that don't go over and the liberal serving of lesbian angst. Said angst is also a crashing bore because Dykes Who Date offers only a generic statement of the plight of the modern lesbian, and not a compelling character study. So you get the feeling that you've heard all this before--if not a thousand times, then certainly more than you care to remember.
Susan Lersch's script seems to make an appeal to lesbians who've shared the problems she dramatizes, to tell them that they are not alone. Fine, but I am not now (nor have I ever been) a lesbian. I imagine that they know that already. A retread self-assertion doesn't solve anyone's problems. Problems need to be addressed. And Bonnie Freeman's performance in this piece doesn't help: her acting fails to humanize the character. Actually, I wouldn't call it genuine acting. I'd prefer to call it TV acting, as in the daytime soaps: a matter of signifying emotions, moods, and reactions with stock expressions devoid of individuality or a gut-level foundation. Both Lersch's and Freeman's approach in this play is reductive. Lesbians, or any minority for that matter, need to see more of themselves onstage, not less.
Crusaders, the second show, makes A Night at Dykes Who Date look like a work by Chekhov. Boring is bad enough, but boring, stupid, and incoherent is downright intolerable. What's worse, Crusaders is a much longer play.
In Crusaders a gay accountant is accosted on the CTA one morning by a religious zealot who tells him, "God wants you to stop AIDS." The accountant takes this as a cue to get out of town for a while, and so he hops a jet to Cancun. Once there, he unwittingly becomes involved in a plot to smuggle experimental AIDS remedies into the United States. Meanwhile the accountant falls in love with an underground character named Pedro, whom he's forced to leave behind as he smuggles the drugs home concealed in a pinata. In a conclusion as deep and meaningful as the rest of the story, the accountant is left alone to muse "about where it's all going to end."
Jeff Hagedorn's script is an uneasy mixture of satire, farce, melodrama, and agitprop, all of it crammed into an Osterizer and blended on high with lid left off. The most entertaining part is the slapstick, particularly the scene where Marc Umbra plays two characters locked in mortal combat behind a folding screen. Very Soupy Sales. But given the funny hats and juvenile hijinx, it's hard to buy the play's more serious intentions. Criticism of the FDA's ban on the import of experimental drugs seems out of place in this context. And the play's rebound celebration of promiscuous (but safe) sex seems fatuous at best. I don't know what Hagedorn was trying to accomplish with this play, but it comes off as an irresponsible exploitation of the AIDS crisis for the sake of third-rate pub humor.
All proceeds from the ticket sales of this double bill go to the Gregory A. Sprague Memorial Fund of the Gerber-Hart Library of Chicago. One of three gay and lesbian libraries in the country, it is undoubtedly what is known as a worthy cause. I think a worthy cause deserves a worthy voice, and this show isn't it. A tea dance, or even a bake sale, would have been a more dignified fund-raiser. Because I don't think a benefit justifies bad theater. Nor does being gay or lesbian justify bad theater. Nor is the gay and lesbian community ennobled by bad theater. Any minority theater must entertain, inform, and consolidate its community, which is something different from simply getting up on a platform and expecting people to applaud.