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Drama Queens Have Staying Power

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This is a letter in response to Justin Hayford's sour, almost bitter, comments on the state of gay theater as discussed in his review of Royal Flush [Theater, July 11]: "Gay theater in America may as well be on life support." I'd like to draw his attention to some gay playwrights, and while they may not be American, their work is well produced and promoted here.

First, I think we should be fair to Terrence McNally ("lavender dustbin of irrelevance"!?) who has come a long way since the tragic tone of his Lisbon Traviata almost a decade ago. Mr. McNally was developing gay characters back in the late 60s when they were significantly missing from the Broadway stage. And while his later plays may not have been completely queer focused, the gay characters have been a viable presence (Lips Together Teeth Apart, A Secret Ganesh). With Love! Valour! Compassion! Mr. McNally has evolved significantly from his early comic writing period. He has created three-dimensional gay characters exploring their lives--generational differences, AIDS, and difficult relationships--in an honest, forward, and humorous way. The nude scenes come naturally and beautifully in the conclusion of the play. Lumping this play in together with Party or Jeffrey is just not fair. (I assume this is what Mr. Hayford is doing though I do not know what his issues are specifically with the play.)

I'd like to draw Mr. Hayford's attention, and those who may read this, to Canadian writers Brad Frasier, Sky Gilbert, and London playwright Chay Yew, who constitute a great deal of contemporary gay theater. And most of their plays have been done here in Chicago, though not receiving the kind of publicity that Love! Valour! Compassion! has. But they are prolific and continually working writers developing followings of their own.

I don't think one can dismiss gay theater at the moment without looking at these authors or forgetting Tony Kushner and Angels in America (which is currently being remounted in Chicago). And what about solo performance? Tim Miller? David Drake? Or Chicago's very own Brian Gary Kirst? The Pride series at the Bailiwick continues to grow every year and now the Blue Rider on the south side has its own sampling of queer performance. I was glad that Mr. Hayford in the conclusion of his review does encourage Tom Hietter, despite the play's flaws, as an "important new voice." Gay theater is barely more than two decades old (three decades if you look at Robert Patrick) and is continually developing through solo performance and the encouragement of minority voices (Blade to the Heat). Mr. Hayford would do well to report on that rather than planning a "Do Not Resuscitate" order.

Rico Hewson

Chicago

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