Living out and proud in a coastal queer mecca full of historic gayborhoods, vocally supportive senators, and Hamburger Mary's locations is one thing; learning to love yourself in rural America can be another. For writer and performer Scott Bradley, embracing himself and his upbringing after returning as an adult to his roots in Iowa (he attended the Iowa Writers' Workshop) meant reckoning with the ghosts and self-doubts from which he thought he'd long escaped.
Directed by Chay Yew, Bradley's autobiographical 90-minute solo work Packing hits a lot of notes that will ring familiar to audiences of LGBT theater: there's a neglectful and abusive father who resents his son's gait and mannerisms, a sexual awakening wrapped in shame, a brief refuge in the highs of a risky party scene, and the sobering chill of surviving an epidemic. But the ubiquitousness of the elements of Bradley's journey isn't a negative here. Instead, when paired with deeply personal, vivid memories of his coming of age—like the euphoria of his first Cher concert or the joy he felt the first time a disclosure of his sexuality was met with a shrug instead of a panic—Bradley and About Face Theatre create an important document of queer life only a decade or two in the past but a world away culturally.
I was reminded throughout of Steven Strafford's Methtacular!, also presented by About Face a few years ago, which touched on similar serious themes and used comedy to make harrowing plot points more cutting or palatable. A bit more humor here would serve Bradley's often painful story well, but the warmth expressed in his acceptance and love for his midwestern home is undeniable. v