Stagestruck | Chicago Reader

Stagestruck

This rather stolid 150-minute British TV documentary, written by John Lyttle and directed by David Jeffcock, offers a limited though sometimes illuminating chronicle of gay theater over the last 100 years, focusing almost entirely on white male writers whose plays reflected and shaped attitudes and laws governing homosexuality. The first part examines the subterfuges of Oscar Wilde, Noel Coward, Terence Rattigan, and William Inge, who dressed their critiques of moral convention in heterosexual drag; the second notes the increasing openness of such writers as Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee, and Joe Orton; the final portion examines debates over sexual politics in the era of gay liberation and AIDS, as expressed by Harvey Fierstein, Martin Sherman, Larry Kramer, William Hoffman, and Tony Kushner. Lyttle and Jeffcock acknowledge the controversial Tea and Sympathy and The Boys in the Band as theatrical landmarks (though they err in saying the latter played on Broadway), but the documentary neglects lesbian-themed theater, artists of color, musicals like Cabaret and La Cage aux Folles, and, strangely, any mention of Charles Ludlam or Terrence McNally. The talking heads include commentators (Quentin Crisp, John Lahr, John Clum, Nicholas de Jongh) and artists (Albee, Kushner, Hoffman, Kramer, Mart Crowley, Lanford Wilson, Paul Rudnick, Robert Patrick, Doric Wilson, and English director Neil Bartlett, whose inept gender-bending Twelfth Night at the Goodman still lingers painfully in the memory); interspersed are enacted scenes from classic plays, including Orton?s still-hilarious What the Butler Saw, John van Druten?s 1950 Broadway hit Bell, Book and Candle (whose comic treatment of 20th-century witches resonates as a metaphor for hidden homosexuality), and Mae West?s pioneering camp comedy The Drag, which was banned on Broadway in 1927 and got its author thrown into jail?thus making her a celebrity. Quoth one tough transvestite in West?s attitude-packed script: ?When I walk up Tenth Avenue you can just smell the meat sizzlin? in Hell?s Kitchen.? Why can?t they write dialogue like that today?

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