Gays and Thespians: QUEER PLAYS AND QUEER PLACES (Seminars in the City)

On four Saturdays in the Fall, Jordan Shildcrout conducted a lively Seminar in the City called
“Queer Plays and Queer Places: LGBT Territory in the Theater,” which examined how plays
dramatize the ways we create queer spaces. Looking closely both at plays themselves and at the
conditions under which they are produced, each session focused on one or two particular works,
ranging from Mae West’s The Drag (1927) to the Five Lesbian Brothers’ The Secretaries (1993) — with
plays by Doric Wilson, Amiri Baraka, and Chay Yew included along the way.
The session devoted to Doric Wilson’s Street Theater, a look at various 1970’s Greenwich Villagetypes
in the days leading up to the Stonewall Rebellion, had Wilson himself in attendance, so the
session turned out to be a history lesson as well as an exercise in literary analysis. Wilson spoke of the
various conflicting accounts of the famous riots, noting the faultiness of collective memory. He also
emphasized the vastness of the gay theater world that existed before AIDS, leaving participants with
the impression that New York’s gay theater community still has not yet recovered from the devastation
brought on by HIV.
Another session dealt with the idea of the public restroom as a “gay space,” comparing The Toilet,
by Amiria Baraka (aka Leroi Jones), with Porcelain, by Chay Yew. Not surprisingly, this session ended up
taking on racial issues as well as gay ones. In discussing The Toilet, for instance, participants couldn’t
help but wonder: By combining violence with a white/black male/male love story, was Baraka railing
against whites, against blacks, against gays — or against himself? Regarding Porcelain, one participant
posed the question, “By presenting the audience with a doomed white/Asian love affair, does Yew
diminish Asian stereotypes — or further them?”
The final session looked at the Five Lesbian Brothers’
comedy The Secretaries. With two of the Brothers in
attendance, participants were able to learn first-hand of the
trials and tribulations — and self-described randomness — of
their creative process. Improvisation, we learned, is key to
the Brothers’ off-the-wall style. Delivered with conviction
while at the same time provoking a good deal of laughter,
such information wound up being as memorable as it was
valuable.u
Bob Cruz is a playwright and film producer in New York City.