As we are reaching the end of Pride Month, it’s important to reflect as a community, looking at the theatre we have produced revolving around queer stories. This last season saw many complex LGBTQ+ stories being told on New York stages. While we still have a long way to go, these productions have opened the door to conversations about gay relationships, queer history, and sexual/gender identity.
Joshua Harmon’s play Significant Other moved to the Booth Theater on Broadway this spring. The play surrounds Jordan, a gay man, who sees his college friends Kiki, Vanessa, and Laura getting engaged. This play seemed to touch the subject of single gay men navigating the dating pool, but Harmon went further. Significant Other looks at a generation approaching our late 20s, as we reexamine our lives and what we want in the future. Harmon looks a modern dating, gay or straight, without judgment on our decisions.
Moving Off-Broadway, playwright Jordan Seavey presented his new play Homos, or Everyone in America at the Labyrinth Theatre Company. Two men, The Writer, and The Academic, meet at a wine bar and spark a loving, yet complicated relationship. This play goes on a non-linear journey of their relationship through acts of affection, arguments, and discussions on various topics. These debates reflect many issues within the gay community today; including marriage equality, monogamy, and sex. Seavey is not afraid to shy away from these issues, but also examines what makes these two lovers human, bringing two intellectuals into a very typical love affair.
The Public Theater presented a new play by Martin Sherman and the return to the stage of Harvey Fierstein. In Gently Down the Stream, Beau meets Rufus through online dating, and their relationship grows into something Beau never expected. Sherman examines the generational gap between Beau, a much older pianist, and Rufus, a young lawyer, and an optimist. Beau has his hesitations about falling in head first, but Rufus teaches Beau that everyone deserves to be happy and find love again. Beau teaches the audience on how far the gay community has come, but also ushers in a new revelation of love without boundaries.
Indecent not only marked the Broadway debut of Paula Vogel, but also garnered the production a Tony Award nomination for Best Play. This intricate piece surrounds the 1923 Broadway debut of the play God of Vengeance, by Polish-Jewish playwright Sholem Asch. This controversial play was shut down from its remarks on the Jewish faith and for its depiction of lesbian lovers. Not only is this play an important part of theatrical history, but is also one of the few works we see on Broadway representing queer female characters.
Speaking of history, The View Upstairs, by newcomer Max Vernon, premiered later in the season and made its mark Off-Broadway. This musical explored the Upstairs Lounge, a popular gay bar in the 1970’s located in the French Quarter of New Orleans. The Upstairs Lounge was the target of an arson attack that killed 32 people still trapped inside. However, this story viewed the popular club through the eyes of a young gay man, a fashion designer in the present day, that joined in the celebration of life, freedom, and family found in the LGBT community there. This connection of the two-time periods drew an important parallel to the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando last year but done in a way that also spreads an important message of unity in dark times.
We also experienced the revival of the beloved musical Falsettos by James Lapine, which presents modern gay relationships and blended families through a lyrical revue of relatable circumstances. Another revival was John Guare’s Six Degrees of Separation starring Allison Janney and Corey Hawkins. In this play, Paul, who is based off con artist David Hampton, tricks a wealthy New York couple by manipulation and seduction of the men in the family. Another work that challenged identity was the Public Theater’s Joan of Arc: Into the Fire. Not only did this punk rock musical break all the rules, but questioned gender roles and identity through the androgynous star Jo Lampert’s depiction of the tom boyish appearance of Joan of Arc.
Where do we go from here? While these excellent plays went in depth into gay male relationships, I’m hoping we see more stories involving queer women and transgendered individuals in the future, as they are for the most part infrequently seen on stage. Non-binary and gender non-conforming individuals are receiving much more representation in the mainstream media, and I’m hoping this trend moves to theatre as well, for it’s a topic still unclear to many people that could be explored differently on stage. Many important events from queer history were presented on Broadway this year, and I’m hoping this movement continues next season.
We are living in a tense political climate and the importance of representation for LGBTQ+ people in this country is needed now more than ever. Our voices can enact change through our artistry on we present through theatre. We must use these voices to get queer individual’s stories in the forefront of audience’s minds, through messages of love and acceptance.
Jordan Nickels is a playwright and dramaturg hailing from Terre Haute, Indiana. He previously worked with Nashville Children’s Theatre, Goodspeed Opera House, Florida Studio Theatre, and The Walt Disney Company. He also served as a Blog Contributor and Managing Editor for two years at Camp Broadway in New York City. Bachelor of Science in Theatrical Studies from Ball State University. Website:http://www.jordannickels.com Instagram: @jnickels8