Gay themed theatre is something I have a passion for, so much so I set up a production company that largely writes/produces "queer theatre". The stage is an exciting place to explore all subject matters, nothing is off limits, but gay plays just seem to get me excited. I find many of the pieces brave and inspiring, the comedy outrageous and even more off the wall and wickedly funny. Don't get me wrong, I adore all theatre (I love plays, eat sleep and breath them) but it's no surprise that some of my favourite plays are gay themed.
Angels in America
One of my all time favourite plays, I adore both parts and could quite easily sit and watch this over and over. A fantastic piece set in 1985 at the time AIDS was tearing the world apart, especially in big cities like New York where the show is set. It's a portrait of crisis and confusion in the Regan era and delves in to the American psyche. With its stunning central characters and it's evocative approach to such a heavy subject matter, this 7 hour 2 part epic is a play every theatre fan should experience at least one (the TV adaption was also incredible).
A little gem of a show that ran on and off Broadway a few seasons back. It tells the story of a gay couple who are in a committed relationship, however one is devoutly religious and the other is atheist. It follows their lives together through their struggles and how they overcome their differences, but when one of the boys is in a serious accident the other must turn to his partners family for support and answers. A show that looks at love, faith and commitment. I for one hope this show finds its way to the UK, if not I will bring it over myself.
The Normal Heart
This is my all time favourite play and moved me to the point of uncontrollable tears and fits of anger when I watched this. If Angels in America looks for a positive even in the face of such great tragedy then The Normal Heart yells at all the idiots who stood in the way of anything positive happening. It follows one man Ned Weeks and his fight for his and his friends survival during the (mis) management of the AIDS epidemic at the very beginning. Striking in every way, heart breaking and informative, I challenge anyone not to walk away from this play full of rage, passion and sadness. The recent Broadway revival opened to rave reviews but sadly demonstrated that the fight against HIV/AIDS is still far from over.
Die, Mommie, Die!
Call me biased since my company produced the UK premiere and I directed it, but I happen to think that Charles Busch's melodramatic comedy is a masterclass in parody. Nodding and winking to the melodramas of the 1950s and 60s it follows faded diva Angela Arden (played by Charles Busch in New York and on film and Dale Vicker in the UK) as she tries to pull off the perfect murder. A Zany, outrageous show that critics adored in New York and the recent run at Sachas Ballroom opened to rave reviews here in Manchester. Die, Mommie, Die! is camp theatre at its best.
What kind of list would this be if this fantastic brit play was not on it? Beautiful Thing is a gay love story told amongst the high rises of the working class. Two teenage boys begin to explore their feelings for each other as they realise that beauty can be found amongst the concrete jungle. The great thing about this wonderful play is how little it has to try, it's human, real, simple and quite beautiful. It does not care about politics or themes to set tongues wagging, it just wants to tell a love story and a story about a mother and son, and it does this with such grace and beauty that you can see why so many adore it (me included). The recent production at The Royal Exchange was a worthy production of such beautiful material.
The Little Dog Laughed
Even though the show opened to mixed reviews in the UK (after a successful US run) there is something about it that I find kind of brilliant. Hollywood agent Diane is becoming more and more concerned about Mitchell her film star client's ‘Slight recurring case of homosexuality'. After he starts up a relationship with a hustler called Alex she must do everything she can to steer him back into the closet so his reputation is not destroyed. A very funny look at Hollywood and its fear of homosexuality. I also happen to think that the role of the agent (Diane) is one of the best female comedy roles written in a long time.
Time for a musical, this brilliant (but slightly flawed) musical with a fantastic score by Boy George enjoyed a one year run in London's West End and made it's way to the Lowry in the well received tour. Recently it was revived in Brixton. Telling the stories of several key people involved in the new romantic movement (especially George himself played to perfection by Euan Morten and Leigh Bowery played by Boy George) this was a rough around the edges scrappy but stunning show that surprised critics and audiences alike. It was not long before it got the Broadway make over and everything became much much bigger. Broadway did not seem to be ready for such a show and it flopped losing over 10 million.
The Boys in the Band
Another fantastic piece of theatre that opened Off Broadway in 1968. Set at a birthday party for Harold all his friends are there to celebrate his big day, but it's an unexpected visit from one of the characters supposedly straight college friends that really gets the ball rolling on a party that turns from celebration to insults to a reveal that we as the audience are waiting to find out. Vey funny and also touching, The Boys in the Band is a brilliant piece of gay theatre (the movie version was pretty good as well).
So that's a few of my favourite gay themed plays, believe me I could mention so many more. How about you, what are some of your favourites?
The Pride is at the Manchester Opera House from 20 - 24 January. For more detail, visit the website.
Until next time!
- Craig Hepworth
This article first appeared on Whatsonstage.com on 12 March, 2012.