The Gays of Our Lives is a free-ranging lark
by Bill Rodriguez
THE GAYS OF OUR LIVES. By Claudia Allen. Directed by Brien Lang. With Paul Ricciardi, Clare Blackmer,
Paula Prendergast, Barb McElroy, Neal Ferriera, and Allysen Callery. Presented
by NewGate Theatre at the Providence Black Repertory Company, 131 Washington
Street, Providence, through June 23.
If you're up for a gay old time that's more Fire Island campfire skit than
urbane Oscar Wilde, then Claudia Allen's The Gays of Our Lives may be
just your cup of spiked Kool-Aid. The still peripatetic NewGate Theatre is
putting it on at Providence Black Repertory Company, and it's part of the RI
Pride 2001 events, celebrating gay pride through June 16.
The play is not to be confused with the ongoing I-out.com online series by the
same title by Kim Ficera -- or the pornographic video series -- but maybe
authorship is beside the point. Begun in 1991 as silly, late-night skits in
Chicago, a year later it was expanded into a full-length work by Allen, a
popular playwright on the lesbian and gay scene there. She has had 18
productions staged, such as Movie Queens and Xena Live!, and in
1999 Chicago magazine named her the best playwright in town.
The play is less a work of polished writing than a free-ranging lark, the
humor as broad as a cross-dressed turkey in a Pilgrim suit. It celebrates the
sexual like Restoration comedy did, as the bawdy exuberance of the recently
oppressed and no longer repressed. It opens with a quasi-Busby Berkeley
production number that also surveys the interrelationships among the 18
characters, as in hug her and blow a kiss to him.
In this dysfunctional family, Mary Pat (Clare Blackmer) is married to Jeff
(Neal Ferreira) but secretly fooling around with her brother Lance (Paul
Ricciardi). Jeff is staying in the marriage not only because of their six kids
(with twins and quadruplets, Mary Pat is Super Breeder), but also because his
demure wife turns into Dominatrix Queen when she gets particularly annoyed at
him, which is often.
Sister Kathleen is busy picketing a local county commission, trying to stop
construction of a mega-dump. Her current sweetie is a New Age dreamer named
Jonquil (Pamela K. Calci), who, we come to learn in true soap opera fashion,
has a starkly contrasting personality as the leather-clad Sara and even a
surprising second-act secret identity.
But the central member of the family is Tip (Barb McElroy), twice married,
thinking herself straight but mysteriously yearning, now that her kids are
grown up, to sign onto the crew of an oil tanker. There she meets Kitty (Katt
Arcoraci), a Self-Confidently Seductive Lesbian, who invites Tip to explore
that wonders than her kids have been telling her about all these years. Of
course, she doesn't need much convincing. The hallowed tradition of male
mariners, that of having a girl in every port, is outdone by Kitty, who has
wives distributed around the globe. When they hit Hong Kong, one of them named
Ming (Pamela K. Calci) warns off Tip, brandishing a knife much too large to be
for paring her fingernails.
One of the delights of the soaps is that whenever the lives depicted start to
get dull, they can be polished up in a minute by an outlandish plot twist. A
blustery and straight-laced woman in act one can turn out to be a transgendered
old boyfriend in act two. Mom running off to sea is only the beginning of the
surprises. Somebody gets shot, so we get to pull chins about which of the
likely culprits did it. (Don't worry -- the deceased comes back as an Evil
Twin.) Not only does a gunshot wake up any audience members not slapping their
knees at these antics, it allows a character to get thrown into the slammer,
thereby opening up the whole sub-genre of sex in prison. We get to meet the
tough but kindly Grams (Ben Dawson), the gruff prison matron (Carol Caulfield),
and we learn some of the fine points of prison courtship etiquette from Rhonda
The complications and convolutions of the soap opera is the perfect parallel
for the gay life, whether before Stonewall or after. The twists and turns and
identity issues of The Gays of Our Lives does convey that. Although you
might have a grand ol' time yourself, I was disappointed that more wasn't
attempted here. Playwright Allen doesn't try for wit when she has the chance
with an exchange, and far too many lines are flat and obvious, as in Mary Pat
whining to Lance, "I can't understand why Jeff wanted you when he had me." But
considering the origins and aims of this show, having an unabashed good time
may be just enough.