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Happy together

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 (Allysen Callery).

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.

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