Gadfly Theatre’s newest production, QUEER! starts out as a sort of “GLBT 101”, but eventually transcends that and becomes a touching piece about the realization that many of the challenges GLBT-identified folk face come from within the queer community itself. As a reviewer, I find this a challenging piece to write about, because I can see flaws in it, but I also think everybody should see it, because although it may not be a perfect production, drama-wise, it says some really important things that I believe everybody should hear.
The play is presented as a series of vignettes; in the first act, QUEER! explores what happened after the coming-out process for various people. As it is pointed out in the show, people often speak about their experiences coming out as if it was one, isolated event that is something that just happened to them – not an ongoing series of discussions, reactions, and feelings that can impact the rest of one’s life. The second act explores the fights and differences inside the queer community: pansexual people pooh-poohing the bisexuals for going under a name that reinforces a gender binary, a trans woman and a genderqueer person arguing about who has the harder time fitting in, a woman of fluid sexuality being told by the gays/lesbians and the bisexuals to “pick a side”, and so on.
Writers (and Gadfly founders/artistic co-directors) Cassandra Snow and Immanuel Elliott give their audience a wide variety of glimpses into the queer community, telling the stories of people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, genderqueer, asexual, fluid/evolving, pansexual, polyamorous, and queer. This reminds us that not all folks who wave the rainbow flag are gay or lesbian, and that some even struggle with the fact that their “label” isn’t well-known or generally accepted to be “legitimate”.
Ironically, the play’s largest fault is also perhaps its strongest point: the play is trying to reach too large an audience and be all things to all people. The first act is more of an education piece than drama, and tries to reach out to the straight community to give them a deeper understanding of what it means to be queer, while the second act is more about the way the characters interact, and tries to relate to the queer folks. This means that there is something for everyone, but it also means that there is probably a less-interesting, less-relatable part for everyone, too.
A piece like this focuses on the political/social message, and sometimes this means that there is less emphasis on the production quality. I have no problem with a minimal set, especially with a vignette-style show, and I can forgive the few sound and lighting blunders since I saw it on its premiere (at the Bisexual Organizing Project’s annual community conference), but the acting was spotty. Some actors had very strong performances (Jim Larsen as Ben, Meagan Kedrowski as Allie, and Hector Edwardo Chavarria as Luis jump to mind as particularly noteworthy performances), and others seemed to struggle with lines, while others just seemed a little too wooden.
Overall, this was a touching play. The audience laughed, gasped, and cried (including me; I teared up three separate times). It has something important to say to a few different audiences. Although it does suffer a little from spotty acting and it still falls into the trap of emphasizing education over storytelling the way that so much queer theatre still does. But, still. In a Minnesota where marriage equality has recently passed, and I recently heard someone ask, “The gays can marry; why are they still complaining about things?” maybe a little education – for those outside as well as those within the queer community – is a really, really good thing.
QUEER! by Immanuel Elliott and Cassandra Snow, Gadfly Theatre, at The Lowry Lab Theatre, 350 Saint Peter St, St Paul. June 28-July 14. Tickets $15, or $12 for students/seniors/Fringe button holders; pay-what-you-can performances on July 7, 8, and 14. http://www.gadflytheatre.org