Bishop Arts Theatre Center’s Third Annual LGBT PlayPride Competition is an intriguing mix, with an interesting approach. Alexandra Bonifield directed all six pieces, as opposed to using different captains for different ships. Some plays were forthright (if perhaps simplistic) while others obtuse, and not always easy to process. Some had an LGBT subtext while others were narratives which just happened to include gay characters. Another important difference: this year the playwrights win money (instead of “donating” their award) so lets get out there to Jefferson and Tyler in Oak Cliff and vote, vote, vote.
Copeville, the first play, by mystery playwright Addison DeWitt (yes, yes, yes, from All About Eve) is a memory piece, told from the view point of a young girl (“Narrator”) about her Uncle Berdie. Her Uncle (a Native American) runs the only grocery in a very, very small town in Texas. The girl loves to hang out at his store after school, happily taking care of her small tasks, and munching on candy. Berdie’s rich, genuine humanity, is evident in everything he does. He never turns down those in need of food, never judges others, takes joy in being kind. One day he reminisces to his niece about a friend who was “two-spirit,” sharing his tribe’s enlightened appreciation for someone who evinced non-binary gender identity. In this way he explains his own difference.
There are two ways to think of Copeville. We can bask in the pleasure of understanding that even in the Bible Belt, there are communities that recognize the value of every life, and simply care for one another while leaving God’s domain to God. The other is to speculate the possible outcomes had our hero not been quite so noble, or the question of his orientation beyond ignoring. Perhaps Berdie was doing the best he could with subjugation. Copeville though, does manage to pitch a canny scenario (with no violins or roses) for those who actually enjoy living in a climate of warmth and mutual respect. It never feels contrived or didactic. So I’m going with the former.
Ben Schroth’s You hear that? finds married couple Charles and Daniel settling down in bed for the night. Off and on they hear noises and voices, unsure what they mean, or what exactly is going on. Perhaps another couple making love? Or prowlers? Or gossip? One of Schroth’s great strengths is his subtle ability to imbue ordinary situations with extraordinary insight, the dialogue emerging from Charles and Daniel’s quandary a lens to explore their attachment. Daniel and Charles are just like any other newlyweds. They tease and flirt and josh and grouse. They give each other grief and cuddle. The punchline about their queer marriage is that it’s not especially sexy or remarkable. Like most marriages, it’s just sexy and remarkable enough.
Honestly by Caroline Cole is an epistolary story told by email, texting and voicemail. Perhaps it’s a fable on the irony that despite increasing methods of communication, the quality of human connection is quickly diminishing. Not once do we see any of the characters in the same room with each other. Georgia Bardman (a thuggy lesbian) has formed meaningful relationships with several women, who help her through a horrible bout with cancer. Honestly has a kind of witty cynicism to it, a reflection on the discrepancy between what we need to see and what’s there. Cole might be commenting on lesbian stereotypes or maybe just the pathetic trap of infatuation. Maybe same-gender sexuality here is merely parenthetical.
Ruth Cantrell’s Stall Tactics makes hay of the recent, ridiculous public bathroom debate, pairing Mattie Lou, a right-wing, conservative, gay-hating harridan and an old high school friend, Bev. When Bev attempts to use a unisex bathroom in a department store, Mattie Lou blocks her, proclaiming she must not participate in this recent concession to the godless “He/Shes.” Mattie Lou is hysterical, obnoxious, offensive and stupid. Those are her better qualities. On the downside Stall Tactics is a spoof, so it’s over-the-top, and prolonged. (Though I won’t deny it’s gratifying to see a self-righteous, Bible-thumping snot exposed). On the upside, Stall Tactics is often very, very funny and Cantrell uses the opportunity to consider the pathology behind Mary Lou’s toxic tirades.
If Fate Steps In, by Sierra McCarley, examines the time-honored riddle of the role of destiny or choice when it comes to romance. There’s a metaphor involving skin-markings (tattoos?) which leads one to think this may be speculative fiction. Jude and Emerson are on a fix-up date, and struggle to decide whether they are slaves to the cosmos or actually want each others’ company and comfort. I admire McCarley’s originality and desire to tantalize, but I’m not entirely sure the quirky milieu adds a lot. The resolution is smart and satisfying.
Shane Strawbridge’s Widgets is an illustrative parable in which two colleagues enter into a heated argument when it comes to mixing red widgets with blue widgets or packaging them separately. Strawbridge’s strategy enables us to see how preposterous this bellicose behavior truly is, by applying insane logic to inanimate objects. Widgets turns on two metaphors, the widgets, and a bouquet of discarded flowers, salvaged by the untainted perception of the manager’s young daughter. It might be a bit self-consciously enlightened, but Alexandra Bonifield helps with a fairly light touch.
TeCo Theatrical Productions presents: The Third Annual LGBT PlayPride Competition, playing September 15th-25th, 2016. 215 South Tyler Street, Dallas, Texas 75208. 214-948-0716. www.bishopartstheatre.org.