KPBS AIRDATE: AUGUST 26, 1998
Before I begin, I’ve gotta come clean. I must confess to certain biases: 1) I love old musicals. And 2) I hate soap operas. You need to know that before I tell you about “South Pacific” and “The Gays of Our Lives.”
Needless to say, if I hate regular TV soaps, I’m not going to feel any more affection for soap opera theater or gay soap opera. So, the premise of “The Gays of Our Lives” makes me queasy before I begin. Mindless entertainment is not my idea of what has spawned or perpetuated theater. And, insofar as gay theater is concerned, an endless array of coming- out stories, and fantasies where everyone in the world is gay, frankly leave me cold. I expected more from Diversionary’s new artistic director, Wayne Tibbetts, than the airhead gay-for-gay’s sake drivel that’s been parading across the stage of late: stuff like “O’Mary’s,” “The 10% Revue” and now, “The Gays of Our Lives.”
Yes, I know there’s an audience for this sort of stuff, and those that do go laugh their heads off, but they could stay home and watch TV for that. I understand the plight of the underdog, too; I know what it feels like to be persecuted for your gender or your religion. And I suppose there’s a fairly long period of time when you need to see just anything up there on the stage or screen that affirms who you are, and it’s even better if you’re surrounded by those just like you. But I’d like to think that the need for that low level experience has passed for the gay community. It’s time to move on beyond gratuitous nudity, raunchy in-jokes and genital and bodily function humor, to more insightful, issue-driven material.
Fortunately, Tibbetts does recognize this fact, and he’s beefed up the rest of his first season with impressive and exceptional plays that happen to have gay subject matter, like Tennessee Williams’ “Suddenly Last Summer” and Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America.” If Diversionary is to be more than community theater geared toward a small part of a specific community, then this is the kind of fare they should serve up: critical-thinking theater, not just feel-good, masturbatory material….. I can’t say much more about “The Gays of Our Lives.” It was unappealing to me in every way. And I find it nearly impossible to believe that it was written by Claudia Allen, the same person who penned the witty, thought-provoking, poetic “Hannah Free,” which continues through the end of the month at Ensemble Arts Studio Theatre, and for my money, is a much more worthwhile way to spend an evening — no matter what your sexual persuasion.
Now, I could say the same about “South Pacific,” one of those timeless, Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals that has an incredible score, a reputable source (James Michener’s “Tales of the South Pacific”) and even a little bit of a message — about tolerance and bigotry, if not about the tastes and proclivities of the American military during World War II. Fifty years old., and it still sounds good.
Moonlight Amphitheatre does a bang-up job with this classic; the cast is great, and the choreography is great fun, thanks to Don and Bonnie Ward. Truth be told, the women are less agile and attractive than the men, but those boxy wartime bathing suits don’t exactly help. The orchestra sounds better than ever, and the singing is strong and spirited. Best of all, everyone actually looks like they’re having a good time up there, despite the nagging mic problems. Alexandra Auckland makes a suitably perky and ingenuous Nellie Forbush, the hick from the sticks of Little Rock, though why she has no Arkansas accent was beyond me, especially since her love interest, the French planter Emile DeBecque, was played so earnestly by the talented James Anest, who never lost his accent, even while singing in his lush, mellow baritone.
Steve Glaudini is a hoot as the wheeler-dealer Luther Billis, and Eric Anderson does his usual capable job as Lt. Cable. Only Nancy Streeter as Bloody Mary disappoints, with her lack of mystical magic, and her race-through her signature song, “Bali Hai.” But this is a mere quibble. The production’s a romp, and a lovely way to spend the dog days of summer, out under a Vista of stars.
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1998 Patté Productions Inc.