Published in Gay and Lesbian Times August 22, 2002
The La Jolla Playhouse has definitely veered off the straight and narrow path. The first two productions of their experimental Page To Stage project are decidedly gay-friendly, and coincidentally, they have strikingly similar titles: “I Am My Own Wife” (about a German transvestite) and “I Think I Like Girls” (about growing up lesbian in America).
This exciting program is a showcase for new works, and the audience becomes a part of the process. Theatergoer responses help shape and revise the play. Critics are not permitted to review the pieces, because they’re still considered works-in-progress. Which was a pity last year, when the premiere production, Doug Wright’s “I Am My Own Wife,” was not only a provocative and fascinating story of one man’s survival as a woman, during the Nazi and Communist regimes, but it also featured one of the most breathtaking performances on a local stage in a long time: a tour de force by UCSD alum Jefferson Mays.
This year’s offering looks to be equally intriguing.
Playwright/director Leigh Fondakowski, a long-time member of Moises Kaufman’s acclaimed Tectonic Theater Project in New York, served as head writer and associate director of “The Laramie Project,” the brilliant, heart-stopping theater piece which appeared with its original cast (sans Fondakowski) in a thrilling production last summer at the La Jolla Playhouse. Recently nominated for four Emmy Awards (including directing and writing) for its televised version, “Laramie” was cobbled together from interviews with the townspeople of Laramie, Wyoming, where a young gay student, Matthew Shepard, was brutally, horrifically murdered in 1998.
This time, Fondakowski has turned her attention both inward and out, using interviews and found text, media and literature, as well as original songs, music and dance, to tell the stories of more than a dozen gay women, from childhood to adulthood.
“This is not a play about coming out,” Fondakowski has said. “but rather the discovery of one’s identity as a queer woman and lesbian and our place in the culture of today.”
The focus is on what makes us different as well as what makes us all the same.
“We are clearly at a point in our culture,” Fondakowski continues, “where gay people possess a degree of visibility never before imagined. I’m interested in the relationship between our increasingly mainstream visibility and the forms of discrimination and violence that still exist. My work on “The Laramie Project” was a wake-up call to both the ways we are more accepted and the subtle — and not so subtle — backlash of homophobia we now face.”
Since 1997, “I Think I Like Girls” has had several readings, in New York and San Francisco. Two of the current cast members, Kelli Simpkins and Barbara Pitts, also appeared at the Playhouse in “Laramie.” Other performers include Amy Resnick, Dikla Marshall and Kathleen Carthy.
Playhouse artistic director Des McAnuff has called the show “a very important and exciting piece; funny, moving and touching.” And this workshop presentation, he says, “is an extraordinary opportunity for our audiences to play an intimate role in shaping a production. While Leigh Fondakowski is in residence, she can make changes on a performance-by-performance basis, whether it be revising the script, restructuring the order of scenes or suggesting different interpretations of the text. Page To Stage makes audiences active participants in the creation of the work.”
This project offers a rare theater opportunity — to act as observer, critic and co-creator.
“I Think I Like Girls” runs September 3-21 at the La Jolla Playhouse; 858-550-1010.
©2002 Patté Productions Inc.