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The Remains

Studio Theater in Washington, DC featured a world premiere of Ken Urban’s play, The Remains Brilliantly staged in a high end condominium’s kitchen and dining area, the play begins with two gay men sitting in the room fraught with tension. The men invited their families to their home to give them what is surely not good news. Having been one of the first gay couples to marry under Massachusetts law in 2004, they are now divorcing ten years later.

These are exciting times in the images of gay men. On Broadway, The Boys In The Band has received its first run on the great white way. Regardless if the viewer can stomach all the anguish, angst and self-hatred among many of the characters, Matt Crowley’s play and movie is a landmark in its presentation of gay men. Look at Vito Russo’s The Celluloid Closet, and Kaier Cutin’s We Can Always Call Them Bulgarians to understand how gays and lesbians had been represented in movies and theater through the late 1960s. Interestingly, images of gays and lesbians in Hollywood during the 1930s was different as I show in my book Hollywood Bohemians Transgressive Sexuality in the Movieland Dream 

Today Broadway is also staging a revival of Tony Kushner’s epic Angels in AmericaThis significant play captures a vital moment in gay history during the AIDS Crisis. The play featured a real crisis and the political and cultural opposition that gays and lesbians faced in the United States. However, it is not a play about realism as the playwright himself called it, “a Gay Fantasia.”

Realistic depictions of gay men and lesbian women most often appears in the form of “coming out” comedies and dramas. While self-discovery of personal sexuality is experienced by all and its importance can never be diminished, there have been numerous plays and movies capturing this moment. Whether in this year’s form as Love Simon or in the form of an older man, as Christopher Plummer’s character Hal in Beginners the plots and character arc’s become quite similar. Although these plays and movies made viewers happy, a majority have also wanted to see gays and lesbians in other stages of life. Everybody grows up and they want to see images that relate to their own experiences.

Intriguingly, over the last decade television served as the place where images of mature gays and lesbians appeared most often. With Will and Grace, Modern Family and The L Word, gay men and women appeared in relationships and sometimes, within the context of a nuclear family. Even the cable television programs made choices that often limit the kind of persons and situations it shows. Most of these relationships do not feature two or more gay and lesbian people who are career focused and facing tough choices about their relationships and careers.

Unlike a great deal of television, theater is known as a place to challenge its viewers. The Remains does that by revealing that the two men undertook marriage but combined the rite with the freedom of sexual liberation that has long been part of the gay male world. The play raises the issue of whether this choice ends up bringing about the dissolution of their relationship. One viewer thought so, saying, “It points a blame at the one character for being promiscuous.”

The play offers a hint to its own view on the situation. One character calls the impending divorce sad but not tragic. He notes that Georg Hegel’s concept of tragedy is not a battle between right and wrong but a struggle between a person driven to take one-sided action that both violates another legitimate right and plunges the hero into self-contradiction. But William Shakespeare’s tragedies often features seemingly heroic figure whose major character flaw causes the story to end with his tragic downfall. This seems to apply to this situation as both of the married men have personality quirks and weaknesses that become exasperated over the last years of their marriage when they are living on separate parts of the US.

What I enjoyed most about The Remains is its depiction of regular people in common spaces that face challenges recognizable to many.

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