The stories of that time are brought to vivid life in The Temperamentals, the moving docu-drama about the founding of the first gay rights organization in the U.S. that recently moved to an open-ended run at New World Stages (click here to read my review); The Boys in the Band, Mart Crowley’s pioneering look at gay life in pre-Stonewall Manhattan, currently being revived in a site-specific Transport Group production that has just been extended to March 28; and in two fascinating new shows that have opened over the past couple of weeks: the drama The Pride and the musical Yank!
The Pride, which MCC Theater is presenting at the Lucille Lortel Theatre down in the Village, is a wonderfully theatrical British import that juxtaposes the experiences of gay men in scenes that alternate between 1958 and 2008. The main characters are called by the same names in both time periods but the lives they lead are vastly different. In the earlier period, the men are forced to hide their sexuality and their love for one another, at times even from themselves. Their modern counterparts live openly and celebrate themselves in gay pride parades but struggle with issues of love and commitment.
Playwright Alexi Kaye Campbell may have overworked the contrasts (nearly all the gay men I know are in loving long-term relationships or want them as much as my hetero friends do) but that doesn’t make his play any less affecting, particularly as directed by Joe Mantello and performed by the rising movie stars Hugh Dancy and Ben Whishaw, equally brilliant as the men in both eras and superbly supported by Andrea Riseborough who fully realizes the two very different woman in their lives and Adam James as three characters, all of whom he plays with distinctive panache. (Click here to watch a video in which Campbell and the cast members discuss the play).
Some audience members who attended previews—including my pal Bill—were initially confused by the time shifting. Bill actually went back to see the show and emailed me that he he now appreciates it as much as I do. The 1958 scenes, which have the advantage of distance and an inherent drama, are particularly touching. The scene that opens the second act is, by itself, worth the ticket price. If you’re under 30, you can get one for just $20 bucks by clicking here.
Yank!, which is playing at York Theatre through March 21, is an unabashedly more simple and sentimental show. Written by the brothers Joseph and David Zellnik, it’s one of those they-don’t-make-them-like-they-used-to musical romances, right down to the Agnes de Mille-style dream ballet in the second act, except that this time the lovers are two men.
The main character Stu is a young soldier during World War II, who comes out during basic training and falls in love with a more closeted member of his squad. The score is a pastiche of 1940s music but, although World War II probably ended before the Zellnik’s parents were even born, the brothers have a good ear for that era and some of their songs, particularly the love ballads, sound as though they might actually have come from the Hit Parade of that time. (Click here to read an interview the brothers did with my fellow blogger Patrick Lee).
Stu is played with all-out charm by Bobby Steggert, who recently won raves for his performance as Mother’s Younger Brother in the revival of Ragtime that closed last month, and he pairs perfectly Ivan Hernandez, who brings brooding good looks and a virile baritone to the part of Stu’s lover Mitch. Nancy Anderson, the only woman in the show (there aren’t lots of female parts in these gay plays and as the New York Post critic Elisabeth Vincentelli has pointed out—click here to read it—the lesbian experience is largely missing from these staged histories) but Anderson would standout any way for her game turn in a wide variety of roles.