In 2012, when Rich Rubin, Quince Productions' artistic director, announced to a GayFest! crowd at the Shubin Theatre that the festival would run again the following year, he got an unexpected response. “I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a standing ovation before the show started,” he jokes to PW. “The progress of the festival certainly seems unmistakable. I thought it would take five years, but in our fourth year, we’re taking off.”
It’s true. This year’s 19-day run of queer-flavored plays, one-acts, events and one night stands is as robust as ever. There’s something for everyone, queer or not. In fact, Rubin recalls a male friend of his who saw three out of the four mainstage GayFest! productions a few years ago and said he felt no need to catch the lesbian play, ‘cause “That’s not about my life.” Obviously, that’s wasn’t the point—and Rubin naturally urged his pal to check it out anyway, pointing out the obvious loophole in his logic: “Neither are the millions of plays about heterosexual people.”
Imagine what Philadelphia was like 50 years ago when Robert Patrick’s The Haunted Host debuted at Caffe Cino in Greenwich Village. The landmark play, which Rubin describes as one of the very first gay full-length plays—second only, perhaps, to Lanford Wilson’s The Madness of Lady Bright—is a fast-paced, three-scene comedy that’s full of zingers and one-liners. Once upon a time, there was a real stigma associated with even attending a gay-themed play. Imagine that.
“I remember my friend Carl saying that when he went to see The Boys in the Band in ‘68, the next day,” there were whispers, says Rubin: “‘Carl went to Boys in the Band,'” they hissed. Thankfully, it’s a new day. Hopefully, hetero allies across the city will be supporting their queer brothers and sisters for solidarity’s sake. And no one will even think twice about their co-workers’ ticket-purchasing habits.
Sarah J. Gafgen is handling directing duties for Host, almost to Rubin’s reluctance—only because he directed its 25th-anniversary production “in a little studio in the Douglas Fairbanks Theatre on theater row [in Manhattan]. I don’t think it exists anymore,” he says. (He’s right; it was demolished in 2005.) This year, he’s helming a collection of Daniel Talbott pieces, a playwright who’s now a staple at GayFest! One of the three in the trilogy, You Know My Name, is one of Rubin’s all-time favorites. “It’s only about nine or 10 minutes long, and you see these mens’ entire worlds change,” he says. “It’s remarkable.” No Talbott production is complete without actor Calvin Atkinson, and he finally gets his chance to direct with Geoffrey Nauffts’ Next Fall, a play that captures the dynamic of a faithful and faithless boyfriendship. “Much of what fuels the humor is the fact that Luke is a very religious Christian, and Adam is the furthest thing from it,” says Rubin. We talked about spirituality and homosexuality’s tense dynamic, and I suggested that there weren’t enough houses of worship that support a postmodern queer community that may want to praise Him, but don’t feel welcome. “That’s the feeling Adam has,” Rubin attests. “The smart, open, modern churches are too few and far between.”
The last—and certainly not least—of the four mainstage productions is the Josh Hitchens-directed Some Are People, written by Kathleen Warnock. It’s the one GayFest! play that may have the most buzz, thanks to Philadelphia’s lovable loudmouth Alexander Kacala (occasionally Tammy Faymous), who’ll be dipping back into drag to portray Tommy, who’s also sometimes Miss Fitt. Amber Orion takes on Anna, Tommy’s landlady and dear friend. “[Anna]’s a survivor; she’s tough, but with a huge heart,” says Rubin. “She and Tommy are totally devoted to each other.” The play takes place in Provincetown, that iconic summer destination that attracts wayward artists and free spirits, and one of those is Lydia, who drifts into their dynamic, and everyone’s lives are changed.
The four mainstages don’t even crack the week’s offerings: tonight’s the second and last night of The Bang Group’s funny, song-and-dance-heavy Head Over Heels; the world-toured Confessions of a Mormon Boy, written and performed by Steven Fales, runs five nights and tells his story of coming out, excommunication, addiction and prostitution, plus an incredible nine-play collection, Standing On Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays, Sunday’s not-to-be-missed, one-night affair benefiting GayFest! and Equality PA.
Speaking of one-nighters, I won’t be missing R. Eric Thomas’ Always the Bridesmaid, which he lovingly subtitles “a romantic comedy about boys, God & baked goods;” the fabulous Rachel Tension’s set that blends hip-hop and tarot card readings, and The Homo Poe Show, presented by Baltimore’s Iron Crow Theatre, that’ll be pieces inspired by Edgar Allan.
Through Sat., Aug. 23. Various times, prices and locations. 215.627.1088. quinceproductions.com