Philadelphia’s LGBT community has for years been among the most enthusiastic, devoted supporters of the city’s theater companies. And although the Wilma Theater notably presented two plays focusing on gay characters this past season, the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals are only sporadically represented and explored in local productions. This month, however, LGBT experiences take center stage at GayFest, which runs from Aug. 3 to Sept. 1 at Plays and Players Theater’s 55-seat Skinner Studio.
Produced by the 4-year-old Quince Productions and its enterprising artistic director Rich Rubin, the four-week festival includes four full mainstage productions, three staged readings of new plays exploring gay themes and what the festival is labeling eight “one-night stands” featuring a variety of artists from multiple disciplines.
Last year’s inaugural GayFest, which ran only three weeks, included three mainstage productions and one staged reading, making this year’s event considerably larger in both the number of presentations and the length. Rubin says that the expansion is due to the overwhelming success of GayFest 2011, allowing it to better represent the diversity of the LGBT community. “With the one-night stands, the diversity of the presentation is as great as the diversity of the subject matter,” he says. “They are so different from one another, everyone is likely to find at least one show that appeals to them.”
The biggest production, in both cast size and name recognition, is the Tectonic Theater Project’s docu-drama The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later. The follow-up to the company’s masterpiece The Laramie Project, the sequel (pictured above) returns the troupe to Laramie, Wyo., the site of Matthew Shepard’s heinous murder, an act that stunned the nation. Like the original, the script is based on interviews company members did with Laramie’s residents to explore the impact the crime, and the media frenzy that followed, had on the previously tranquil town. Quince’s staging marks the play’s first full production with a Philadelphia cast.
Rubin is equally excited about the festival’s world premiere production of Mike and Seth from acclaimed New York playwright Daniel Talbott, the author of Slipping, a hit at last year’s GayFest. Commissioned by Quince specifically for the festival, the plot focuses on a gay and straight man who are lifelong friends. Described as both poignant and sexy, the play takes place in a hotel room where the buddies are holed up the night before the straight man’s wedding.
Also included among the four full productions are Holly Hughes’ outrageously funny The Well of Horniness, a lesbian take on the noir genre which follows two female private investigators as they attempt to solve a murder with a seemingly endless number of suspects. Rounding out the mainstage shows is The Crumple Zone, a dark comedy about three gay roommates from the imaginative playwright Buddy Thomas, who penned the sly comedy Devil Boys from Beyond, another surprise GayFest 2011 hit. The three staged readings include F.J. Hartland’s Mother Tongue, about the world’s worst standup comic, and Sarah Pappalardo’s Cold .
GayFest kicks off on Aug. 3 with Misters and Sisters, a cabaret-style show about young gay boys from the sassy N.Y.C. dance troupe The Bang Group. Other “one-night stands” include transgender standup comic Rae Drew’s unique mix of rap, poetry, trans and drag comedy LOL@Gender, Daniel Student’s provocatively titled The Daniel Student Gay Porn Viewing Party and Josh Hitchens’ original one-man show Guilty but Insane: A Confessional Monologue.
GayFest isn’t the only spot to find theater this month that looks at the world from a LGBT perspective. A few blocks away, Philadelphia’s leading gay theater crew Mauckingbird Theatre Company is staging a production of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing from a queer perspective. Unlike Mauckingbird, however, not all of Quince Productions’ shows each season include a LGBT theme, and Rubin hopes that GayFest will attract heterosexual theatergoers as well. “The main goals for GayFest,” he says, “are to present as wide a spectrum of GLBT theater and as much new theater as possible to the widest possible range of audiences.”
Aug. 3-Sept. 1. $5-$25. Plays and Players Theater, Skinner Studio, 1714 Delancey St. 215.627.1088. quinceproductions.com