Coming Clean

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Coming Clean, Kevin Elyot’s first professionally produced play, looks at the breakdown of a gay couple’s relationship and examines complex questions of fidelity and love. It was first performed at the Bush Theatre, London, on 3 November 1982.

The play is set in a flat in Kentish Town, north London, in 1982. Struggling writer Tony and his partner of five years, Greg, seem to have the perfect relationship. Committed and in love, they are both open to one-night stands as long as they don’t impinge on the relationship. But Tony is starting to yearn for something deeper, something more like monogamy. When he finds out that Greg has been having a full-blown affair with their cleaner, Robert, their differing attitudes towards love and commitment become clear.

In his foreword to Kevin Elyot: Four Plays (Nick Hern Books, 2004), Elyot writes 'From 1976 to 1984 I'd acted in several productions at the Bush Theatre, and Simon Stokes, one of the artistic directors, had casually suggested I try my hand at a play. I presented them with a script entitled Cosy, which was passed on to their literary manager Sebastian Born. He responded favourably and, largely through his support, it finally opened on 3 November 1982 under the title Coming Clean. Cosy had fallen out of favour – a pity, as I'd always liked the pun on the opera which plays such an important part. I came up with the present title as a necessary compromise after what had proved to be quite a bumpy ride from acceptance to premiere.'

The Bush Theatre premiere was directed by David Hayman and designed by Saul Radomsky. The cast was Eamon Boland, C.J. Allen, Philip Donaghy, Ian McCurrach and Clive Mantle.

Coming Clean won the Samuel Beckett Award for writers showing particular promise in the field of the performing arts.

Death and Dancing

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In a spiky, angry duologue between ‘She’ and ‘He’, Dowie interrogates the labels with which society constricts everyone – gay, lesbian, straight, man, woman.

‘He’ has come over from America to study at a London University, and is out and proud, but he might fancy ‘She’ a bit. Particularly when ‘She’ is wearing a leather jacket, and making him wear a dress, because ‘She’ is determined to be anything she wanted to be, and wants to show him that you don’t have to be feminine or be masculine or wear a costume or buy a suit. Death and Dancing is about two people going dancing and the social categories of sexuality which try to pin them down.

Death and Dancing was first presented in 1992 in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Drag Act

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Drag Act is a proud and punchy monologue spoken by Rose, a fifty-two year old lesbian who can’t stand being told how she should dress. She was told by her mother that she should be more girly and feminine, and now she finds she’s being told that she’s letting down ‘the Cause’ by wearing trousers; she’s sick of people thinking she’s trying to be a man. So she’s reluctant when her new younger girlfriend Sarah insists they go to a drag club for her birthday, until she realises that among the sequins and the feathers are people just like her.

Drag Act was first presented in 1993 at the Grand Theatre, Blackpool.


Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

You know what would really fuck them off? If you went out there and found the least suitable, most inappropriate, most outrageous hunk of a man that this fine city has to offer, and the pair of you rock up to that church service in May, arm in arm.

Seán is feeling wronged because his boyfriend Tim has been excluded from a family wedding back home in Ireland. What does it matter that they've just broken up? The problem for his family is that Tim is femme, fabulous and worst of all, English. Spurred on by righteous anger, Seán is determined to do something about it.

As Greek myths, hook-up apps, and the musical stylings of Sinéad O'Connor collide, Seán launches into his hunt for the most disruptive plus-one possible.

First Episode

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Terence Rattigan’s professional debut as a playwright, First Episode was co-authored with his fellow undergraduate Philip Heimann whilst they were both studying at the University of Oxford. It was first performed at the Q Theatre, Kew, London, on 11 September 1933. It subsequently transferred (with a slightly revised text) to the West End, opening at the Comedy Theatre on 19 January 1934, where it enjoyed a moderately successful run.

The play is set in a thinly disguised Oxford. With three weeks to go before their final exams, its main characters gamble, booze and are heavily involved in a production of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra. The drama stems from the fact that Tony, the show’s director and male lead, is besotted by his imported professional co-star, Margot Gresham. The mature Margot, however, makes a far bigger investment in their affair than Tony and, when things unravel, she realises her lover’s closest bond is with his oldest friend, David.

As Rattigan scholar Dan Rebellato writes in his introduction to his edition of the play (Nick Hern Books, 2011), 'The story has, in some ways, a very conventional shape: it is a love triangle. Usually, such stories involve two men as rivals for the love of a woman, or perhaps two women competing for the love of a man. In First Episode, we see a man and a woman, David and Margot, battling for the love of a man, Tony.'

The play’s frank (for the times) depiction of undergraduate life, and its homosexual subtext, provoked outrage in some quarters, and Rattigan was forced to make some changes and deletions to satisfy the requirements of the Lord Chamberlain, British theatre’s official censor. This definitive edition, prepared by Dan Rebellato from the six extant versions of the play, restores most of those deletions, while aiming to offer the most coherent and satisfying version of the play.

The Q Theatre premiere was directed by Muriel Pratt and performed by Max Adrian, Owen Griffith, Noel Dryden, Meriel Forbes-Robertson, Patrick Waddington, Rosalinde Fuller, Vincent King and Robert Syers.

Joining the cast when it transferred to the Comedy Theatre were Angus L. MacLeod, William Fox, Barbara Hoffe and Jack Allen.

The play received its US premiere at the Ritz Theatre, New York, on 17 September 1934 in a production directed by Haddon Mason.

Gently Down the Stream  

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Beau, a pianist expat living in London, meets Rufus, an eccentric young lawyer, at the dawn of the internet dating revolution. After a life spent recovering from the disappointment and hurt of loving men in a world that refused to allow it, Beau is determined to keep his expectations low with Rufus.

But Rufus comes from a new generation of gay men who believe happiness is as much their right as anyone else's, and what Beau assumed would be just another fling grows into one of the most surprising and defining relationships of his life.

A remarkably moving, brilliantly funny love story, Gently Down the Stream is the latest play from acclaimed playwright Martin Sherman. The play reflects the triumphs and heartbreaks of the entire length of the gay rights movement, celebrating and mourning the ghosts of the men and women who led the way for equality, marriage and the right to dream.

It received its world premiere at the Public Theatre, New York, on 14 March 2017 in a production starring Tony-award winner Harvey Fierstein.

A Hard Rain

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Jon Bradfield and Martin Hooper's A Hard Rain is a play about a key moment in the history of gay rights, set in New York in the weeks leading up to the Stonewall riots in 1969. It was first performed on 26 February 2014 at Above the Stag Theatre, London, a fringe theatre with a focus on producing LGBT-themed theatre. Above the Stag Theatre had previously staged several adult pantomimes written by Bradfield and Hooper.

The play's action takes place mostly in New York City in June 1969. It centres around a seedy, illicit gay bar in Greenwich Village owned by the mafia. Kicked out of the military after a year in Vietnam, cross-dressing Ruby (male, aged 26) winds up in Greenwich Village with no prospects. There he meets Jimmy, an abused, cheeky 16-year-old street kid who will change his world.

The premiere production was directed by Tricia Thorns and designed by David Shields. It was performed by Nigel Barber, Stephanie Willson, Michael Edwards (as Ruby), Rhys Jennings, Oliver Lynes and James El-Sharawy (as Jimmy).

Hushabye Mountain

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Danny is a young man, waiting to be let into heaven. There seems to be some difficulty about it, but Judy Garland reassures him as she passes by in a boat full of stars. Away from the dreamlike and unexpected version of the afterlife, the people who were closest to Danny struggle with his death from AIDS. His partner Connor is flattened by grief, and groping awkwardly towards a new relationship. Connor’s brother Lee and his wife Lana, who was Danny’s best friend, find their new marriage overshadowed by the hole Danny's absence has left in their lives. And Danny’s mother Beryl, who had kept in contact via increasingly paranoid letters after Danny’s father disowned him, is now in a mental hospital and being updated by Judy Garland about her son’s progress towards heaven.

First performed in 1999 at the Lyceum Theatre, Crewe, Hushabye Mountain reveals a world that has learned to live with AIDS. It is a world full of love, pain, laughter and friendship, where drugs in their various combinations are exhilarating, destructive, costly and even life restoring.

If We Got Some More Cocaine I Could Show You How I Love You

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Halloween. A small town in the west of Ireland. There’s a party to get to and Mikey and Casey have everything they need . . . Booze. Cash. Drugs. Each other. The only problem is they’re stuck. Stuck on a roof. Stuck together. And as they wait for the Guards to stop circling the house, they find out there are some truths you just can’t climb down from. A raucous and unlikely romantic drama, twenty feet up.

I have AIDS!

Playwrights Canada Press
Type: Text

Following Prodon through the five stages of acceptance – Denial, Partying, Loss of Control, Religious Conversion and Acceptance – I have AIDS! pops in and out of monologues with Prodon and into scenes with Lady Booty, an outrageous drag queen, Ron, a man who has made AIDS his personal religion and the ever-supportive Vidor, each giving their own advice on how to take the news. A black comedy like no other, I Have AIDS! is a play about gay men who are neither tragic nor sad, and we are led to laugh with them, not at them.

If ‘gay theatre’ is taken to mean plays written by and for homosexuals, then it is true that there was almost no ‘gay theatre’ before that produced in the aftermath of the gay liberation movement of the early 1970s. Such a definition, however, dismisses the formal variety of twentieth-century gay culture, and fails to take account of the specific contradictions and complications produced by the double movement of that culture since the beginning of the century. One direction of movement has been towards the elaboration of an autonomous subculture with its own sites and styles; the second, occurring simultaneously, has been towards the integration (often superficial and always troubled) of gay images, languages and individuals into the culture as a whole. Between these two ideals of autonomy and integration lies a spectrum of cultural operations devised by those who have supported, challenged, appropriated and exploited the existing order. It is within this spectrum that we must try to place a diversity of theatres – a glam drag act in a working-class pub, a radical drag version of Marlowe’s Dido, Queen of Carthage in a fringe arts venue, a lesbian comedy thriller in the same venue, a play about AIDS with a gay cast, a play about AIDS with a straight cast, Lindsay Kemp’s staging of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a wildly camp version of Cocteau’s Oedipus staged by a leading gay actor in a respectable repertory theatre, a lesbian cabaret act, and an utterly straight staging of Otway’s Venice Preserv’d in which both director and star (playing one-half of an eighteenth-century ‘heroic friendship’) are gay men. The twentieth century has been a period of extraordinarily rapid social and cultural change for gay people, but within all this diversity and change one factor has remained until recently constant. The writing and production of theatre have remained largely male operations, and it is not until the early 1970s that the phrase ‘gay theatre’ can be honestly used to describe work by, for or about lesbian women as well as gay men.

The complications of what might be meant by the phrase ‘gay theatre’ pre-date the coining of the terms (and indentities) ‘homosexual’ and ‘gay’ in the late nineteenth century. The often homoerotic and always transvestite theatre of Marlowe, Shakespeare and Fletcher was attacked by contemporary critics such as Prynne as the home of catamites and Ganymedes; John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, rewrote Fletcher’s Valentinian in the late 1670s as a maelstrom of confused desires whirling around an outspoken boy-loving emperor; Shadwell, Southerne, Dilke, Farquhar and Vanbrugh all exploited cross-dressing on stage at the same time as the development of an off-stage subculture by men who described themselves as mollies, meeting in private brothels and semi-public taverns in women’s clothes as part of their sexual and social life. By the turn of the nineteenth century, at the end of a 40-year period in which both the subculture and its collisions with the world of culture had produced increasingly confident gay styles, the distinctive features of the gay theatre of our own century had been set.

This formative period was not, however, characterized by a collective sense of gay culture. Few of the following artists active at that time would have been aware of each other’s work, or would have perceived themselves as differing practitioners within a single culture: Wilde, the most famously homosexual of all theatre artists, who never created a gay character – if we discount the page-boy in Salomé – but whoseobsessive demolition of polite sexual and social relations in works as diverse as The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) and La Sainte Courtisaine (unfinished) was surely profoundly informed by his observations from the perspective of a social and sexual outlaw; Diaghilev, who was about to commence the lifelong series of works created with and for his lovers Lifar, Massine, Dolin and Nijinsky; Malcolm Scott, billed as ‘The Woman who Knows’ in a series of drag routines at the London Pavilion in 1903; Julian Eltinge, the first, greatest and most successful of the Broadway drag queens, who crossed the Atlantic to play to royalty in 1906; John Gray and André Raffalovich, a homosexual couple, both published poets, whose play The Blackmailers portrays the strengthening of a male homosexual relationship under the pressure of a family melodrama and was produced by J. T. Grein at the Prince of Wales, London on 7 June 1894; John Todhunter, whose 1893 play The Black Cat decorates a standard marital crisis with a caricature of a homosexual dandy; or John B. Fuller, whose play At St Judas (New York, 1896) climaxes in the forced suicide of a best man in love with the groom at a society wedding.

All the categories of contemporary ‘gay theatre’ are there in that catalogue, with the exception of theatre created for rather than by or about gay people although Gray and Raffalovich may be seen as having written the first play clearly intended to hearten the gay people in its audience as well as educate its liberals and shock its conservatives.

The most continuous and the richest theatrical tradition built upon these early works has been that of the drag artists – though their work has been the least honoured and the least documented, because it is a popular (i.e. working-class) tradition, and is rarely dependent on scripts or playwrights. The least continuous – since each artist apparently attempts to reinvent theatrical language in isolation – has been the series of acknowledged ‘great artists’ who are recognized by the critical establishment as gay but whose work is rarely if ever ‘about’ gay characters or incidents. Williams, Cocteau, Genet, Lorca and Orton were not the product of some generalized ‘gay sensibility’, but each is similar to the others in that his work was decisively influenced by the language, role-playing, bitterness and need to either decisively conform to or disrupt conventions of the very different gay cultures in which he lived.

The ‘problem play’ is the most extensive section of any bibliography of gay theatre; it will include both plays in which homosexuality is a minor, decorative problem (The Black Cat) and plays in which ‘the problem of homosexuality’ is the main dramatic interest (The Blackmailers or Mart Crowley’s infamous The Boys in the Band, 1968). The popularity of the genre arises from the fact that incidental gay stereotypes or stereotyped gay incidents provide ample opportunity for the bestselling theatrical ingredients of sex, misery and disguise. Also, homosexuality as a construct is the site of many of the culture’s most-discussed social crises sexual licence and sexual identity, the conflicting demands of liberalism and conservatism, parenthood and marriage. It would be a mistake to see such plays as The Captive (Eduard Bourdet, 1926), Rope (Patrick Hamilton, 1929), The Children’s Hour (Lillian Hellman, 1934), A Taste of Honey (Shelagh Delaney, 1958), A Patriot For Me (John Osborne, 1965) and Staircase (Charles Dyer, 1966) as ‘merely’ commercial or exploitative. They rather form a genuine acknowledgement that the formation of homosexuality in the twentieth century has been inextricably mixed up with the formation of other controversial identities – the ‘nonconformist’, the ‘pervert’, the ‘independent woman’, the ‘virile’, ‘promiscuous’ or ‘effeminate’ man. Some ‘problem plays’ are sympathetic to or actually militant on behalf of homosexuals – Mae Wests’s 1927 The Drag or Sewell and Leslie Stokes’s Oscar Wilde (1936). Some are the work of homosexuals themselves: J. R. Ackerley’s Prisoners of War (1925), James Fugate (Barr)’s Game of Fools (1954), Roger Gellert’s Quaint Honour (1958). Others are cryptic or transposed homosexual works by authors unable or unwilling to write explicitly – the works of Coward, Rattigan and Maugham, for instance. The cryptic or implicit use of gay themes should not, however, be simplistically read as evidence of the author being ‘in the closet’. Somewhere in the category of ‘problem play’, for instance, one would have to locate the series of works by Brecht in which the ‘problem’ of an intense relationship between two men in love is used to expose and tear apart the workings of the society in which they live – Baal, In the Jungle of Cities, Edward II and Galileo – the portrayal of the hero and his beloved pupil in the latter surely influenced by Brecht’s collaboration with the great gay actor Charles Laughton.

The watershed of twentieth-century gay culture is 1969, the year in which the Stonewall riots in New York dramatized the beginning of the gay liberation movement. Before neatly dividing gay culture into ‘before’ and ‘after’ Stonewall, it is salutary to consider the scale and diversity of the earlier work and to remember that all of the cultural forms pre-dating gay liberation have survived and developed. On the London stage (London is used throughout as an example of the complex development which might be traced in any English-speaking or European metropolitan gay culture; not because it was the centre of or leader) in 1968, for instance, you would have been able to watch the following shows, all of them by or featuring homosexual women or men: Simon Gray’s Wise Child; Colin Spencer’s Spitting Image; Orton’s Loot; Shaffer’s Black Comedy; Peter Luke’s Hadrian the Seventh; John Bowen’s Trevor, with its depiction of a lesbian couple; Brecht’s Edward II; Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest; the National Theatre’s all-male production of As You Like It; Charles Marowitz’s production of Fortune and Men’s Eyes; Christopher Hampton’s Total Eclipse; Paddy Chayefsky’s The Latent Heterosexual; Lanford WIlson’s The Madness of Lady Bright; Edward Bond’s Early Morning, with its lesbian affair between Queen Victoria and Florence Nightingale; Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes; the musical Hair; drag queens Rogers and Starr in the Gaiety Box Revue; and Danny La Rue fronting his own drag club in Hanover Square as well as playing Dame in Sleeping Beauty at the Golders Green Hippodrome.

Gay liberation did, however, decisively disrupt this spectrum of theatrical forms, and indeed the meaning of the phrase ‘gay theatre’. First, and most importantly, it created a theatre which had not only gay writers, performers and producers but also a gay audience; a theatre not only by and about but also entirely for homosexuals. Although there had been explorations of the idea of playing to a gay audience in the club and cabaret culture of, for instance, the Harlem Renaissance and pre-Hitler Germany, this theatre had in fact never existed before. Second, it proposed that gay women and gay men should work together to create a radical gay culture. Third, its main political tactic, ‘coming out’ – ceasing to pretend, behaving in public as an evident homosexual – made the enormous number of plays in which straight writers and performers had made such a drama of speaking as or for gay people seem immediately dated and rather distasteful.

In six years (1971–7) the impact of gay liberation on London theatre produced a development of new forms from street theatre (the drag disruption of the Miss World contest in 1971) to the complex operations of an established gay company, Gay Sweatshop. Their work included influencing the establishment of venues friendly or dedicated to new gay work (INTER-ACTION, ICA, Oval House); extensive regional touring of radical community work; major new plays like Dear Love of Comrades by Noël Greig; commissioning work from established writers (Bond’s Stone); and moving into youth theatre work (Royal Court, 1977). All successive work in this area – the establishment of community companies; the continuing existence of fringe venues promoting radical gay work; the influence of gay writers and gay sexual politics on experimental theatre as a whole – has been built on their pioneering efforts. The United States and to a lesser extent Europe have also seen the parallel establishment of numerous venues, authors and companies dedicated to the gay audience both as a cultural and political ideal.

Later gay theatre was a continuation of the variety of older forms, complicated further by the intervention of gay liberation. The more-or-less exploitative ‘problem play’ remained, in several forms. Homophobic details and narratives continued to be common in mainstream film and television. An upmarket version of the old style is provided by the work of Peter Shaffer, whose highly successful plays The Royal Hunt of the Sun (1964), Equus (1973) and Amadeus (1979) all sensationally portray the obsessive admiration of an older man for a younger. Most interestingly, gay writers themselves are producing what are in effect problem plays – commercially successful character-dramas focused on popular and painful issues – which are also explicitly the polemic writings of gay authors: Michael Wilcox, Larry Kramer, Tony Kushner, William Hoffman, Martin Sherman. Noël Greig and Michelene Wandor produce work which brings to ‘issue’ drama the full richness of perspective of their involvement in gay and women’s liberation – the result of their early polemic work is, paradoxically, a theatre whose politics are expansive and wide-ranging, embracing multiculturalism and formal experiment as necessary results of the cracks first opened in the theatrical establishment by the demands of the new gay theatre. Drag continues to be a popular tradition, with its inimitable and vital mixture of artistic and political awfulness with rare artistry. It is still the most challenging and the most gay of our theatres; most importantly, it is the only art form which has actual premises – buildings and stages – dedicated to an exclusively gay public. The Broadway musical and the ballet both survive as art forms whose history has often been determined by gay performers and producers, which have a large gay male audience and whose iconography has been much loved and used by metropolitan gay male culture, but neither of which is thought of as ‘gay theatre’. Perhaps the most exciting work is that of those artists in whom the new confidence made possible by the expansion of the subculture, and by the radical politics of liberation, has collided head on with the older traditions of drag, vaudeville, cabaret and the sex industry. In the performances of Lindsay Kemp, Charles Ludlum (New York) and Bloolips (London), in the ballets of Michael Clark and the films of Derek Jarman there is a theatre which seems distinctively and uniquely gay. These spectacles have an uncompromising strength which isthe result of our liberation, an eccentricity which acknowledges that we are still outside of the culture and a gorgeousness which is motivated largely by a desire to avenge all the repression and gloom which others have sought to stamp on our culture. They propose a theatre which goes beyond the simple categories of a theatre by, for or about gay people, since they are not always about the ‘gay world’. They imagine, attack and talk about the world in gay language.

In the United States: Playwright Robert Patrick once quipped that a ‘gay play’ is one that ‘sleeps with other plays of the same sex’. His humour sidesteps an entrenched critical debate. Anthologies sporting such unambiguous titles as Gay Plays: The First Collection (1979, ed. William M. Hoffman), Out Front: Contemporary Gay and Lesbian Plays (1988, ed. Don Shewey) and The Actor’s Book of Gay and Lesbian Plays (1995, ed. Eric Lane and Nina Shengold) examine the term ‘gay play’ carefully: Must it denote the work of an openly gay author? Must it be written for primarily gay audiences? Must it have gay characters, or just gay subtext? Many gender theorists argue that the very term ‘gay’ is specious; sexuality manifests too fluidly for language to contain it.

There has, however, been little ambiguity in the American public’s animated consumption of ‘[male] gay plays’. Ever since Jazz Age heterosexuals thronged Greenwich Village cafeterias for ‘fairywatching’, US audiences have devoured male homosexuality. New York State law, which from 1927 to 1967 forbade theatrical treatment of ‘sex degeneracy, or sex perversion’, may have prevented Mae West’s The Drag (1927) from reaching Broadway; but soon thereafter West crashed New York with The Pleasure Man (1928), and its soaring ticket prices and heaving reviews revealed a public taste for forbidden gay spectacle. With its presentation of sinister effeminacy, the British import The Green Bay Tree (1933) by Mordaunt Shairp also thwarted New York law and allowed thousands of spectators ample opportunity for sordid sexual interpretation. Ironically, Robert Anderson, Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller soon profited by Senator McCarthy’s terrifying implication that American audiences, blind to homosexual subversives, were not such savvy readers of maleness. Anderson’s Tea and Sympathy (1953) depicts the brutality foisted on effeminate, heterosexual Tom Lee by Bill Reynolds, his hyper-masculine, closeted headmaster. In Williams’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955), Brick’s former athletic glory and seductive masculinity cannot stem sexual suspicions surrounding his friendship with Skipper. In Miller’s A View From the Bridge (1955), Brooklyn longshoreman Eddie Carbone unleashes frustrated sexual desire for his niece by slamming a frenzied kiss on her effeminate fiancé’s mouth as ‘proof’ of the boy’s deviance. As with Bill and Brick, Eddie’s audience must ponder whether his homophobia reveals the attacker’s sexuality more than that of his target. Although this equation no longer shocks, View’s popular 1998 Broadway revival demonstrates America’s continuing need to plumb male performance for potential secrets.

In the 1960s Off-Broadway theatres such as the Caffe Cino in Greenwich Village began to showcase work by openly gay authors for equally open audiences. The Cino, which offered such writers unprecedented freedom, influenced the drag- and allusion-heavy dramaturgies of much subsequent gay theatre. For example, through his Ridiculous Theatrical Company, Charles Ludlam convulsed audiences until his death in 1987 with such works as his drag Camille (1974) and Gothic spoof The Mystery of Irma Vep (1984) – a 1998 revival of which sold out Off-Broadway under the direction of Everett Quinton, Ludlam’s longtime lover and successor. Encouraged by audience interest in these ventures, gay theatre troupes outside New York, such as San Francisco’s Rhinoceros and Gay Men’s Theatre Collective, began to flourish as well. While the Cino and Ludlam began to galvanize gay audiences, far more diverse masses flocked uptown to over 1,000 performances of Mart Crowley’s The Boys in the Band (1968), an instantly notorious play which spectators alternatively declared either the first ‘true’ portrait of homosexual misery or a gallery of dated stereotypes. This debate, which overlooks the play’s fairly progressive notions of gay relationships and effeminate-male courage, has followed Boys through a controversial film adaptation (1970) and a hot Off-Broadway revival (1996). As with A View from the Bridge, audiences continue to scrutinize staged maleness; witness the continuing amazement that Cliff Gorman, Boys’ original Emory, could convincingly play Crowley’s queen despite his heterosexuality.

Following Boys and the Stonewall Riots (1969), gay characters began to appear in mainstream drama that did not posit tortured (or torturing) homosexuals as its wrenching raison d’être. However, such works as James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante’s A Chorus Line (1975) and Michael Cristofer’s The Shadow Box (1977) feature quipping queens who do encourage audiences’ associations of homosexuality with constant carnival. In Terrence McNally’s The Ritz (1974), David Rabe’s Streamers (1976), Ira Levin’s Deathtrap (1978) and Martin Sherman’s Bent (1979), gay protagonists figure within the lurid mises-en-scène of a bathhouse, a deadly army barracks, a murderous playwright’s cottage and a Nazi work camp, respectively.

Fittingly, the arresting visuals of drag and disease helped audiences to process emerging themes of homophobia and AIDS. Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song Trilogy (1982) and book for La Cage aux Folles (1984) posit a politics of gay pride against a backdrop of glittering gowns. Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart (1985) and William M. Hoffman’s As Is (1985) plunged American audiences into AIDS’s visceral horrors by staging the shouting, shattered bodies suppressed in spotty journalism. In Jerker (1986), Robert Chesley updated Bent’s infamous sex talk by having his characters masturbate on stage, even while demonstrating their vulnerability to AIDS.

By the early 1990s, the commercial demand to see gay bodies and to hear gay wit prompted such acclaimed Broadway musicals as William Finn’s Falsettos (1992) and John Kander, Fred Ebb and McNally’s Kiss of the Spider Woman (1993). Tony Kushner and Terrence McNally shared the Best Play Tony Award four years running with Kushner’s two-part epic Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes (1992, 1993) and McNally’s Love! Valour! Compassion! (1994) and Master Class (1995), his Valentine to gay icon Maria Callas. Off-Broadway, the drag performance troupes Split Breeches and Bloolips presented Belle Reprieve (1991), their queer take on A Streetcar Named Desire, to strong reception; Pomo Afro Homos enjoyed considerable vogue for their Dark Fruit (1992). With The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me (1992) and My Queer Body (1992), David Drake and Tim Miller drew substantial audiences to autobiographical queer monodramas.

Watchers of gay drama have made themselves into spectacle through heated politicking over McNally’s Corpus Christi (1998). Protesters (and counter-protesters) ironically mounted their own fiery drama by excoriating Christi’s suggestion of sexual involvement between Christ and his disciples. The play’s tepid reviews provided a startling anticlimax to months of anticipatory demonstrations. Clearly, American investment in the staging of male homosexuality did not languish as the century drew to its close. No other framed body allows spectators so ripe an opportunity to exercise their critical muscles.

from Neill Bartlett, Michael R. Schiavi, The Continuum Companion to Twentieth-Century Theatre, ed. Colin Chambers (London, 2002).