"A Comedy of Errors ", "Measure For Measure", "Much Ado about Nothing", "Timon Of Athens", Bare Theatre Productions, Club Athens, Francis Carl Kenel, Illinois, Lawrence v Texas, LGBTQ, Mark Twain, North Carolina, Obergefell v. Hodges, Raleigh, Saint John's MCC, SCOTUS, The Wicked Witch
My father was a great man and through his life’s work he saved hundreds of thousands of lives. I loved, and love, my father. Like nearly all children I idolized Dad; wanted to be just like him.
Mesmer’s spell began to dissolve before I turned ten and like most pubescent children his magic cloak had slipped precipitously before I started high school. Of course, it wasn’t Dad who changed, it was I.
Just as Mark Twain predicted, my Dad’s intelligence was restored as I grew. We agreed on most things and my realization that he, like every other human being past, present or future, was filled with flaws did not destroy my love and respect for him: We’re all yin and yang. There are, however, two intertwined subjects on which we disagreed: Shakespeare and homosexuality.
Certainty that homosexuality was wrong was overwhelming in Western Society in the early Twentieth Century and men who engaged in sexual acts with other men (or, theoretically, women with women) were subject to prison. Prison. Dad, born in rural Michigan in 1929, was a product of his time and space.
The 1960’s were a time of great upheaval and societal change and these changes began to truly manifest themselves in the summer of sixty-five. Conformity was due for a bust and change was rife, but sexual union that was not female to male remained illegal into Twenty-First Century America.
We’re all products of our time and space and my 1961 birth and Midwest space gave me a tepid toleration of homosexuality. Coincidentally, my birth year coincided with the first in the nation decriminalization of gay sex. The 1961 Illinois legislature introduced a bill decriminalizing sex between consenting, same sex adults. Illinois, the state in which I spent my formative years, passed legislation in 1962 that began the slow erosion of discriminatory laws targeting same sex relations. While Illinois’ 1962 reform was a momentous step forward, removal of the remaining 49 states’ anti-sodomy laws was a slow, hotly debated reform.
It was not until 2003 that gay sex became lawful throughout the USA when the Supreme Court overturned laws prohibiting it vis-a-vis Lawrence v. Texas. Of course, making gay sex legal didn’t usher in equal rights. My father passed away seventeen months before SCOTUS extended marriage equality with Obergefell v. Hodges in June 2015.
My change from tepid toleration of all things LGBTQ to acceptance and advocacy began in 2009 when I became involved in community theatre. Even in conservative, Midwestern Iowa (I’d moved to six different states since leaving Illinois in 1971) theatre holds a higher percentage of gay people than does the general population and it’s hard to remain tepid towards people one comes to love wholeheartedly. The Iowa supreme court ruled in favor of same sex marriage the same year I stepped onto a stage and my refusal to allow society to portray gay people as less than or to deny any minority the same civil rights granted the majority began its journey from nascent awareness to outspoken advocacy and voting that same year.
What’s any of that have to do with Shakespeare? Because… shhh!… Shakespeare wrote love sonnets to men, a very strong reason for my 1929 born father to reject him and his kind.
My father never saw me perform. Not because he didn’t want to, but because he lived over a thousand miles away from me. In Iowa I was privileged to have roles in two very staid, traditional enactments of Shakespeare plays, A Comedy of Errors and Much Ado About Nothing and in Raleigh I jumped into two very nontraditional presentations of Measure For Measure and Timon Of Athens. Nontraditional? Timon Of Athens was at least as much of a rewrite as it was a reworking. It was also an LGBTQ love-fest.
Bare Theatre’s Timon was held at two venues, an extremely LGBTQ catering church, Raleigh’s Saint John’s MCC, and the Wicked Witch nightclub, a venue that we old people would call a gay bar. I stopped frequenting churches in the 1980’s and I last went to a nightclub in 1983, so this was new terrain for me. LGBTQ flags adorned many of my fellow cast and crew members clothing and the show pivoted on gender-bending, turning stereotypical gender roles on their head and recognition of power, as in who has it and who doesn’t. We also moved Shakespeare’s play from ancient Athens of 400 BCE to my personal heyday of 1987 CE at Club Athens. I played three small roles, two as men and one as a woman. Timon was driven theatre, not light entertainment.
I miss my dad. I wish he’d had a chance to see me perform. I don’t miss “his” days, his times’ inability to see beyond the unreasoned, Biblical prejudices that were used by so many to deny equality to others. I don’t miss rigid sex roles and I don’t miss laws designed to target minority groups. (How could I miss that? There’s still plenty of discriminatory laws.) My dad was a great man but his time is past and the future we can create through love, equality and a realization that diversity makes us strong is a future worth working towards. In a tiny way Timon does just that.
We play through Saturday, March 16th.