Since the late 1970s, gay theatre has grown to the point where it's essentially become mainstream theatre. From furtive attempts by Tennessee Williams to bring homosexual themes to florid dramas of fading matrons, to the unabashed celebration of gay sensibility in such revues as The Ten Percent Review and When Pigs Fly, gay theatre has made a tremendous journey in less than 25 years.
In honor of Gay Pride Week in New York (June 23-29), here are ten landmark gay works, just scratching the surface of important American theatre created by gay artists.
The Boys In The Band: Mart Crowley's 1968 comedy/drama had a major Off-Broadway revival, Aug. 1996, with audiences once again debating whether the play was liberating or self-hating.
Bent: Martin Sherman's 1977 study of the way homosexuals were treated in Dachau. Its most famous scene shows two men making love -- just through words.
Torch Song Trilogy: Along with Whoopi Goldberg's solo show, perhaps the most celebrated Broadway debut of the 1980s. Harvey Fierstein's semi-autobiographical comedy of Arnold and his extended family -- including his lovers and bewildered mother. La Cage Aux Folles: Composer Jerry Herman remembers being terrified that "straight" audiences wouldn't warm to his and Harvey Fierstein's 1983 musical adaptation of the French farce about gay men who play straight to impress conservative in-laws. Then, during a romantic ballad for the lead characters, they saw a middle-aged couple in the audience holding hands and knew the show would cross over. It did -- for 1,761 performances.
The Normal Heart: Larry Kramer's 1985 assault on the establishment for disregarding the AIDS crisis. Brad Davis, who originated the lead role, died of AIDS. Author Kramer, still living, eventually contracted the virus and wrote an angry sequel in 1992, The Destiny Of Me. So influential were the plays, they inspired young gay playwright David Drake to pen and star in The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me. As Is, William M. Hoffman's gentler look at the AIDS crisis, played on Broadway the same year as Normal Heart took the Public Theatre by storm.
Falsettos: William Finn's Tony-winning 1992 musical combined three one-acts written over a ten year span into a monumental look at an extended American family.
Angels In America - Millennium Approaches & Perestroika: Argue its merits all you like, Tony Kushner's two-part, 7-hour epic from 1993-94 will likely go down as the most important play of the last quarter century.
Jeffrey: This 1993 comedy about gays finding love (and lust) again in the age of AIDS established Paul Rudnick as Off Broadway's leading joke-meister. Its influence could be felt in the Chicago/New York hit, Party, and the Olivier-winning London play, My Night With Reg, now at the Intar Theatre.
Love! Valour! Compassion!: Terrence McNally's 1995 Tony-winning comedy of gay men loving and fighting on a beach-house holiday capped the author's exploration of gay themes in such works as The Lisbon Traviata and A Perfect Ganesh. L!V!C! was recently made into a feature film by original director, Joe Mantello, but sans original star, Nathan Lane. (Jason Alexander plays buzz in the movie).
Gross Indecency: The Three Trials Of Oscar Wilde: The critical hit of the current Off-Broadway season, written and directed by Moises Kaufman. The biographical drama was taken from Wilde's letters and transcripts of the trials that destroyed Wilde's career and life.
--By David Lefkowitz