Bay Area Repoter
Gay stage stories
by Jim Piechota
Cast Out: Queer Lives in Theatre edited by Robin Bernstein; Univ. of Michigan Press, $22.95
In her introduction to this impressive collection of backstage meditations, interviews, reflections, and opinions, Jill Dolan, an author and professional performance academic, wishes she’d had an anthology like Cast Out back in her “singular” days as a young lesbian studying the culture of American theatre.
Editor Robin Bernstein has assembled 21 wonderfully enlightening entries that will appeal both to those in the theatre business and to those who simply enjoy the fruits of the industry. They are grouped according to themes of discovery and emergence, risk-taking and consequence, and finally, writings on the notion of passing along knowledge and wisdom to the next generation of queer actors. The list of contributors is a long one filled with dignitaries from all across the footlights of the theatrical world, each sharing moments of joy, disappointment, rage, and transformative exhilaration on the page.
From her Obie-winning work with the lesbian theatre company Split Britches to co-founding Manhattan’s WOW CafÃ©, Peggy Shaw condenses her amazing life story into just over four wonderfully amusing pages, as does B.A.R. writer/editor Jim Provenzano, who smoothly relates the ache of a first desire with a fellow stagehand named Dick. Kevin Winkler, Chief Librarian at the New York Public Library, provides a vivid history lesson on the 1970s era and the steamrolling performances of an outlandish, gay-friendly warbler named Bette Midler, best loved in the “giant environmental theatre” of a Manhattan bathhouse. In an interview with performance artists Kate Bornstein and Barbara Carrellas (known collectively as the theatrical duo “Too Tall Blonds”), there are moments of insight, wisecracking hilarity, and surprising claims of sexual awakenings.
Yet as much as most are funny, clever, and comical, some of these histories are desperately private and allow brisk yet powerful in-depth glances. Terry Galloway, a deaf lesbian, juxtaposes her comeuppance as a young theatre scholarship recipient with her later life watching the painful withering of her AIDS-ravaged best friend. A thought-provoking interview with Tony Award-winning actor Cherry Jones explores the decision she’d made to come out of the closet, and her varied take on homosexuality in the contemporary world of performing arts.
From the tiny, theatre-laden paradise of Key West to a high school play in East Texas, all of these pieces offer something important and vital on the history and the current state of queer theatre today. It’s truly an amazing accomplishment.