Gay play festival boasts big-name St. Louisans onstage and in the wings
In “Briefs: A Festival of Short Lesbian and Gay Plays,” the list of local theater celebrities is anything but brief.
The Feb. 24-26 weekend festival includes such veteran and award-winning directors as Edward Coffield, Annamaria Pileggi and Ed Reggi, and actors Donna Weinsting, Troy Turnipseed and Ken Haller. Even burlesque performer Lola Van Ella gets into the act.
Where: La Perla (312 N. 8th Street), 63101
When: 8 p.m. Fri., Feb. 24; 5 and 8 p.m. Sat., Feb. 25; 2 p.m. Sun., Feb. 26
How much: $15; $12 students, seniors
Pulling the project together is Joan Lipkin, That Uppity Theatre artistic director and the 2012 Arts & Education Council arts innovator of the year, in collaboration with the Vital Voice magazine.
As evidenced by the title, the focus is gay and lesbian (and bisexual and transgender) issues. But according to Lipkin, it’s not just a series of “gay” plays.
“There is something for everyone, and that includes heterosexuals,” Lipkin said. “I think an LGBT story is a human story and it makes good theater.”
Raising the curtain on race
Within the LGBT community, as in all communities, race is an issue that can be difficult to talk about -- or even think about. “Briefs” selection “Madrigal in Black and White” by Patricia Montley helps get that conversation going.
“Madrigal” is the story of a black lesbian (Cleo) and a white lesbian (Liz) who meet when Cleo drives into Liz’s neighborhood. Each is accompanied by a shadow alter ego, who speaks their character’s inner thoughts.
Cleo: “I was just admiring your house.”
Shadow-Liz: “Lock up the silver.”
Shadow-Cleo: “Good move. Now she’ll go right in and lock up the silver.”
Much to the consternation of their shadows, Cleo and Liz soon make plans for a date.
While the play is “laced with stereotypes,” according to actor Bobbie Williams who plays Shadow-Cleo, they serve to illustrate how a chance encounter can become an illuminating experience.
“These people are not setting out to meet someone, but in the course of being human, they do,” Williams.
The humor that characterizes “Madrigal” is an excellent vehicle for challenging and changing people’s perceptions, according to 2007 Kevin Kline Award-winner Donna Weinsting, who plays Shadow-Liz and is also a stand-up comedian.
“Everybody likes a good laugh; it breaks down barriers when you laugh together about the same things. and it doesn’t matter what color you are or what sexual persuasion,” Weinsting said.
“Madrigal” director Vanessa Roman is confident that Weinsting and Williams “will bring depth and meaning” to their characters, who are seen by Roman as the authority figures inside Liz and Cleo’s minds.
“They are the voices the characters have grown up with, everything they’ve been told their whole lives,” Roman said.
“The way Vanessa has cast them is an interesting choice,” Lipkin said. “She has two younger actresses as Cleo and Liz and two older actresses who play the voices in their heads.”
Lipkin created the eight-play event as a series of short productions to include a wide variety of people and points of view.
“It’s a format that appeals to me a lot because it makes it possible to showcase the work of several writers and directors, and more actors within the space of an evening,” Lipkin said. “You can contain entire universes within a 10-minute play if it’s well done.”