Saturday, December 13, 2008

"Abe Lincoln's Big Gay Dance Party": ☼ ☼ BANG

Here's the thing. In school they taught us that Alexander The Great conquered the world. Later we learned he was gay. Does this mean that all gay people are military expansionists? We learned to love Michelangelo's sculpture before we found out his sexual orientation. So do we not like his art any more, now that he is off the scaffold and out of the closet? Or do we like it more?

Enter Abraham Lincoln. Aaron Loeb, whose 'First Person Shooter' was one of the best plays this reviewer saw in 2006 at the San Francisco Playhouse, or at any other playhouse, for that matter, seems to feel that if we learn Abraham Lincoln was gay, long a rumor within the gay community, we will change our opinion about...what? Lincoln? Gay people? Slavery? All three?

Of course, "Abe Lincoln's Big Gay Dance Party" is a spoof. Its premise is that there is a parallel between Abe Lincoln's supposed homosexual affair when he was a state senator from Menard County, Illinois, and a right-wing witch hunt against a gay elementary school teacher in the same county in the 21st Century. Honest Abe is not so much a character but a metaphor about tolerance. Cast members play multiple roles and one of these always includes wearing a beard and a stovepipe hat. Lincoln's speeches are quoted, principally the ones about forgiveness.

But the metaphor is shaky and so is the preachy script. After the absolutely terrific opening dance number, complete with seven dancing Abe Lincolns alternating between patriotism and disco-ism, we await a delicious parody. The meal that follows is very long (three acts) and, sadly, there is not much to chew on, once you get past the comment in Act One: "What could be more American than to be pissed off at people who are different than you?" This theme is repeated, ad antebellum, for the rest of a long evening.

Proposition 8: disgusting but true. Bad bigots: sickening and also true, a million times true. We are not whining about the politics, but about the play. If it's a spoof, be funnier. If it's serious, stop making jokes about it. If it's both, make it shorter.

SF Playhouse is allowed to slip up occasionally, since we can't remember the last time it happened. Perhaps once Loeb and the production team rework the material, the Big Gay Dance Party will actually fulfill its author's promise, which is to make us multitask about gay rights: laugh, dance and think at the same time. It's a terrific idea and the show has got to improve with time.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Abe Lincoln's Big Gay Dance Party" Two Stars with a BANGLE of Praise. The two stars are for Michael Phillis and Sarah Mitchell. Mitchell, in particular, absolutely lights up the stage every time she is featured, in a variety of roles. Phillis is excellent too. A star for each.

The BANGLE of Praise is for the timely interplay between Anton (Mark Anderson Phillips) and Regina (Velina Brown) about the touchy relationship between gays and blacks. There are fascinating issues and Loeb is to be congratulated for pulling no punches.

It's not so hard: just shorten it. A guy at the snack bar, during the second intermission, was overheard saying: "Are you going to just keep this thing going until you sell all the cookies?"

"Abraham Lincoln's Big Gay Dance Party"
San Francisco Playhouse
533 Sutter Street, San Francisco
Tue.-Sat. 8pm (some Christmas dates dark), through Jan. 17

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