For Sondheim lovers—and like recovering alcoholics, we are legion—Finishing the Hat (Knopf) is far and beyond the most adroit and comprehensive look at the man and his music that has ever been written.
Meryle Secrest and Martin Gottfried wrote biographies of Sondheim but both books were badly written and, more importantly, Secrest knew nothing about music. While those earlier efforts tried to bring a memoirist’s intimacy to Sondheim’s life, Sondheim chose to bring an expert’s one—and not to his life, per se—but to the lives of his first thirteen productions (from “West Side Story” to “Merrily We Roll Along”) written for Broadway. A second volume will be published in the fall of 2011.
Allow me, dear readers (and especially those who are librarians), a moment of confession and contrition. Back in the early 1980s, when I was a young and not-quite-out gay man living and attending high school in the small, overwhelmingly Catholic Cajun town of New Iberia, Louisiana, I depended on the Iberia Parish Library to meet all my research needs, homework and otherwise.
During my frequent library visits, I remember surreptitiously burrowing through the card catalog under the “Homosexuality” subject heading and finding a cross-reference to Mart Crowley’s landmark drama The Boys in the Band. The only problem was, I couldn’t be seen checking it out because I was afraid that word would get around that I was in possession of a gay play (my dad was also minister of New Iberia’s Presbyterian church, which made my anxiety even worse).
So I did what most stupid high school kids would do when trying to secure illicit, contraband material: I stole the book, took it home, and devoured it in one sitting. (more…)
As Gay Fate would have it, on two consecutive nights last week, I attended plays about men who have sex with men. I’d call them “gay plays” but since I have no idea whether either of them sleeps with musicals, how would I know?
At cursory glance, both would seem to be as dissimilar in plot and theme as they are distant in neighborhood and stature. But appearances—like men who have sex with men—can be deceiving.
Carolyn Gage’s work as a playwright is unique in its exploration of history, biography, and lesbian reinterpretation. In all her work, protagonists challenge ways in which both ordinary and more famous women have been colonized by male sexual violence, whether physically or mentally; and in negotiating that maze for an often startled audience, Gage’s scripts then return physical, intellectual or artistic agency to the female voice onstage—not always with a pat “happy ending,” either: this is a fencing match with patriarchy. Gage is also adamant in showing ways that women co-opt other women, either through racism or by denying the devastating effects of gender oppression. Nine Short Plays brings together some of Gage’s radical one-act scripts, many of which, such as Louisa May Incest, have been staged at national theater festivals and U.S. colleges.