By Sharon Gittleman
This season, lesbian intrigues, out-of-the-closet baseball stars and plays written by gay authors will pack the playbill at the Performance Network, Ann Arbor’s only professional theater company.
In fact, two out of six Performance Network season offerings – “Boston Marriage” and “Summer and Smoke,” have a gay connection, along with one of the summer shows, “Take Me Out,” said the company’s Executive Director David Wolber.
“It wasn’t intentional in the sense that we’ll go out and get a majority of gay themes or plays,” said Wolber. “But as we put the season together and recognized we had those plays, we saw it could be a positive thing for the theater.”
Not everyone in the community agreed.
“We got a few phone calls by people saying they don’t appreciate all the gay-themed plays we do,” he said. “We don’t look for plays that are issue-oriented or worry about the issues. Our main focus is to find the best play we can.”
The male nudity and gay theme of “Take Me Out,” a play about a gay baseball star who outs himself on national TV, has brought the most negative response from theater-goers, Wolber said.
“They are questioning us on the choice of that,” he said. “Because it won the Tony award it’s gotten a stamp of approval that helps.”
While the angry phone calls may be discouraging, the Performance Network’s ticket sales help it overcome any anxiety. Wolber said his venue has dramatically increased its subscription base, from 970 subscribers in 2000, to 1,200 during this year’s season.
Productions like the lesbian comedy “Boston Marriage,” penned by famed playwright David Mamet, are one reason many will be flocking to the Performance Network in 2005.
“Generally, we look for the hottest new plays,” he said. “We read and saw a version of the play in Indiana last year and thought it was very funny.”
Wolber said the phrase “Boston marriage” was once a familiar expression in certain circles.
“It’s a term used in the Victorian Age,” he said. “The term ‘Boston marriage’ was usually reserved for two women in a relationship. Not necessarily in a lesbian relationship, but that was often the case.”
Women enjoying Boston marriages claimed their independence from men.
“They would be living together,” he said. “They were well educated with some income – they inherited or worked. They were the forerunners of the feminist movement.”
The term began to morph over time.
“It became better known as a reference to a lesbian relationship,” he said.
In the play “Boston Marriage,” four women’s loves, feuds and political views are explored onstage – with the secret surrounding an emerald necklace a focus of the action.
“It feels very much like an Oscar Wilde piece,” he said. “It’s very funny and witty. It’s totally inappropriate and not PC.”
Oscar Wilde has been very good to the Performance Network. Last year, the theater company brought home two of BTL’s Wilde Awards for excellence on stage, including one for “Favorite Production with LGBT Themes or Characters” for “The Home Team,” and another for Wolber’s acting in the same play.
“We have in the past,” Wolber said, “consistently tried to support the gay community – as we have been supported by the gay community.”
“Boston Marriage” will be performed at the Performance Network from Jan. 13 to Feb. 20. “Summer and Smoke,” by gay playwright Tennessee Williams, can be seen on stage from April 21 to May 29, and the production of “Take Me Out” will be presented from July 21 to Aug. 28.