Out actor Danne W. Taylor was surprised at how quickly the Chicago premiere of His Greatness came about. It was only about three months ago that Taylor shared a published edition of Daniel MacIvor's Tennessee Williams-inspired script to Pride Films and Plays executive director David Zak.
"I figured it might show up a year or two later down the line," Taylor said. "But then almost immediately David was emailing me saying that he had talked to the playwright and wanted to do a reading. And then we were casting and doing rehearsals."
Now Taylor is starring in His Greatness at the Pride Arts Center. MacIvor's drama, which Taylor had first seen at the New York Fringe Festival in 2009, doesn't specifically name the mastermind behind such iconic plays as The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire or Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
Yet MacIvor was inspired to write His Greatness after hearing of an apocryphal incident involving Williams during a Canadian visit to the Vancouver Playhouse for a 1980 production of his lesser-known play The Red Devil Battery Sign. Set over the course of two days in a hotel room, His Greatness focuses on the power plays between an aging gay writer ( Taylor as "The Playwright" ), his devoted younger companion ( A.K. Miller as "The Assistant" ) and an interloping street hustler ( Whitman Johnson as "The Young Man" ).
"Maybe it didn't really happen, but the story is out there," Taylor said. "The Assistant started out in the same place as The Young Man they hire to escort him to the premiere."
Now His Greatness is not the only end-of-life Tennessee Williams drama out there. Earlier this year at California's Pasadena Playhouse, Al Pacino starred as Williams in a fully staged developmental production of God Looked Away by Dotson Rader ( famed for his gossipy memoir Tennessee: Cry of the Heart, which detailed his high times as a companion to Williams ).
God Looked Away was eviscerated by critic Charles McNulty in the Los Angeles Times, so it's unlikely that Rader's drama will be seen locally any time soon. In the meantime there's His Greatness, which also explores the sad artistic and personal decline of one of America's greatest playwrights.
"It was such a tragedy at how his life ended up," said Taylor said about Williams' latter days before his accidental choking death in 1983 at the age of 71. "Falling deeper into drugs and alcohol and things like thatit became a vicious cycle."
His Greatness plays from Saturday, Oct. 14, through Sunday, Nov. 12, in The Buena of the Pride Arts Center, 4147 N. Broadway. Tickets are $20 for previews ( through Oct. 15 ) and $25 during the regular run. Call 800-737-0984 or visit PrideFilmsAndPlays.com .
The Cruising Dead
Just in time for the Halloween season, Campsongs Productions is unleashing the world premiere rock musical Zombie Bathhouse. It's an idea and title that first struck songwriter Scott Free ( Homolatte, Witches Among Us ) almost a decade ago.
"It was just a combination of the two ideas of zombies and bathhouses," Free said with a laugh. "Nothing deeper than that."
Yet Free knew he needed a collaborator who was thoroughly versed in horror to write the script. So Free corralled playwright Brian Kirst, famed for his blog Big Gay Horror Fan, to write the musical's book.
The plot of Zombie Bathhouse concerns a DJ named Michael, who invites his friends to the local bathhouse when he gets a Pride celebration gig. But then all hell breaks loose when a zombie outbreak occurs.
Now both Free and Kirst wanted to steer clear from any allegories to diseases like HIV/AIDS or to illicit drugs for Zombie Bathhouse.
"There is a social/political background to how our zombies are created," said Kirst, who took historical inspiration from pre-Stonewall bar raids for the show's flashback sequences. "It may not have been our original intent, but just because of our passion and interests in activism, that kind of happened."
On the other hand, Kirst said he and Free have also been accused of slut shaming courtesy of negative Facebook comments ( even though Zombie Bathhouse had yet to play any public performances ).
"It's the opposite of slut shaming," Free said with a laugh, noting the copious amount of men-in-towels costuming involved in the production.
The Zombie Bathhouse co-creators also joked at how they were both familiar with the milieu of their show's setting. Kirst even noted that he briefly worked at a snack bar within the bathhouse Man's Country after he was laid off from a corporate job.
"I have gone back since I've written it, purely for research," Kirst said. "Kind of bone up on Steamworks and Man's Country just purely for subtext and texture."
Campsongs Productions' world premiere of Zombie Bathhouse plays from Friday, Oct. 13, through Sunday, Oct. 29, in the Center On Halsted's Hoover-Leppen Theatre, 3656 N. Halsted St. Tickets are $20; visit CenterOnHalsted.org or ZombieBathhouse.net for more information.