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THEATER Despite everything, there are shows for Pride Week
by Jonathan Abarbanel, Windy City Times
2020-06-24

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It's almost impossible to write about the indelible events of 2020 ( which is still not quite half over ) without diminishing them. Words fall short in describing—let alone analyzing—the failures of many government entities across the country to meet the COVID-19 pandemic in timely and forceful ways, while millions of selfish, self-righteous and ignorant individual citizens have refused to cooperate with efforts to beat back infection.

Theaters around the world—stage, film, dance and concert venues—were among the first popular institutions to be shut down ( along with schools ) and still are not scheduled to re-open any time soon ( except, perhaps, movie theaters ). COVID-19 brought at least two hit LGBTQ+ shows to an early close: The Boys in the Band, at Windy City Playhouse; and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert-The Musical, at the Mercury Theater.

The second great shoe to drop in 2020—the uprising of our BIPOC ( Black, indigenous and people of color ) individuals and their allies in an angry but just demand for change—is far too profound and far-reaching to summarize in a few words. It, too, has had a direct impact on this country's already imperiled theater industry. In Chicago, the combination of economic disaster and political force aimed at show business already has resulted in the permanent closure of two theater companies ( the Mercury Theater and the iO ) as well as the resignation of two leadership individuals ( the longtime CEO of The Second City and the freshly appointed Executive Artistic Director of Victory Gardens Theater ).

COVID-19 and the aftermath of the George Floyd killing most assuredly have put a somber twist on the usually joyous celebration of Pride Month, which typically is marked by a small explosion of theatrical activity. Even so, there still are a few celebratory events on offer for folks who may wish to seek out some theatrical entertainment via the internet, and they are being presented by the leadership theater companies within our broad LGBTQ+ communities.

—Packing, About Face Theatre, through July 12; $15: This is a complete performance of the About Face hit from last fall, written and performed by Scott Bradley and directed by Chay Yew. It's Bradley's emotional and revealing life story over the course of 30 years, from small town Iowa boy to big city gay man, which Windy City Times called "an important document of queer life… the warmth expressed in his acceptance and love for his Midwestern home is undeniable." The video presentation was professionally shot during a live performance and is available on demand.

—Lockdown! The Golden Girls Lost Episodes, Vol. 4, Hell in a Handbag Productions, June 25-Aug. 8; $20: A rarity for internet theater, a world premiere, written by company founder David Cerda and starring Cerda and other Handbag regulars as Dorothy, Rose, Blanche and Sophia. This new episode originally was intended for live stage production, but come the lockdown, Cerda and cohorts rewrote it specifically for streaming, directed by Spenser Davis, and with a timely storyline, too. You know, Cerda and his fellow ensemble members have been playing the Golden Girls so long, they nearly are golden girls themselves! Better catch 'em while they still can kick.

—The Last Sunday in June, Pride Films & Plays, June 28, 7 p.m.; $10—Pride Films & Plays continues its Pride in Place streaming series of readings of significant LGBTQ+ works with Jonathan Tolins's 2003 play, set in Greenwich Village on the day of the annual Pride Parade, as June 28 would have been this year. Similar to The Boys in the Band, but 35 years later and more evolved, it features different gay types who are sometimes witty, sometimes wise and frequently adder-tongued.

This one-time-only event is streamed live, directed by Michael Rashid. The Pride in Place series concludes ( at least for the time being ) with a July 1, 7 p.m. live reading of Brad Fraser's dark thriller, Unidentified Human Remains the True Nature of Love.

—SapphFest: Pride Edition, Violet Surprise, June 25-26, 7:30 p.m.; free—Violet surprise, a new queer feminist theater company, is offering two different digital variety shows featuring solo performances and short plays by queer women and non-binary artists. Both shows are free via Zoom, but you'll need to log in via the Violet Surprise Facebook page or this link: zoom.us/j/95786910011 .

This is the second digital show created by director Iris Sowlat and playwright Allison Fradkin, the company founders. Violet Surprise has a mission to produce new works which validate the identities and experiences of queer women.

—That's Queer, Grandma, PlayMakers Laboratory, Monday nights June 22-July 6; free—Now in its 19th year, the PlayMakers Laboratory ensemble celebrates Pride Month with a virtual collection of hilarious and heartfelt sketches "written by kids, performed by grownups and enjoyed by humans" under the direction of Brandon Cloyd.


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