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THEATER Pride in Place Festival brings LGBTQ theater to stay-at-home audiences
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2020-06-09

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The upheaval of the Stonewall riots had barely settled before the weekend preceding Independence Day was set aside to honor the right of every citizen to love without outdated restrictions.

On that date ever since, Pride week has been celebrated with parades, pageants and joyful displays of unity. No one could have predicted that 2020 would usher in a return of the dark days when communal revels would once again be fraught with menace sourced, not in social reproach, but born of an airborne contagion even more wanton than that ravaging the LGBTQ community 40 years prior.

The creative minds keeping Chicago in the vanguard of artistic innovation have a long history of adapting to unforeseen circumstances, however, promptly turning to wireless computer technology to supply audiences confined to their homes with entertainment spectacle by means of "virtual" transmission. Pride Films and Plays takes this experience a step further with the Pride In Place festival—a selection of LGBTQ plays, scored as chamber readings and streamed on live-feed Zoom by actors secured in their own respective chambers, each performance to be followed by an interactive talkback giving audiences an opportunity to further engage with the play and to talk with the cast.

Launching with Steven Dietz's Lonely Planet, the second entry on the bill esd A Late Snow, Jane Chambers' groundbreaking 1974 account of a lesbian caught up in midlife crisis. Next were two plays authored by Jonathan Tolins—the 2013 solo show Buyer and Cellar, featuring Scott Gryder repeating his Jeff-nominated performance in Pride's long-running 2019 production. The shows that have yet to stream are The Last Sunday in June, Tolins' deconstructive 2003 homage to the "Gay Play" literary genre. Concluding the series is Brad Fraser's 1989 shocker, Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love.

This last play—featuring a plot revolving upon a serial killer preying upon sybaritic young urban hipsters—might seem an odd vehicle for congratulatory testimonials on the accomplishments of gender-fluid advocates, but director Jacob Van Hoorn disagreed, reminding us that the second half of the title is as important as the first.

As described by Van Hoorn, the characters are flawed individuals "coping with their own personal tragedies." After we have watched them behave terribly toward each other, though, they come to forgive one another, extend comfort to traumatized comrades, or discover the value in allowing themselves to accept proffered affection. "The last line in the play is "I love you"—whether this constitutes the 'true nature' of love may be debatable, but the play certainly thinks so, and so we end on a note of hope"

All of the plays in the series were carefully considered before decisions were made, Artistic Director David Zak said. The Zoom format eliminates the visual element of physical action within a stage picture, limiting the actors' interpretive tools to voices, faces and upper torsos. "We were looking specifically for language-driven plays not frequently produced. Buyer and Cellar first came to mind, then David Lipschutz suggested Lonely Planet and Jacob [Van Hoorn] brought us Unidentified Human Remains."

How did the playwrights take to having their plays performed in window-frame configuration? "Before I even submitted Fraser's play for consideration in the Pride in Place series," recalled Van Hoorn. "I reached out to ask whether he'd mind his play being presented on Zoom. He responded with a delightful message of support, saying that he loved the idea and it had his blessing going forward!"

"We now have people across the country working with us, including a collaboration with the Senior Theater Research project," added Zak. "It's all very exciting."

Remaining shows include The Last Sunday In June, which streams Sunday, June 28; and Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love, which streams Wed., July 1.

All shows start at 7 p.m. Visit PrideFilmsandPlays.com .


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