Critics Love The Faggots!

Gay plays help celebrate diversity

Monday, September 20, 1999

By JOE ADCOCK
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER
THEATER CRITIC

We're celebrating diversity here: raw vs. polished, sexy vs. erotic, young vs. less young, crude vs. subtle, queer vs. gay.

Two current shows, "The Faggot Museum" and "Fruit Cocktale," address homosexual male life in our times. Not only are the two shows very different from one another. Also, each show encompasses a diverse gamut of contrasting characters.

According to insiders, it is impossible to stereotype Nordstrom shoppers or racers of 40-foot sailboats or Beanie Baby collectors or Darjeeling tea connoisseurs. Every group, in itself, is a celebration of diversity. And so it is, as we see at the Theatre Off Jackson and at the Richard Hugo House, with contemporary homosexual men.

Writer/actor Michael Whistler does himself proud both as playwright and performer in "The Faggot Museum." The piece is composed of nine loosely connected monologues. Each section is a vivid little drama. Whistler snags the audience with humor. Then down we go into territory that is both dark and illuminating.

Whistler portrays eight versions of traditional gay manhood: kid who identifies with mom, Latino who identifies with Chita Rivera, Caucasian who identifies with Deborah Kerr, altar boy who identifies with gay priest, opera fan who identifies with flighty Madame Butterfly and also with Butterfly's earthy maid, HIV positive man who tries desperately to have faith in positive thinking, antique collector who worships precious things, men's chorus tenor who worships music and -- here's the switcheroo -- blue-collar guy who worships Robert Conrad in the 1960s' TV series "The Wild Wild West."

Michael Patten plays the blue-collar guy. The character at first seems to be a museum guard and exhibit wrangler. Then he says his bit. It's the next to last monologue. A former high-school wrestler, this character identifies with ordinary average guys. He is indifferent to opera and to books by Shirley MacLaine. He is not at all indifferent, however, to what he imagines the hunky "Wild Wild West" stars did with one another once their macho on-screen duties were finished. He doesn't see himself as a "faggot." He prefers the word "queer."

Patten is dry and droll. He offers welcome contrast to Whistler's passionate effusions.

At first Whistler seems to be ridiculing effeminate or closety stereotypes. But he quickly gets into the homophobic pressures, compromises, traumas and anguish that went into shaping dotty gay personas. In every case, what may seem like ridicule at first eventually shades into sympathy and dignity.

Direction by James Haskins and lighting by Craig Wollam help give the production a strong pulse.