A one-man show about American LGBT history reveals its rigour. Has much changed in the last 5 decades?
My review of At the Flash by Sean Chandler and David Leeper coming just as soon as I thank you for cancelling underwear night ...
Beginning on the eve of a grand reopening of a gay bar - the seemingly iconoclastic Flash - David Leeper's portrait of a frazzled proprietor is surrounded by crises on all sides. Yet at the same time, he isn't.
A twittering script under David Zak's direction makes a fuss out of an offstage world of unhelpful liquor deliverymen and avant garde chefs that it's impossible to buy its realism. When the actor then leaps into an different character from a different decade, it feels that the play is all over the place. At the Flash should have spent more time at the drawing board.
Yet there is great ambition in this production from Pride Films and Plays - a Chicago-based network of writers and creatives producing gay works for the screen and stage. After Leeper has established the various characters - a closeted married man in the 1960s, a Stonewall-incensed drag queen in the 70s, a scenester during the AIDS epidemic in the 80s, a lesbian activist petitioning against the Defence of Marriage Act in the 90s, and finally the successful professional reopening The Flash in the present - both the play's political potency and form begin to settle.
Once we are given faith in the performance's rigour, it's easy to be dazzled by Leeper's technique. With great flairs for comedy, stepping knowingly into the heels of a piercing drag queen, his range swinging like the slinging martinis of a drunken singleton, going as far as to buckle with a closeted man's self-hatred. You'll believe every second of it.
At the Flash does use every trick in the book, and many of the gay issues you see coming a mile away. But when the characters all come together there emerges an idea that feels new: the illustration of homosexuality as being in a state of constant transition, towards equality, towards healthy living, towards professional success irrespective of orientation. Towards accepting yourself. Always transitioning but never arriving.
What did everybody else think?