Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul has a hard time deflecting questions of parenthood, and turns to the theater for help.
Over the past few years, I’ve noticed that my answers to intrusive questions about my relationship with Chef are increasingly becoming more complicated. I’m not talking about gay guys inquiring if after 9+ years we’re monogamous, but straight folks who have the best of intentions. Early on we got “How did you meet?” and I had an entire amusing routine built around the reply, “On Gay.com” (read about it here and in Alphabet City: My So-Called Sitcom Life).
Slowly, the question became, “Are you guys going to get married?” which allowed me a riff on “Not in Canada!”— today that punchline doesn’t work so well substituting DC. Lately, we’ve been getting, “Are you guys going to have children?” When I shrug and stammer out some kind of “Oh, I don’t think so,” the inquisitor invariably soldiers on with a mix of shock and encouragement, “But you guys would make such great Dads!”
I appreciate the enthusiasm for our supposed parenting skills; although, honestly, I’m not so sure I agree—being an Uncle is enough for me. But I suppose what troubles me the most about my discomfort with these questions is that as a gay kid, I never in my wildest fantasies thought I would be encountering such progressive notions. It just wasn’t part of my worldview.
In 1982, when I was 13, my father as a federal judge declared unconstitutional the law in Texas criminalizing private homosexual conduct. It was such a monumental—and controversial—decision at the time that I remember thinking that the most I might hope for in my lifetime was to be tolerated by the “straight” majority and allowed to live my life with a loving boyfriend. There was no talk of marriage. And kids? You’ve got to be kidding.
My how things have changed. Yes, I’ve got the boyfriend, but now we’re on the cusp of marriage equality and possibly parental rights. All right, maybe that’s a little Pollyanna, but work with me. Basically, my worldview of what’s possible and achievable in my lifetime has dramatically changed.
I suppose that my introspection on this topic has been ramped up by recent attendance at a couple of Off-Broadway plays. The Pride and Yank! both thematically tackle issues of gay identity and challenges from the 1940s until today with resoundingly different emotional results for me.
I had high hopes for The Pride. Not only does it star one of my Jane Austen boyfriends Hugh Dancy, but it’s at the Lucille Lortel Theater on Christopher Street—a little rundown gem of a playhouse where I saw one of my first plays after moving to New York, Douglas Carter Beane’s As Bees In Honey Drown starring a pre-Sex in the City Cynthia Nixon (loved her ever since).
But my enthusiasm for the theater couldn’t overcome my cold (war) feelings about the play’s overly earnest and belabored approach to a doomed post WWII love story of an uptight married British man (Dancy) and his affair with an artistic/out children’s author (Ben Whishaw) who has visions of a better life after a visit to Delphi (don’t ask—this plot device never actually develops). All blame for my disinterest can’t go to the writing—but some of it must go unfortunately to the staging from one of my usual favorite directors Joe Mantello. Somehow, at this tiny theater, Chef and I ended up with the worst seats in the house—who knew that the actors would be positioned in such a away on stage that our 3rd row left orchestra seats would be perfectly blocked from seeing any of the actors’ faces for approximately 75% of Act I?! Let’s move it around on stage, people.
Fast forward to Act II which takes place in modern times feautring a gay couple with the same names breaking up over an issue of monogamy. Oddly, the couple never actually talks about what’s at issue here—trust? Power? Whishaw’s character is left to beat himself up over his love of no-strings-attached sex with no hint that maybe Dancy’s character’s notions are possibly old-fashioned and outdated? The most interesting thing in this section for me—apart from the engaging performances by Andrea Riseborough and Adam James—was the comfy sweater framing Whishaw’s whispy body (even NY Magazine’s Matrix calls out the “lady sweater.”).
So the oracle at Delphi was wrong? Gay guys will still have problems in the 21st century. But anguish over monogamy is it?
Meanwhile, The York Theater Company’s Yank! A WWII Love Story takes a musical approach to questions of forging a gay identity during a closeted and chaotic time. This homage to WWII era movie musicals is charming, sweet, and yet hits all the right notes about the struggle of a young GI (innocently sweet Bobby Steggert) who falls in love with a fellow squad member, a closeted Cary Grant hunk (Ivan Hernandez). It’s got tap dancing with a featured actor-dancer (Jeffrey Denman) in a role made for Ann Miller, and even a dream ballet sequence—because, well, that’s period authentic and still awkward. I overheard one fellow patron tell her companion, “At least this dream ballet was better than the one in West Side Story!” Amen, sister.
At one point, the young GI Stu tries to convince his ill-fated lover Mitch that things will be better in the future, “Say in 1948 or 1950.” The line got a knowing laugh. Ultimately, Stu realizes that just living his life truthfully takes courage and makes him a fighter—not on the frontlines in the Pacific Rim, but on the battlefield of life.
I felt myself really drawn to Stu. Like him, I never quite realized how much better things could get in my lifetime. And although I appreciate and crave a good dramatic turn every once in awhile, I often prefer singing and tap dancing my way through life’s issues. But that’s to be expected from a guy who thinks of his life as a sitcom, right?
Still, I need to work with my writers on a quip and a comeback for the question of having kids. Any suggestions?