Out and Proud in Chicago: An Overview of the City's Gay Community, the book is edited by Tracy Baim and features the contributions of more than 20 prominent historians and journalists. It is published by Surrey Books, an Agate imprint, and is hard cover, 224 pages, 4-color, with nearly 400 photos.
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THEATER REVIEW Accidentally, Like A Martyr
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2015-01-28


Playwright: Grant James Varjas. At: A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 N. Wells St. Tickets: 312-943-8722; www.aredorchidtheatre.org ; $30-$35. Runs through: March 1

Don't be fooled by the Bee Gees playing on the jukebox or the twinkling lights strung over the walls. This isn't 1973; it's 2005, the lights are because it's three days before Christmas and the music is so Edmund, the heavy-drinking novelist, can delay returning home to care for his dying father. Later, Grant James Varjas introduces us to the other neighborhood regulars who make this gay bar their home—notably, Brendan, a policeman with a cocaine habit, and Charles, who conceals his bereavement behind a pose of urbanity—before bringing us up to the present, where the play is really set.

Mart Crowley's The Boys in the Band assembled a group of men who love men in 1968 to cry the blues over their impending midlife crises. Their lament spurred a younger generation to action promising respite from a similar fate, but all their progress, ironically, failed to render the prospect of aging happier for the veterans of the Stonewall uprising and the AIDS epidemic. Edmund has gone on the wagon and resumed his literary career, but Charles still fancies himself a modern-day Oscar Wilde and Brendan is now an EX-policeman with a cocaine habit. What makes this night different, however, is that a stranger invades this shabby citadel—a tweedy prepster venturing on his first dating-app rendezvous, but also seeking clues to the mystery of his former lover's death in this same bar, years earlier.

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Well, doesn't every musty old bar have its stories—especially a bar whose clientele weathered the dizzying turmoil of the hedonistic '70s, the paranoid '80s and the crusading '90s, only to face dismissal for unfashionable irrelevancy in the new millennium? As the tension mounts, Varjas employs flashbacks revealing the events leading up to the fatal ride. If some of these leaps in time occur too swiftly for audiences to follow—a hazard exacerbated by the obstructed sightlines on the far sides of the stage—our emotional investment in the denizens of this sanctuary is such that plot ambiguities are easily shelved for post-curtain contemplation.

However old-school Varjas' life-in-the-big-city aesthetic may come off in 2015, it constitutes the perfect showcase for a superlative ensemble performing under the direction of Shade Murray, commanded by Troy West and Doug Vickers as the tribal elders, Layne Manzer and Steve Haggard as its prodigals and Dominique Worsely as its patiently vigilant governor, dispensing hooch and compassion. The results are a watering-hole ambience so comfortable, you might want to spend a year or two in it yourself.

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