by Doug Hamilton -
SGN Contributing Writer
THE LISBON TRAVIATA
RICHARD HUGO HOUSE
An evening out to the theatre is not just about the show, it is about the very special experience of the whole night. It is a spectacular excuse to dress for dinner, experience incredible live entertainment that can move you to laughter and tears, and walk away with some kind of transformation or new awareness to discuss over your nightcap.
Wading into June 2014's swell of Pride activities we have the brave entry of Theatre 22's production of The Lisbon Traviata by Tony Award winning Gay playwright Terrence McNally, opening June 6 at 8 p.m. and running Thursday through Saturday each week at 8 p.m. through June 28, with two matinees on Saturdays, June 21 and June 28 at 2:30 p.m. at Richard Hugo House (1634 11th Ave.) and a Monday, June 23 industry night performance at 8 p.m.
Tickets: $22-general admission; $14-senior/student/military; $10 TPS members. www.brownpapertickets.com/event/575647. www.theatre22.org. (Thursdays and Monday, June 23, performances offer industry night $10 minimum pay-what-you-can tickets.)
For Theatre22 to launch a small LGBTQ theatre troop while gentrification eliminates much of Capitol Hill's fringe theatre space is very brave, indeed. I spoke with Theatre22's Artistic Director/Producer, Corey McDaniel, and Director/Producer, Gerald B. Browning (also Marketing, Design and Literary Manager, and for this production, Scenic Director) about their pre-opening night jitters, two weeks away from the first of their 'Annual Summer Pride Series.'
We discussed the challenges of mounting a production at Richard Hugo House while the company is still technically homeless. This is the troupe's second production since forming in January 2013. They presented Lanford Wilson's 5th of July last fall.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: Wikepedia writes: 'The Lisbon Traviata is a play by Terrence McNally initially written in 1985 and revised in 1989.
'It focuses on two of the playwright's favorite subjects, Gay relationships and Maria Callas, and includes one of his most memorable characters, flamboyantly bitchy and viciously wicked opera queen Mendy. Stephen, a depressed literary editor and opera fanatic, is on the verge of losing his doctor lover to a considerably younger Columbia University student.
'In Act I, Stephen takes temporary refuge at the apartment of fellow opera aficionado Mendy to dish about divas, listen to records, and avoid thinking about his rapidly unravelling eight-year relationship. In Act II, he returns home to confront his unfaithful partner.
'The play derives its title from an actual 1958 Callas production of La Traviata at Teatro Nacional de São Carlos in the Portuguese capital. Two thousand copies of an unauthorized recording made by a cast member during a live performance, despite their amateur quality, quickly became collector's items among the diva's fans.
'Stephen recently has acquired one, which he neglected to bring with him, and Mendy is obsessed with his going home to retrieve it.']
Doug Hamilton: Why Terrance McNally? Why The Lisbon Traviata? Why now?
Gerald Browning: If we are going to present literature for a Gay audience, we want to present some history with it as well. Terrance McNally is one of the pioneers of Gay themed plays. His work has been around over 30 years. The Lisbon Traviata truly is a classic of Gay literature. It is not only about relationships and friendships, but also the ephemeral nature of art. It is a very meaty piece. It has a lot to it, but it is also hysterically funny. This play is very much a snapshot of 1980s Gay life in New York. It is interesting that you can look at it as a period piece, but at the same time it feels very contemporary.
Corey McDaniel: Times then were quite different than they are now. I grew up in West Texas, in a small town 160 miles from anything. There was one high school and 48 churches when I graduated. Population 11,000. I was fortunate enough to have a couple of teachers, my speech teacher and my drama teacher, who sent me off every summer to the bigger city of Austin to study in theater and dance. Each summer, they would give me a box of plays and videotapes they wanted me to read and watch. Works mostly by ACT in San Francisco, Ballanchine, and tons of plays. Lanford Wilson, Terrance McNally, Greenberg. It was my first and only exposure to the fact there were Gay men like me out in the world living fully normal lives. This show was one of those plays.
Gerald Browning: The thing I like about Terrance McNally plays, especially the Gay-centric ones, is that they are so universal. A straight audience is going to get just as much out of it as a Gay one. Everybody can identify because this is a play about friendships, and the pain we go through with relationships. So even though it is a play about opera, and it has Gay characters, you do not have to be a Gay opera aficionado to get it and have a great time. And, it is a damn good play! One character in particular, everyone will know. The actor is great. The role is written so well. It is a transformative show. It is a thought-provoking piece. Not only is it hysterically funny, but you will be moved, I think, to tears at a certain point, in some spots, because people will identify so much with what's going on. Something to walk away with; not just, 'Hey, let's go see a Gay play.'
Doug Hamilton: What are some of the challenges in mounting a production like this?
Gerald Browning: (laughs) A lot. For example, with the sets for this show, it went through several iterations, because for the first one, I went 'Dream World.' What would I love to have? And it was just a dream, because it was too expensive. You know, we're a small company. So, I redesigned it, and I redesigned it again. But we are very lucky in that we have a lot of wonderfully generous people out there, and contacts, who loan and give us things. So this set, I think, is going to be very beautiful.
Corey McDaniel: Just simply not having our own permanent space is difficult. We are all working remotely. It is not very often that we are all together as a collective until we are in production. So we are very excited to be able to see each other on a daily basis. For theatre groups who have their own space, they have that center where people can just hang. It gives a home, a family. So that is a major goal for us, to solidify that place to be.
Gerald Browning: Definitely. We have rehearsals at one space. We have a shop that is being loaned to us for the build, where sets are built and painted. Meetings happen elsewhere. Props and furniture are housed somewhere else. It's a big obstacle getting that all loaded-in and moved-in on one day.
Doug Hamilton: What's keeping you awake at night?
Corey McDaniel: Surprisingly, this one is much, much easier for me, with one production under my belt as a producer. But, yeah, bills keep me awake at night. Will people show up? And, the way we communicate about this feels exposing. I was just writing our director notes, and realized that I had been professionally closeted all my life until living in Seattle. So to sit and actually write down my personal process and personal path on a piece of paper that is going to be seen by a thousand people? It can leave you very raw and vulnerable. Is that going to be accepted? Will 'The Pride Series' be embraced? And, of course, ticket sales. But really, it's more the big picture things that keep me awake. The smartest thing someone ever told me is that the theatre company never belongs to you. It belongs to the people you work with, and what the community supports.
Gerald Browning: What keeps me awake more has to do with all the details. Rehearsals are going fantastic. We have a cast of four guys who are a great and wonderful cast [The cast consists of Daniel Christiansen (Stephen), Eric Mulholland (Mendy), Sean P. O'Bannon (Mike), and Kyle James Traver (Paul)]. It's the other stuff. Since I'm the designer, I worry about the build. I'm painting the sets as well, arranging flowers. All these silly things. You're like, 'I don't have time for this, but I'll do it.' For instance, as the marketing designer, I put 80 hours in just to design the full-color program. Because we want to have nice things when people come to the show.
Corey McDaniel: And that ties back to what's difficult about a fringe company, all volunteer [the cast and director will be paid, but the managing staff will not be compensated for this production.], without a permanent space. It's just the fact that there are hundreds and hundreds of elements that must fall into place. It takes a lot of other people to get them and bring them forth. But the final results, within the time frame and financial constraints? Ultimately, there are only a couple of people who are fully responsible. Gerry and I are very meticulous. That's one reason we work so well together. We see all those details months or years in advance. It's a little bit obsessive, actually.
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