The scope of this year’s festival has expanded to include a series of staged readings of new plays and a variety of one-night stands alongside the four main stage plays.
The four stage plays are “The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later” in it first full production with a Philadelphia cast; the world-premiere of “Mike and Seth” by acclaimed New York playwright Daniel Talbott; Holly Hughes’ classic “dyke noir” play “The Well of Horniness;” and the Philadelphia premiere of “The Crumple Zone,” a dark comedy by Buddy Thomas.
Both Talbott and Thomas had works performed at last year’s festival, with Talbott’s “Slipping” and Thomas’ “Devil Boys from Beyond” both being popular shows.
Talbott’s new show, “Mike and Seth,” is a lyrical play about a straight man and a gay man, lifelong friends, who hole up in a hotel room together the night before the straight man’s wedding.
“My best friends are the inspiration for ‘Mike and Seth,’” Talbott said. “I had this radical idea about trying to do a play in a hotel room in real time. When I started working on the play, I realized that the play for me was about friendship and love between best friends. Not even sexual love, just love between best friends.”
Talbott said the two characters struggle with the conflicts they have with the world and the issues they have between themselves.
“They kind of go through this dark night of the soul together. They are really disenchanted with the over-commercial and overly technological sped-up pronoun culture of America right now and they are disillusioned with the way people are treating each other. It’s their conflict with the world around them and being deeply unhappy. Seth is getting married to a woman he loves but at the same time he feels their whole relationship is controlled by the outside world and their families. He feels like they can’t have a good relationship. It’s not truly an arranged marriage but they both come from wealthy families. Seth has been with this long-term partner who’s cheating on him left and right and he pays for everything. The man has left him and wants out of the relationship. His life is falling apart. The conflict between them is trying to hold each other up and at the same time both are feeling jealous of the other. Seth is feeling jealous that Mike can get married. He doesn’t want the clubs and sexual freedom. He wants to find somebody he can love. He’s not interested in this selfish sexual freedom. They kind of save each others’ lives in a way.”
“The Crumple Zone” comes from the comedic mind of Thomas, who wrote last year’s hit “Devil Boys From Beyond.” This year’s comedy is more earthbound, taking place in a Staten Island apartment during Christmas week as three gay roommates deal with problems of life, love and alcohol.
Thomas said “Crumple” is one of his older plays that made a splash in New York when it debuted in 2001.
“It starred Mario Cantone and Jason Moore was the director, and he’s gone on to direct ‘Avenue Q’ and ‘Shrek’ since then,” Thomas said. “It was a really big hit at that time. It was only supposed to play for four weeks and it played for five or six months. Since then, it’s played around the country and it has played in a bunch of foreign territories.”
Thomas added that he wrote the play because he felt there were too few comedies grounded in reality.
“There aren’t too many comedies being put out there these days, especially for gay audiences,” he said. “When I wrote this, at the time, the gay plays that were being written were focusing on affluent, very rich gay people. At the time I wasn’t doing very well. I was a struggling playwright and I was waiting tables. This was a look at three gay roommates who are living in a dive apartment with no money, not doing very well at all and having relationship traumas. Basically the opposite of the spectrum that was being looked at at that time. The reviews when it came out mentioned it wasn’t a gay play at all; it was play about relationships.”
Throughout the festival, a variety of one-night performances and readings will feature new gay plays and artists.
One of those readings includes “Cold” by Sarah Pappalardo. The story follows the owner of a lesbian bar and her hard-drinking business partner as they interact with a young dyke and her transgender friend in a tale of lesbian history and generational strife.
Pappalardo said the play was inspired by a few 20th-century Irish one-acts that take place entirely in a bar.
“I wanted to use that setting and inspiration to explore a few things: the gentrification of gay neighborhoods and the closure of once-popular lesbian bars, and the political tension between an older generation of lesbians and the younger generation that is carving out their own space in queer history,” Pappalardo said. “While this younger generation brings so many amazing new ideas to the queer community, many older lesbian women are now finding themselves in an incredibly difficult stage in their lives, with different politics than the young people who are benefiting from their struggles.”
She added the play is at times both extraordinarily silly and incredibly somber.
“Ultimately, it’s a swan song for an older generation of women whose heyday has long since past and are trying to find meaning and relevance in a brave new queer world,” she said. “The two main characters deal with an overwhelming sense of alienation, even in their own community, but they are also incredibly crass, funny and full of stories. Copious amounts of alcohol are consumed by said characters throughout the play.”
Another performance sure to be talked about on the festival is Mark McCloughan’s comic, gender-bending performance, “The Beautiful Refrigerator is Empty,” in which McCloughan plays Teena Giest, a 14-year-old girl with a serious attitude problem that might border on homicidal.
“It’s definitely inspired by ‘Twin Peaks,’” McCloughan said. “It takes that high-school aesthetic and explores the comedy and the high drama and angst of being a teenager. The show is pretty heavily improvised each time we do it. We spent a good six months before we performed it doing these long stretches of improvising and trying to find the voice of the character. The character is a 14-year-old girl, but there are a lot of moments where self-awareness creeps in. She’s this bitchy self-involved teenager, but then there are moments in the show where we draw attention to the fact that she is this ridiculous extreme version of this high-school-girl sensibility.”
McCloughan added that the comedy in the show comes from the character, not from the cross-dressing.
“The show is technically drag, but we don’t think of it as a drag show. The comedy in the show is more character-based. Teena is a girl, and we don’t use that for comedic purposes other than allowing us to explore the character and find the comedy in her and her situation.”
Quince Productions presents GayFest Aug. 3-Sept. 1 at Plays & Players Theater’s third-floor Skinner Studio, 1714 Delancey Place. For tickets and a full list of shows and performers, visit www.quinceproductions.com/gayfest.html.