LGBTheater – Rainbow Curtain Stories #4: Allons, playwrights de la patrie!

1993. Paris woke up on a cold winter morning and saw  the Luxor obelisk covered by a giant pink condom. The installation, coming from Oliviero Toscani and several associations who stood against AIDS, came just after the first cure to the pandemic that made the whole world shake, despite the belief the virus only hit the gay community.

Revealing to have AIDS formally implied a coming out. The fact that the illness, unlike humankind, made no difference between straight and not didn’t matter at all. Many positives choose not to talk: a paradox to be forced to do so, in an era when people accept deaths for drugs, but not for sex and love.

Silence and paradox: it takes two words to describe the deadly rise of AIDS. The word is soon made flesh. France, where the fire of the greatest European revolution created the Enlightenment, raises with both its rebel spirit and its poetic language two one-of-a-kind thinkers: Jean-Luc Lagarce and Copi. Both will fall victim to AIDS, still after writing down on paper these whole absurd years.

Jean-Luc Lagarce.

Lagarce, just before finding out to be seropositive, foresees his fate in his greatest work: Juste la fin du monde, meaning It’s Only the End of the World, whose movie version was shot by Xavier Dolan. A boy affected by AIDS comes back after many years to his family, to announce he is about to die. The atmosphere is burdened with tense or broken relations, expressed through nuances switching from a conventional sense of parenthood to the most trivial rage. The main character remains silent, waiting for the right moment to confess his secret.

Copi.

Copi chooses to talk about the noise instead, the chaos of those years, through lysergic trips in which mice have sex with men and women. The unsettling rattles of Beckett and Pinter are perfectly noticeable: in L’homosexuel ou la difficulté de s’exprimer characters, whose sex remains uncertain, live in a house in Siberia surrounded by hungry wolves, hoping without a chance to escape to some unexisting place. 

Two authors who narrated their era and conditions, both with naturalism and surrealism. So, this is the fourth weekly challenge for the Carlo Annoni Prize’s participants: can playwriting talk about the present days in a creative and original manner?

LGBTheater – Rainbow curtain stories #3: Something moves

Late 19th century. Pen and ink become the tool of a new generation of female writers: names such as Woolf, Austen, and Shelley grow bigger and bigger in literature, while in the United States a black actor, Ira Aldridge, plays Othello for the first time in history. The early exceptions to the white, male artist are seldom welcome by the masses: the world doesn’t appear to be ready for such rapid change.

The early 20th century artists’ launchpad is therefore an era still vastly dominated by prejudice. William Inge, the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for drama, is one of the fathers of the LGBT theatre: still, he will never come out of the closet. He starts his career, encouraged by Tennessee Williams, whom he shares with an education highly influenced by religion, a difficult relation with alcohol and life itself, which he ended, like Williams, by his own hand. Inge’s theatre starts focusing on homosexuality from The boy in the Basement on. The title speaks for itself: as Inge was imprisoned in his ‘basement’ for life, the same happened to the work, stuck in the drawer for almost twelve years until its publishment in 1962.

William Inge

The references to homosexuality in Tennessee Williams’ plays are more vanishing. The gay characters disappear to appear: as they avoid their families, they underline how rotten are the bonds that keep them together. In A streetcar named Desire, the memory of Blanche’s ex-husband looks down on the stage like an Ibsen-kind ghost: he killed himself when his wife humiliated him after seeing him with another man, becoming the first victim of the cruelty which massacres the characters through the play.

Tom, in The Glass Menagerie, goes to the movies every night, but comes home drunk, without saying a word about where he has been. The play is almost autobiographical: the character shares with the author the name (Williams didn’t change his one until 1938) and the seriously ill sister. That’s not all: they both had an absent father and a mother tired of her life, in front of who was easier to find excuses than speaking openly.

It’s interesting to think about how clearly William Inge referred to homosexuality in his plays while never revealing it in his private life: the exact opposite of Tennessee Williams, who despite being a well-known lover boy always kept apart private life and literary works. This week’s challenge for the Carlo Annoni Prize’s participants is: how close should the writer’s life be to his or her plays?

LGBTheater – Rainbow curtain stories #1: Were the Greeks already ahead of us?

I’m not gonna lie: during my high school years, ancient Greece was my ace in the hole to win the discussions with homophobes. I mean, dear Xx_WhitePride86 going on hating on the forums, aren’t you having a little hard time trying to convince me “gays ruined the society” while one of the flourishing eras of history was known to be queer-friendly? 

Still, there was a big hole among the evidence in my favor: theater. Classic-era theater seemed not to have a place for homosexual or bisexual heroes, who, on the other hand, were more than frequent in poetry and epic. Not that my pal Xx_WhitePride86 actually cared. I must confess I was still quite upset about it.

The book Homosexuality in ancient Greece (1979), by K.J. Dover, contains long and deep analysis on the few known fragments of ancient poetry, such as Theognis’ ones for his lover Cyrnus and Anacreon’s for Bathyllus, mentioning theater little to zero. It’s nonsense to think that homosexual love was widely accepted but not represented on stage, keeping in mind the Greeks considered theater as a tool to promote the society’s values, central in raising citizens, who even had the duty to attend to some shows. 

Actually, among the great dramatists, the one who went the closest to talking explicitly about homosexuality was Euripides. But he didn’t do that as a dramatist, but as a character in the play Thesmophoriazusae by Aristophanes, who used to make fun out of notable people in his works. The lines the playwright from Athens makes him say are directed to his colleague Agathon, and by reading them with the current sensibility, they look like an article published in The Sun.  

So the tables have turned? Greek theater didn’t just support LGBT+ issues, but was homophobic too?

A recent publication of the well-known Carleton College says: no. The digs to the poor Agathon weren’t on his sexual preferences, but about his feminine look and his ‘passivity’, both sexual and emotional. This alone would be enough to say Aristophanes was not a homophobe; we could, at least, say he was the produce of a macho, patriarchal society. Still, let’s not forget comedy has, as a genre, often no heroes the audience identifies its values with. Euripides and the even more ‘bigot’ kingsman are ridiculed several times, sometimes for their very obsession with masculinity. 

So, it looks like between the 4th and the 5th century B.C., homosexuality was accepted enough to even joke about it. The first LGBT+ dramatist in the book, as far as we know today, wrote comedies. That’s why the inspiration we hand out this week to the prize’s participants is: can we talk about rights, homophobia, and discrimination, even by getting a laugh from the audience?