Chicago is currently awash with LGBTQ dramas.
The deluge of regional premieres include: Cicada by Jerre Dye via Route 66 Theatre Company, The Great God Pan by Amy Herzog at Evanston's Next Theatre, the musical Songs from an Unmade Bed produced by Pride Films and Plays and Aditi Brennan Kapil's Brahman/i: A One-Hijra Stand-Up Comedy Show co-produced by Silk Road Rising and About Face Theatre Company. The House Theatre of Chicago is also bubbling up with an eagerly anticipated revival of the dance-drama Dorian ( inspired by Oscar Wilde's novel The Picture of Dorian Gray ).
With so much going on, two world premieres opening this weekend at smaller Chicago stages run the risk of being overshadowed. One is Matt Tassell's Happy Endings produced by Second Thought Theatre Company at Stage 773, while the other is Erik Gernand's A Place in the Woods produced by The Fine Print Theatre at The Alley Stage of Profiles Theatre.
Both dramas focus on men who identify as gay, but have ( or will ) be faced with different degrees of sexual fluidity through the course of the play. Both plays also underwent radical changes in the writing and workshop processes.
Gernand's A Place in the Woods originally started out as a two-character play of gay man returning to his rural hometown to confront the guy who was his childhood bully. But Gernand later changed his play's focus as a six-character drama about a 40-something Chicago gay man named Shaun who must return to his small Indiana hometown with his biological teenage son when his mother becomes sick.
"The big issues explored in the play ask what does it mean to be gay and out in Chicago, versus what that means to be gay and out in a small town in Indiana where things have not changed nearly as much, or at all in terms of gay rights," said Gernand, an out playwright on the faculty at Northwestern University, but who now lives with his partner in New York.
Matt Tassell's drama Happy Endings originally focused on a love-triangle that was purely heterosexual, like him. But Tassell later switched the gender and sexuality of his main protagonist to reflect upon relationship questions he was intrigued by.
"Anytime I have been to a gay bar, there have been so many straight women there with their gay friends, and I think part of the relationship is they feel safe, and they don't feel like this person is going to take advantage of them," Tassell said. "But at the same time, the closer you get to somebody; you're actually going to naturally have some sort of attraction physically or emotionally to them. In the context of the play, it's an emotional attraction, but it's also physical as well."
Happy Endings now focuses on Eddie, a rising rocker and artist who is about to move in with his boyfriend, Adam. But Eddie is confronted with a suddenly revealed unrequited love by his virginal straight friend, Stella, who has a terminal disease.
"It was interesting because I really didn't change much of the script structurallyeverything still worked," Tassell said about the revised gay-straight-bi dynamics of Happy Endings. "The reason we did that was because we still felt it said something about desperation and loneliness, but at the same time added this extra layer on top of it and that was about a somewhat new relationship between straight women and gay men, and how it sometimes isn't always healthy."
For his play A Place in the Woods, Gernand revealed that there was a traumatic event in the 1980s for his character, Shaun, in his Indiana hometown that pushed him to have a relationship with a woman and produce a child before he eventually came out and moved to Chicago.
"Something I've always treated in my dramatic writing, is how does it become real and truthful, the way that life is," Gernand said the many difficulties his characters face in A Place in the Woods from alcoholism to homophobia, and of life and death issues.
Happy Endings and A Place in the Woods don't have the same kind of name recognition ( or marketing budgets ) of so many other LGBTQ plays opening up around Chicago the same time. Yet both Tassell and Gernand hope that local audiences will be willing to take a chance on their two world premiere plays produced by up-and-coming small theater companies.
The Fine Print Theatre presents the world premiere of Erik Gernand's A Place in the Woods from Saturday, April 5, through Sunday, May 4, at The Alley Stage of Profiles Theatre, 4147 N. Broadway. Performances are at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays with 3 p.m. matinees Sundays. Tickets are $25. Visit www.thefineprinttheatre.org/ for more information.
Second Thought Theatre Company presents the world premiere of Matt Tassell's Happy Endings from Thursday, April 3, through Sunday, May 4, at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays with 2:30 p.m. matinees Sundays. Tickets are $25. Call 773-327-5252 or visit www.stage773.com or www.secondthoughttheatrecompany.com .