Thursday nights at The Public House Theatre are set to take on a lavender hue in April. That's because two world-premiere playsa lesbian drama called Jensen and Wit and a gay drama called The 30 Year Gapboth play the same 8 p.m. Thursday time slot in The Public House's two theaters.
"They are both serious plays with comedic overtones that I think paired nicely for the night they share," said The Public House's managing director, Sasha Hatfield.
Although The Public House has more of a reputation as a home for sketch and improvisational comedy, Hatfield said the theater has been branching out to present and produce more serious works.
"All stories need to be told," Hatfield said. "Especially those that are hard to tell."
Gay playwright Matthew Johnson looked to his own extended family to find inspiration for The 30 Year Gap. His drama focuses on the contrasting decisions of an uncle and his nephew aged three decades apart. One makes a life-long decision to stay closeted, even while the other has come out as gay.
"The motivation came from my uncle Tom. He was born with cerebral palsy and he died on his 60th birthday and he never came out of the closet," Johnston said. "I myself was out of the closet while he was still alive and there's a 30-year difference between our lives, so I was looking to explore the differences between our lives in 1978 and 2008."
Johnston stresses that The 30 Year Gap isn't specifically about his Catholic uncle who lived in Oak Park, though he does draw some inspiration from his short life in The 30 Year Gap.
"I just felt angry at him for not being able to come out and I wanted to find a way to sympathize and connect," Johnston said. "I wanted to explore the idea behind what puts someone in that position of fear, loathing and not wanting to be outed to their family members."
Family and friends also play an important part in Jensen and Wit, a drama by heterosexual playwright Felicia Basanavicius. A co-founder and literary manager of Reutan Collective ( whose other main effort is the web series The Un-Supers ), Basanavicius was inspired to write Jensen and Wit after performing a scene from the 2009 film Away We Go in a theater showcase when the baby-seeking couple was switched from being heterosexual to a lesbian one.
"In plays and movies about the struggles of gay rights, the focus is usually on the political side," Basanavicius said. "And the story isn't usually just a love story."
So Basanavicius wrote Jensen and Wit to focus on the two title lesbians who make a mutual decision to raise a child together in the town of Bourbon, Missouri. Yet the two women know they're going to face some resistance from their small-town family and friends.
"I grew up in Missouri around a bunch of people who grew up in small towns. The older I got, the more I realized that many of these people want to settle down together and live in this small town and that's all they literally want to do and I don't see that for very many gay couples," Basanavicius said. "Many people in these small towns just don't have an understanding and they're just not as open-minded and they haven't been around [lesbian or gay people] as much as in big cities."
Basanavicius also set Jensen and Wit in June of 2015 right before just before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality.
"Gay marriage and equal rights are a big factor in this show, but it's also not the main focus," Basanavicius said. "I wanted to write a play that was just focused on the love of two women."
Basanavicius cited her time at Missouri State University when she became politically aware of injustices toward the LGBTQ community. As a result of her increased awareness, Basanavicius helped to organize a campus reading of Dustin Lance Black's play 8, which examined the fallout of California passing the anti-same-sex marriage ballot initiative Proposition 8.
Although both Basanavicius and Johnston separately remarked on the great strides made by the LGBTQ community in recent years, they still want audiences to remember the past and to not become complacent.
"I think it's very important to emphasize how far we've come generationally and how much more comfortable it is to be out of the closetwe're not 100 percent there, but things are moving forward," Johnston said. "I think it's very important to explore the struggles people had 30 years ago versus people of today and why it's important to keep fighting on."
The world premieres of The 30 Year Gap and Reutan Collective's Jensen and Wit both play 8 p.m. Thursdays through April 28 at The Public House Theatre, 3914 N. Clark St. Tickets to each play are $10; call 800-650-6449 or visit www.pubhousetheatre.com for more information .