Playwright: Bixby Elliot. At: About Face Theatre at Greenhouse Theater Center, 2275 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets: 773-404-7336 or www.aboutfacetheatre.com; $20-$35. Runs through July 5
There's a whole lot happening in Abraham Lincoln Was a F*gg*t, now receiving a strong Chicago premiere courtesy of About Face Theatre.
Bixby Elliot's controversially named comic drama has conjectural historical reenactments, modern-day gay youth facing homophobic taunts, a fretful mother and infidelity in a same-sex relationship. On top of all that, there's also lots of Michael Jackson music running throughout the production.
All this abundance of stuff in Abraham Lincoln… should come as no surprise to anyone who locally caught Pavement Group's 2012 world premiere of Elliot's comic drama Girl You Know It's True, which was also overflowing with material as it amusingly explored fame, deceit and the Milli Vanilli lip-synching scandal. Luckily Abraham Lincoln… is similarly well-constructed, and director Andrew Volkoff and his great design team dexterously juggle all the wayward plot, time and location balls that Elliot keeps throws at them.
Abraham Lincoln… is largely set in 2008 and focused on progressive gay teen Cal ( Matt Farabee ) who is obsessed with recent historical research that suggests that the United States' 16th president had intense intimate relationships with men. The play also flashes back to the 19th century to play out Cal's idea of what Lincoln's life might have been like if he was struggling with same-sex attraction.
Cal's Lincoln fascination and his budding relationship with fellow gay teen Skylor ( Lane Flores ) worries his mother, Susan ( Jessie Fisher ), prompting her to reach out to her distant gay brother, Geoffrey ( Nathan Hosner ), and his partner, Buck ( Derrick Trumbly ). But Geoffrey has reasons for his reluctance to get involved.
Elliot can be blunt with some of the characters' pronouncements and behavior. ( The ever-extreme caricatures of various folks played by Dana Black are a constant delight and fun example of this. ) Yet Elliot also wisely pulls back to make audiences speculate on what's stewing inside the minds of his characters as they face down dilemmas that frighten or disturb them.
Volkoff has assembled a superlative and versatile cast to illustrate Elliot's play, especially when they have to constantly switch back and forth between the 19th and 21st centuries. Volkoff's design team is also very adept to the play's challenges, in particular Bob Kuhn's period and modern costumes set against the rah-rah Americana set design of Brian Prather that so expertly frames the ever-shifting projection designs of Michael Stanfill.
Through Abraham Lincoln…, Elliot explores the need for some minority youth to seek out heroes and role models both historical and in real life. But Elliot also points out that the human failings of those heroes should not be ignored, either. Putting people on a pedestal is far too easy and simplistic, and Abraham Lincoln… smartly and hilariously examines this.