Title: Laced. Playwright: Sam Mueller
At: About Face Theatre at the Den, 1331 N. Milwaukee Ave. Tickets: $5-$35. Runs through: April 16
At the entrance to the Den's Bookspan cabaret, people are handed a flyer advertising the Friday night specials at Maggie's queer bar, so our initial response is to attribute its disarray to the enthusiasm of the previous evening's revels. A closer look at the spot, however, reveals spray-painted graffiti, smashed glass fixtures and defaced wall decor suggesting hostile intentan impression soon affirmed by its employees occupied in assessing the damage on this morning after the 2016 election in Tampa, Florida.
Pre-millennials can remember when same-sex entertainment venues were regularly beset by intruders bent on exposing their patrons to public shaming, at leastor outright arrest, at most. However, Minnow, Cat and Audra are of an age to have long dismissed such harassment as relics of the pastparticularly since the lack of evidence indicating forced entry hints at infiltrators lying in wait before attacking. Exacerbating the trio's confusion is the absence of owner Maggie, whose defiant ejection of invading bigots is the stuff of local legend, but who is now off on a late-autumn no-cell-service Caribbean cruise.
The stunned mixologists pool their recollections of the fatal night in a vain attempt to pinpoint the culprits. Could it be the lawyers who tipped 100 percent? The queens from Orlando? The teenagers flashing fake IDs, to whom non-binary Cat served Shirley Temples and grumbles, "I can't get an ID without gender on it, but these kids can claim to be any age?" They muse on their day jobs, their personal lives (for example, Audra, who's bi, has a het cisgender boyfriend) and their prospects for the future: Was Maggie serious about emigrating if the election went wrong? Will Minnow inherit the bar if the boss never returns? Do they dare open tonight?
Only two years ago, Sam Mueller's play could have been received as a call to action, its jubilant flashback episodes generating adrenaline to spark outraged vilification of oppression at its most indiscriminate. Recent struggles with invisible adversaries have left audiences weary of fighting, though, and Lexi Saunders' direction of Daniela Martinez, Mariah Copeland and Collin Quinn Rice acknowledges this crisis, impressing upon us the precept that endurance, too, requires courage, surpassing that fueling impulse. Our final tableau is of the comrades vowing to "keep trying until we win" after entwining their hands in accordreminding us that, structurally, threefold can make the strongest foundations.