For my last column I took advantage of summer’s slowest stretch to casually sift through gay highlights of the New York International Fringe Festival. But with the busy new 2010–2011 theater season now in full swing, it’s time to get about as serious as an aging Victorian prostitute reading The Great Gatsby. Aside from stopping by the first six Broadway shows of the season — Mrs. Warren’s Profession, Brief Encounter, Time Stands Still, The Pitmen Painters, A Life in the Theatre, and Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson — I also discovered some divine gay characters off-Broadway where least expected.
“Imagine being gay in the 1930s, and you begin to understand Brief Encounter,” writes Emma Rice in the Playbill’s director’s notes of her transcendent adaptation of Noël Coward’s 1945 film and the 1936 play on which it was based. She’s referring to the lies and shame associated with an extramarital affair — a “tender agony,” as Rice puts it, with which Coward was no doubt familiar. Using gorgeous renditions of Coward’s songs and imaginatively interactive film projections, this utterly breathtaking hit from London’s Kneehigh Theatre, which ends its Broadway encounter December 5 at Studio 54, conveys the couple’s unrequited passion through fantasy sequences like crashing waves and chandelier-swinging. My only gripe is that the vaudevillian shenanigans of the railway station refreshment room’s daffy denizens often distanced me from the emotion.
He had slaves and slaughtered Native Americans, but if Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre is to be believed, our seventh president was cooler than Obama. If SNL and Spring Awakening overthrew the History Channel, you might get this electrifying emo-rock musical from writer-director Alex Timbers and out composer Michael Friedman. Benjamin Walker, who played gay in The War Boys, bleeds charisma and sex appeal as Jackson, a pouty populist who makes fratty gay jokes and cuts himself to Cher’s “Song for the Lonely.” Not offensive among the many outrageous anachronisms, Jackson’s associates — particularly out Upright Citizens Brigade regular Jeff Hiller as John Quincy Adams and The Ritz’s Lucas Near-Verbrugghe as Martin Van Buren — are aristocratically effeminate, and Kristine Nielsen stars as a kooky narrator with a lesbian past.