Play 'Commander' envisions gay presidential candidate

Tim Smith
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun
A gay governor runs for president in Mario Correa's "Commander."

A crowded field of presidential candidates is about to get a little more so.

Meet Rhode Island Gov. Ned Worley, a former college professor whose widowed mother, a poor Portuguese immigrant, made him stick to his studies so he could achieve something big in life.

"Washington politicians have forgotten this, but I never will: America is a promise to … every one of us who struggles, strives and, with a little bit of help, succeeds," he says. "I'm here to tell you: I will keep America's promise."

Worley might sound like a standard public office-holder, but he's gay. With a longtime partner, too.

Not your average presidential campaign, then. Not real, either. It's the scenario for "Commander," a play by Mario Correa that receives its world premiere this weekend from Vagabond Players.

The production, which also opens the annual Baltimore Playwrights Festival, gained an extra dash of timeliness after the recent Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage.

"I figure Justice [Anthony] Kennedy must have heard about the play and wanted to make sure it went well," Correa says with a laugh.

Chelsea Dove, who is directing "Commander," sees the timing of the premiere as doubly fortuitous.

"It's really cool, not just because of the Supreme Court decision, but because we're gearing up for the next presidential election," Dove says. "I think it will open even more discussions."

The New York-based Correa, who is in his mid-40s, has been keeping a close eye on people in government since he arrived in this country with his family from Chile just before he turned 7. His parents eventually returned to Chile; Correa and his brother stayed.

"I was obsessed with American politics," says the playwright, who grew up in Montgomery County and spent several years working on Capitol Hill for former Maryland Rep. Constance Morella. "When I was young, I did dream about running for office. Government can be a noble profession. Now politics depresses me so much. Today, politicians all have to be performers."

Correa took aim at some of the worst of those "performers" in his well-received comedy "Tail! Spin!" that was produced last year Off Broadway, starring "Saturday Night Live" alum Rachel Dratch. The work examines the sex scandals of Reps. Anthony Weiner and Mark Foley and Sen. Larry Craig, along with South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, using actual transcripts, testimonies, tweets and the like.

With "Commander," Correa is on purely fictional ground, but still drawing from contemporary events, issues and emotions. The play was partly inspired by the election of Barack Obama.

"I wondered if this could happen to a gay candidate who was not terrifically experienced in politics, was a little professorial, had a thin legislative record," Correa says. "But it became less and less about that as I wrote it. I was interested in what kind of tensions a campaign would create in a relationship. To me, it's not a gay play. It's really more about identity and how we perceive ourselves."

The topic of marriage becomes significant in the play.

"There's a scene where the candidate for president is asked why he hasn't been a more vocal supporter of same-sex marriage, and not perceived as a leader in that fight," says Correa. "I had to make that past tense after the Supreme Court decision." (The playwright isn't married, but has been partnered for several years.)

In the play, when the governor gets asked why he and his other half have never married, he ends up in the one place politicians often want to avoid — the past, his and that of his partner of 10 years.

"At some point, we'll have a gay president," Correa says. "But it will have to be someone who grew up believing this was possible, not someone with half a life out of bounds. You can't rewrite the first half of your life. We carry that history with us."

tim.smith@baltsun.com

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If you go

"Commander" opens at 8 p.m. July 10 and runs through July 26 at Vagabond Players, 806 S. Broadway. Tickets are $12. Call 410-563-9135, or go to vagabondplayers.org.

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