After last year's auspicious start, PussyCat Theatre Company's "Queer Cafe" is back at the Theatre Project with a new evening of short gay and lesbian plays. The five plays on the bill span subjects ranging from history to healing and styles ranging from abstract to naturalistic.
Consider, for instance, the evening's two largely autobiographical pieces, one of which incorporates African elements and the other, mythology.
Tatiana De Le Tierra's imaginatively staged "Biop-See" depicts a cancer patient's search for a cure. Accompanied by African-style musician Skye-Ephifanie Patrick, the patient -- played with moving grace by Kryst'l Kleer, who also co-directed the piece -- wears a brightly painted body stocking and also has her face and shaved head boldly painted. The painted designs are mostly red on one side of her body and blue on the other, a graphic representation of a body at war with itself.
In the course of the piece, Kleer tries everything from traditional medical therapies to astrology, and at one point breaks into humorous rendition of a song from "The Wizard of Oz," cheerily singing, "If I only had a kidney!"
Though there is some humor in James Magruder's "Penelope and the Sterile Field," it's mostly a serious and ultimately hopeful piece about coming to terms with life as an HIV-positive gay man.
Like mythology's Penelope (Dahlia Kaminsky), who offers encouragement from the sidelines, Clement (Robb Bauer), Magruder's protagonist, is also faced with a host of potential swains (all wittily caricatured by Jacob Zahniser).
But unlike Penelope, who never gives up hope that her husband, Ulysses, will return, Clement is plagued by doubts, which she eventually helps him assuage.
The evening's most naturalistic piece is Linda Eisenstein's "Pretzels and Longing," in which a woman (a non-stop talking Sara Vacin) offers an amusing justification for picking up women in bars -- where at least "you get pretzels with your longing" -- as opposed to such politically correct locales as consciousness-raising groups or shelters.
In Sara Hardy's "Queer Fruit," a 1990s woman (Shannon Taylor) meets two historical role models -- an 18th century convict (Pebble Kranz), who was shipped to Australia, and a World War II entertainer (Marsha Becker), who says of her first experience with lesbian lovemaking, "We didn't know what we were doing, but we did it." Both historical figures, however, are far more interesting than Taylor's modern woman, who keeps speaking in metaphors about fruit.
The piece that opens the evening is the most static -- a monologue by British comic-book writer Alan Moore that traces homosexuality through the ages. Guest director David Drake and actor Jose Villarrubia do their best to breathe life into this homosexual history lesson by staging it in the bed Villarrubia's character shares with his lover (Michael Willis).
But even this overt emphasis on romantic love cannot wring drama out of a text that is essentially undramatic.
Still, PussyCat artistic director Susan Lev, who staged the other four pieces, is to be commended for the breadth of material she has selected. Seen together, these five short plays remind audiences that gay theater, like straight theater, is characterized by wide variety.
'Queer Cafe 2'
Where: Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St.
When: 8 p.m. tomorrow through Sunday
Pub Date: 6/09/98