Gay actor-writer David Drake Finds success in gay roles

March 07, 1994|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Sun Theater Critic

When actor/playwright David Drake returns to Baltimore tomorrow to sign copies of his newly published script, "The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me," he will have come full circle.

Not only is the script the semi-autobiographical story of his coming of age as a gay man in Maryland, but before the New York premiere of "Larry Kramer" in 1992, Drake tried out parts of the one-man show at Towson State University and Maryland Art Place.

Since then, the 30-year-old boyish-looking performer won one of off-Broadway's coveted Obie Awards for his performance in "Larry Kramer." The show (the title refers to the author of the groundbreaking 1985 AIDS drama, "The Normal Heart") ran for a year in New York, followed by limited runs in San Francisco and Los Angeles. In addition, a half-dozen other actors have performed it in cities from Omaha, Neb., to Victoria, British Columbia.

"I feel validated as a writer, which is nice because most solo shows are perceived very much with the person who performs them -- that they cannot be performed by anybody else," says Drake. (He will read an excerpt from his script and answer questions at tomorrow's book signing.)

Drake, who grew up in Harford County and appeared in !c numerous Baltimore dinner and little theater productions early in his career, moved from New York to Los Angeles when his show opened there in May. "I knew if I was going to come to L.A., this was the best possible way I could arrive -- in my own show with all the accolades," he said from there last week, in between an audition for a television pilot starring Dudley Moore and a screen test for a movie to be produced by Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment.

The movie, "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar," is "the story of three drag queens . . . done with incredible integrity and pride," according to Drake, who says it could be his "big break."

"It would be great for me. It would change a lot, and it would be brave on their part to cast an openly gay actor as a gay man. It's just that that's what I don't think you're going to see," he acknowledges.

"It takes a whole movement to create those things. When you look at black entertainment and the way it's changed, it took a whole civil rights movement to give you Whoopi Goldberg. It takes a long time."

Although Hollywood hasn't been all he had hoped for so far, Drake has had small roles in Jonathan Demme's "Philadelphia," the yet-to-be-released "Naked in New York," starring Eric Stoltz, and "It's Pat," based on Julia Sweeney's androgynous character on "Saturday Night Live."

Also, Drake has been cast in a major gay role, albeit in a small independent film -- "Objects," to be directed by Ann Cusack (sister of actress Joan and actor John). Scheduled to be filmed in Chicago this spring, the movie is about a friendship between a straight woman and a gay man -- a subject similar to that of a screenplay Drake was working on until recently.

Instead, he's writing a new solo show called "Faith, Hope and Sodomy," featuring characters ranging from a teen-age lesbian to an old man. "This has been a challenge for me -- to write in characters' voices," he says.

Meanwhile, Drake -- whose theatrical credits include starring in the off-Broadway hits "Vampire Lesbians of Sodom" and "Pageant" -- will return to the stage next season in the lead role in Euripides' "Bacchae" at Cleveland's Great Lakes Theater Festival.

He's also keeping his fingers crossed about the outcome of his appearance in a reading of "The Normal Heart," presented last RTC April in New York to benefit the AIDS action group ACT-UP. The reading was introduced by Barbra Streisand, who owns the screen rights to "The Normal Heart."

Streisand praised his performance afterward. However, for Drake, the highest praise would be to win a role in the movie version of the play, which inspired "The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me."

BOOK SIGNING

What: David Drake will read from and sign copies of his newly published script, "The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me" (Anchor Books)

Where: Lambda Rising, 241 W. Chase St.

When: 8 p.m. tomorrow

Call: (410) 234-0069

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