Drama forces questioning on issue of homosexuality

September 28, 1996|By GREGORY KANE

Those plucky rascals at the Axis Theater have forced me to confront the one issue I'd rather stay away from: homosexuality. It is one of the few subjects on which I am of a divided mind.

On Sept. 10 the play "Poor Superman" opened at the theater. It closes a week from today -- either regrettably or mercifully, depending on your views about gay liberation and whether nudity, profanity and simulated sex acts on stage can ever be considered art.

Judi Anderson, the marketing director for Axis, called me a few days before the play opened to see if I'd be interested in doing a column on it. She warned me about the graphic language, naked butts and sex in the play.

"One approach you could take is whether this play is pornography or art," she said. Ah, dear Judi, there are a number of ways to approach a play like "Poor Superman." Canadian-born playwright Brad Fraser -- "always controversial," the Axis program says in classic understatement -- has written an explosive, witty and heart-wrenching play that should give anyone seeing it much to think about.

The play's plot is simple. David McMillan, a successful but burned-out gay painter, takes a job as a waiter to get inspiration. "Poor Superman" snaps along through its first 45 minutes, the witty, pithy lines of the characters coming so fast I hardly had time to recover from one laugh before I found myself convulsed in the next.

There was no nudity or sex in the early stages. In fact, the play was going along so well that I had to wonder why playwright Fraser had to resort to these ploys. But that's the mark of a good artist, who, above all else, should make folks ask questions about his or her work. Good art also -- I hope critics of gangsta rap are reading this -- does not tell us what we want to hear. Fraser stated it more eloquently than I could.

"Why is it that established critics always hate your work?" David's friend Kryla asks him toward the play's end.

"Because it doesn't tell them everything's going to be all right," answers David, who is probably more Brad Fraser at that point. But back to the play.

David finds a waiter's job at a struggling restaurant and strikes up a friendship with Matt Engles, the co-owner. Matt is very married to his wife, Violet, and very straight -- or so he thinks. He soon finds himself attracted to David, who unstraightens him. The two are eventually stripped naked, hugging and kissing and sexing it up right in front of the audience.

It's as if Fraser were forcing us to confront our own homophobia. But one reason I'm of such a divided mind about gay rights is that I detest the term "homophobia," which implies that all those who oppose homosexuality are bigots who fear and misunderstand it. Gays have even hurled the homophobic charge against those opposed to the North American Man-Boy Love Association, whose members advocate having "consensual" sex with 12-year-old boys.

The charge is nonsense. Straight guys couldn't form a North American Man-Girl Love Association without getting tarred, feathered and shipped to the Australian outback on a rail -- and deservedly so. Most folks I know who oppose homosexuality do so on religious grounds. They're not homophobic so much as God-fearing, possessed of that down-home religion that is part of our Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition. There are devout Jews, Christians and Muslims who disdain homosexuality because God says it's wrong. As I look at the state of the country I see we need more of that religion, not less.

But another part of me says that what consenting adults do in private is none of my damned business. If we enforce those sex laws now selectively applied to gays against heterosexuals, how many of us could avoid going to jail? And for all the Republican talk about how the gay lifestyle is inimical to family values, there have been guys -- conservative Republicans -- known to be caught with 16-year-old boys and who have been guilty of sexual harassment and other such nastiness.

And, as one message of "Poor Superman" asserts, some of our finest artists have come from the gay community. Among them was the prominent and talented black American poet and author Langston Hughes. A friend of mine couldn't quite believe it when I told her.

"Not Langston," she said.

"Yes, dear. Langston," I answered. Langston and, if truth be told, so many others.

Gregory P. Kane's column appears on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Pub Date: 9/28/96

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