ABRAHAM LINCOLN'S BIG GAY DANCE PARTY
By Aarob Loeb
Level Ground Arts
Directed by Warner Jacobi
Allen Matthew as TOM HAUSER
Camille Monae Whitlow as REGINA LINCOLN
Collin Duwe as JERRY HAUSER
Tiffany Monday as HARMONY GREEN
Dick Monday as LLOYD CHAMBERS
Sarah Hale as TINA
Reviewed Performance 6/17/2011
Reviewed by Christopher Soden, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
What has 14 legs, 7 stove pipe hats, 7 beards and dances to provocative rock tunes? Why. Abraham Lincoln's Big Gay Dance Party. Of course. Currently playing at Level Ground Arts, ALBGDP is a dizzy romp with a purpose. A kangaroo court for the weary and cynical. It mixes humor with topical pop references to queer and American culture, along with dance segues in which all seven cast members (in "Lincoln drag") cavort shamelessly, flirting with audience members and each other. (Wish I'd sat in the front row.)The core narrative (teacher on trial for making Lincoln a gay icon) is told from the viewpoint of three different characters, in a kind of homage to Rashomon, among other ventures using the "seven blind men and an elephant" motif.
Brainchild of Aaron Loeb, ALBGDP capitalizes on the recent discovery of correspondence between Lincoln and his assistant, Joshua Speed, suggesting they were lovers. While nothing conclusive was decided, circumstantial evidence was compelling. And, of course, the eternal question. If being gay weren't so stigmatized, would we be so hesitant to infer the obvious? If gay students weren't so persecuted, would teachers feel so driven to provide positive gay role models?
Loeb's concept is inspired because it begs the question of how much harm the misguided can do. Sometimes it feels easier and better to dismiss homophobes as clueless dolts. If only we could. When small town closet case Jerry explains to journalist Antoine Renault that the folks in his community mean no harm, he doesn't understand that however earnest their ignorance, lives are being ruined and sacrificed in the bargain.
Issues often become intensified when megalomaniacs with vested political aims use minorities to advance personal goals. Demagogues deal in abstractions and degrading stereotypes for the sake of their own ambition. Loeb injects a fair amount of silliness, I think, because there's something preposterous about caring who consenting adults take as lovers. And it takes hubris to presume to choose for others. You'd have to be blind not to grasp that anyone wanting to criminalize such innocuous behavior is bringing their own personal demons to bear. The result is Lincoln's Big Gay Dance Party, Loeb's fairly successful attempt to create a comprehensible montage from the profuse, chaotic rhetoric on queer love in the Home of the Brave. And at the center is the metaphor and actual hero, Abraham Lincoln, who alienated many constituents, by doing what was right instead of popular.
Director Warner Jacobi handled this frantic, quippy, Tower of Babel with confidence and zest. It could probably use a bit of fine tuning. Producer/Set Designer/Costume Designer Billy Fountain uses LGA's trademark minimal (yet pointed and effective) approach. Two desks for political headquarters. An eye-patch,crutch and simple floral print for the plight of poor old, deluded "Mom."
The actors are fluid, clever and flexible, taking on multiple roles, ever poised to grab those whiskers when The Dancing Abes must rise to the occasion.
ABE LINCOLN'S BIG GAY DANCE PARTY
Level Ground Arts
Through June 25, 2011
playing Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:15PM
Performed at KD Studio Theatre. 2600 North Stemmons Freeway, Dallas, Texas. www.levelgroundarts.com 214-630-5491.