Voices of the past restored

Street Theater

By Doric Wilson
Directed by Mark Finley
The Eagle NYC
554 West 28th St. (212/330-7043)
Equity showcase (closes June 7)
Review by Jason Anthony

What is the "Princeton Rub"?

The answer to that question is richly indecent and comes from the culture of pre-Stonewall New York -- a lost time when gay men cruised to the beat of "time honored tribal rituals," corrupt cops took wholesale advantage, and, as Doric Wilson shows in Street Theater, the gay revolution was started by a handful of drag queens, leather men, and street punks.

Written by Stonewall veteran Wilson in 1981, it is a raucous, smart play that is a simultaneously nostalgic and prophetic take on the community forged that day. Doric Wilson is a pioneer of gay theatre and of OOB, recipient of the Robert Chesley Award for lifetime achievement in gay theatre and founder of The Other Side of Silence (TOSOS the first), New York's first gay theatre company. Street Theater was performed for the first time here in its newly "restored" form. His close involvement allowed, in his words, the "definitive performance to date."

And what a performance. The play returned for an encore run after rave reviews last spring. The choice of venue -- the crowded center drag of a West Chelsea leather bar -- was a tribute to the 1982 production in New York's notorious Mineshaft. Director Mark Finley made the most of a strip of playing space barely a yard wide, sandwiched between audience members who were themselves hedged in by barstools and beer-stained walls. The proximity of both the actors and the dark corners was disarming, frankly, and invited involvement without infringing on personal space.

The cast was uniformly excellent, with stand-out performances by Chris Andersson as drag queen Ceil and Kevin Held as the naif from Oregon. Also praiseworthy was Michael Lynch as Boom Boom, who reprised his role from the 1982 production. The performers held their own with no set, inches away from the audience, and excelled in keeping up a party atmosphere. The script gives equal time -- and credit -- to the ensemble, bringing home the script's message of community.

The dark prophecies in Street Theater have already come to pass: the "hetero high rise" in Greenwich Village, the community leaders drunk on lit-crit, the complacency of the bourgeois pretty boys. But the play, campy, tender and autobiographical, does what OOB does best -- raucous, opinionated, shameless fun. It's why both the gay and theatre communities consistently gain their strength from the fringe. And this production of Street Theater is an opportunity to honor a pioneer and crusader for both.

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Sets: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 0

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Copyright 2003 Jason Anthony