Monday, June 06, 2011

Where this "I'm not a gay writer" thing

gets problematic for me is that Albee's method of defiance indirectly legitimizes everything the establishment insists on. And by establishment I mean critics, taste-makers, literary managers and artistic directors, and anyone else who would create or act according to a hierarchy of value based on the subject matter of a work and its relationship to the majority. I can't relate to a gay play because I'm not gay. We can't do a gay play because it won't sell.

This is why it's Mart Crowley and not Edward Albee who gets the distinction of writing one of the most important, pioneering gay plays in theater history with Boys in the Band. A play that both steals from Albee's most famous play and dares to take for granted a specific gay experience while transcending it at the same time. Maybe Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? rates higher on the "major American play" scale than Boys in the Band. Maybe that even means something. But Crowley did something that Albee did not. Maybe he stood on Albee's shoulders while he did it, but Crowley's the one who did it.

Of course Albee has plenty to say about that, too. In a recent documentary about Boys in the Band called Making the Boys, he laments that the first major gay play was too negative and damaging, something our friend Criticlasm wrote about a couple of months ago--
It's tiresome to hear him talk about how damaging a play that was actually written by a gay man about gay men as real people with real feelings (at a time when no one did that) when he hasn't written a single play about gay men EVER, ostensibly because it's too what? Constricting? Bitter because people have tried to pigeonhole him as a gay playwright when he didn't want to be categorized? Yes, writers should write what comes out of them in whatever form, but for him to criticize someone who actually put it out there as a gay man when he's never done it just rubs me the wrong way.
And of course Albee has written gay characters before -- The Goat and Three Tall Women (which Criticlasm goes on to mention) among them, and, most subversively in The Zoo Story, a play that is as confrontational as it is indirect about its gay protagonist. I wonder how he would've progressed if he hadn't been embraced by the establishment and awarded a Pulitzer for that play. To me it seems his most rebellious play. The fact that he felt a need to stage as preamble a domestic scene with the strait-laced Peter four years ago, while residing at the revered post of the Greatest Living American Playwright, only shows the weight he gives to the establishment in his worldview.

But then again, it also reinforces the theme he introduces in The Zoo Story -- a confrontation between the civilized, the establishment, and the savagery it wants so desperately to suppress. I mean, it is his major theme, isn't it? There is subversion in that. Maybe he's no Genet, but then how many audiences have actually seen a production of The Screens? So I guess it's no surprise this confrontation plays out in his rhetoric about being a gay writer.

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