Was Abraham Lincoln gay? He is known to have shared his bed with other men, but such sleeping arrangements were hardly outside the 19th-century norm. Nevertheless, some scholars insist on Lincoln’s homosexuality, pointing to passionate friendships with men like Joshua Speed as evidence. Others disagree emphatically, but the question remains: was Abraham Lincoln, our greatest president, a homosexual?
This controversy ignites the action in Abraham Lincoln’s Big, Gay Dance Party, now running at City Lights Theater Company. When a schoolteacher (Karen DeHart) in modern-day, rural Illinois tells her third-grade class that, yes, our 16th president was gay, she is prosecuted for trying to indoctrinate them with the “gay agenda.”
The trial becomes a political cause célèbre, especially after both prosecuting attorney Tom Hauser (Michael Riley) and defending attorney Regina Lincoln (Lani Wong) decide to run for governor. Things get even more complicated when a reporter with a score to settle (Noah Averbach-Katz) arrives in town, and Tom’s son (Alexander Prather) is apparently attacked by gay protesters.
The title is bound to raise eyebrows, and the play itself is just as flamboyant, if more than a little unwieldy. The entire cast, in addition to their main roles, play Abraham Lincoln (beard, top hat and all), and there is the added novelty of a random audience member getting to decide in what order the acts will be performed. Most of it is played for laughs, with slapstick gags and some extremely goofy dancing by the seven different Lincolns. However, things turn serious toward the end, and while some may find it a welcome change of pace, the sudden transition is jarring.
An energetic ensemble helps make a worthwhile production out of this rather disjointed material. One standout performance is Riley’s far-right, gay-baiting prosecutor who, in one courtroom scene, envisions everyone around him as a flaming homosexual, falls to his knees and screams, “Gay!” Also good is James Mantell, who plays Tom Hauser’s slimy staffer. If you want killer dance moves, watch out for Alika Spencer, who plays Regina Lincoln’s assistant. While often hilarious, this big, gay dance party isn’t for everyone. If you’re a Republican, you should probably stay home, and even liberals may find that their tolerance doesn’t extend to two-plus hours of Abe Lincoln in tights.
Thursday-Saturday, 8pm, Sun, 2pm; through Dec. 19
City Lights Theater Company, San Jose
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