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Contemporary Drama  
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Martin Sherman

The best of these is written by Martin Sherman, an American who lives in London. His Bent (1979) opened at the Royal Court Theatre with Ian McKellen; a Broadway production the following year featured Richard Gere.

Beginning the morning after the Night of the Long Knives in 1934, Bent traces the growth of a young German man from self-hatred and a destructive life to his acceptance of love and affirmation in a Nazi prison camp. From its gay slang and camp humor to its famous scene of verbal sex, Bent is a celebration of gayness in the face of oppression.

Its tenth-anniversary revival in London, again with McKellan, was akin to a religious experience for gay men, bristling under new laws forbidding positive portrayals of lesbians and gay men in government-supported theaters.

Peter Gill

Peter Gill's Mean Tears (1987) is the best written play about contemporary gay experience in Britain. Eloquent and witty, it dramatizes the love a passionate intellectual has for a most unworthy object, a feckless bisexual. With surgical precision, Gill satirizes the mores and manners of young Britons, gay, straight, and bisexual, for whom sex is a simple transaction and commitment is impossible. Only the bookish gay central character demands more, but there seems to be no one who can offer the commitment he wants.

Venues for Gay Male Plays in Britain

Mean Tears is the only truly contemporary gay British drama to be produced by a major London theater. Most commercial British gay drama has been period pieces about famous and infamous gay and presumed gay men of the past: Oscar Wilde, Constantine Cavafy, Alan Turing, Christopher Marlowe, John Webster, Edward Carpenter, Benjamin Britten, and Guy Burgess.

Sherman's work since Bent has achieved success on the West End. Gill's Mean Tears was produced at the Royal National Theatre. Most other gay drama, except for imports of American plays, has been produced in small fringe theaters in London and other cities.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the center of gay theater in London was the Gay Sweatshop, a company devoted to presenting gay drama as a means of raising social consciousness. The group began in 1975 with a season of one-acts by British and American gay male dramatists presented as free lunch-time theater. By the next year, the company was devoted to the creation of gay and lesbian drama to be produced in London and on tour.

Clause 28

Though some of the more powerful theaters reacted defiantly, much gay drama was squelched by Clause 28, passed by Parliament in 1988, which prohibited government money from being spent on any communication that promoted homosexuality positively, particularly homosexual relationships as alternatives to the nuclear family.

The Oval House in South London and the Drill Hall Arts Centre in Bloomsbury continue to present lesbian and gay drama but without the coordination or creative energy of Gay Sweatshop. Only since the highly successful 1992 London production of Tony Kushner's Angels in America, Part I: The Millennium Approaches, has gay drama flourished even on the fringe.

Canadian Gay Drama

By the late 1980s, a large proportion of North American drama was being written by openly gay playwrights.

A variety of playwrights spread across Canada were writing works about the gay experience: the versatile Quebecois Michel Tremblay, whose work reflects the nonrealistic explorations of postmodern European theater; Albertan Brad Fraser, whose The Unidentified Nature and True Remains of Love (1989) is similar to American Lanford Wilson's disruptions of time and place and explorations of the relationship of sex and violence; and Torontan drag artist and playwright Sky Gilbert, whose theater pieces have been influenced by the gender bending and camp humor of Charles Ludlam and Charles Busch.

This is not to suggest that Canadian drama is any more derivative than that of any other country but that Canadian dramatists draw on a wider range of British, European, and U.S. models than American playwrights do.

The Burgeoning of American Gay Theater in the 1990s

Since the 1990s, there has been gay theater all over the United States. Theatre Rhinoceros in San Francisco, the Glines in New York City, OutProud and Actor's Express in Atlanta, and Manbites Dog Theater in Durham, North Carolina, are a few of the many theaters developing gay drama. Within the New York theater establishment, a majority of the most produced and published playwrights are gay even if they are not writing drama about gay characters.

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