"I'm a fighter." That's what the character Stu finally realizes at the end of act two of the new off Broadway musical Yank!. His journey to self realization is told during World War II from boot camp to deployment in the Pacific. Yank! is called "A WWII Love Story" with the tagline "Some stories don't make it into the history books" referring to the fact that Stu is gay and falls in love with one of his fellow soldiers he meets in boot camp. The story highlights not only homophobia within the military but the dangers of living in the closet way before the creation of Don't Ask Don't Tell. The closet is a devastating place and dealing with internal homophobia can be far worse. Stu falls for Mitch, the handsome fellow soldier who seems at ease in this military world, but the audience eventually realizes that Stu is the real hero: a man that is comfortable with himself and stronger for the experience of falling in love. He sings with Mitch the memorable number "A Couple Of Regular Guys" that talks about what their lives together will be like when the hell of war is over. It's hopeful and charming as they sing about living together in an optimistic America where they will be accepted for who they are. In 1940s America, you have to admire the courage of those attempting it back then.
Yank! is not heavy handed and is quite funny. Some of the numbers fall a little flat, but there are some standouts including "Remembering You" and "Blue Twilight". The cast is great. Bobby Steggert plays Stu and I was lucky enough to see him as Younger Brother in Ragtime before it closed on Broadway. Ivan Hernandez plays Mitch and Jeffery Denan plays Artie who becomes a mentor to Stu and helps guide him on his path of self-realization. Nancy Anderson plays a variety cast of female characters and does a terrific job.
I also had a chance to see another gay-themed play recently when my friend Marty got tickets to see The Pride. This tells the story of three characters in 1958 and 2008 London simultaneously. Again it is a tale about the self destruction of the closet and the fear of allowing one to be true to oneself.
The character Oliver, played by Ben Whishaw, is a meek children's author in 1958 and, in 2008, a freelance journalist addicted to anonymous sex. In both cases he's trying to explore a relationship with Philip, played by Hugh Dancy. In 1958, Philip is a closeted man married to Sylvia, played by Andrea Riseborough. In 2008, he's Oliver's frustrated boyfriend. There is a really fantastic moment in the beginning of the play in which Oliver is telling a story of a recent trip to Greece. He describes the amazing beauty of Delphi and when he wanders out on his own he hears a voice calling his name telling him those sleepless nights will pass and sometime, maybe years from now, things will be better. Is this Oracle right? Have things gotten better? We still live in a society in which many think gay people can be "saved" and "reprogrammed." The Pride is beautifully written by Alexi Kaye Campbell and asks these questions and many more.
There seems to be several gay themed shows recently and both of these take a look at gay life in the past. Maybe by providing enough distance, we can take stock of our lives today.