HPPUB DRAMA, MUSICAL OR PLAY REVIEW of Marc Wolf, Another American, Asking and Telling

 

Author:   Wolf, Marc

Title:  Another American: Asking and Telling  (1999)

Where seen:  Studio Theater, Washington , D.C., April 29, 2000

Director: Joe Mantello; Set Design: Russell Metheny; Lighting Design: Michael Lincoln; Sound Design: David Von Tieghem; supported by the new York Foundation for the Arts

Performance time: 110 minutes

Cast: Marc Wolf

Recording available:

Relevance to HPPUB:  gays in the military: many case histories

 

I saw this play at a benefit for SLDN at the Studio Theater in Washington D.C., during the Millennium March weekend. (The next night I would attend HRC’s “Equality Rocks” concert at RFK stadium (the old haunt of the Senators and Redskins), and retired Petty Officer Keith Meinhold would tell me, “a stadium filled with homos, and love every minute!”)  The benefit was sponsored in part by American Airlines, by http://www.gay.com, and by Pizzeria Paradisio. The website for this play is http://www.anotheramerican.com.

 

I’ve seen a few other “monologue” or “soliloquy” (as from the Carousel song) plays before, such as Chris Wells’s Liberty and, in the early 1980’s, Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Stein.  But Marc Wolf’s offering, however simple the stagecraft, is obviously ambitious. It java-strings the accounts of a number of gay and lesbian servicemembers, often in the words of these particular soldiers, producing a continuous, if segmented, symphony-story like Randy Shilts’s Conduct Unbecoming (1993, St. Martins) book (or Humphrey’s anthology My Country, My Right to Serve) .  Wolf  (as far as I can determine, as of May 2000) hasn’t gotten this play published in book form yet, and let’s hope that he does so that we can order it from sources like amazon.com.  But it is getting performed around the country and it is building an audience with the critics (it was reviewed by The Washington Post on May 2, 2000, and on CNN on May 11, 2000). Given the developments of the 1999-2000 winter, it sounds as though Broadway and Hollywood may be prepared to deal with the gays-in-the-military topic big-time, and this play could be the entry point.  (I don’t know what became of the rumors that HBO would do Conduct Unbecoming, as it had done And the Band Played On.  Several small films dealing with the ban are already discussed at this site, as is the 1999 Best Picture American Beauty.) However, I personally feel that it is important to show the reader, viewer or moviegoer why the issue matters to the average American.  As touching as was this script, I’m not sure that it really did that. Wolf, according to the CNN report, spent three years of his life and most of his savings traveling the country to interview almost 200 former servicemembers (from which he selected just eighteen as protagonists in his play).  By contrast, I interviewed a handful while keeping working, as I was preparing (in Do Ask Do Tell, a similar title) a broad argument libertarian argument about many issues with the military ban as the fulcrum. 

 

The selection of personalities and anecdotes is balanced, and many of them come from the pre 1993-Clinton period.  At least one character displays his resistance to serving with gays, maintaining that his religious convictions would be violated and that he would have to quit the service.  Several characters refer to the “naming names” trick played by military investigators, so well documented in Shilts’s book.  Perhaps the most important “big case” presented is that of  Miriam Ben-Shalom, who during the 1980’s fought for seven years to get the Army to obey a lower federal court order to reinstate her (only to lose at the appellate level).  Another galling case was that of a young gay Marine sodomized (ironically) in the brig; the claim is that he became HIV+ from the incident.   Later, Wolf presents the evolution of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  Charles Moskos is characterized as justifying the policy as “two cheers for hypocrisy,” as the alternative purportedly would have been “asking” and outright exclusion, possibly from associated civilian areas as well.  (Moskos at one time wanted to call the policy DADT, Don’t Seek, Don’t Flaunt, the last two of  which eventually became Don’t Pursue). Toward the end, he presents the horrible tragedy of Allen Schindler, whose mother tells of his body not even being left with a face after the beating, the eyeballs pushed into the position of the temples. The play seems about to end, with a train whistle that sounds a musical triad, dropping with the Doppler effect, although Wolf goes on for a coda emphasizing that gays fight in real combat, even as Green Berets (as in the 1980’s film).

 

Wolf presents himself as a virile, young gay man, muscular and agile, and in the early biological summer of life.  Sometimes, the camp of a few characters seems out of place for the appearance. At least, however, he trounces the stereotypes, the Cold War idea of gays as sissies who would drag the whole national defense down. Instead, gays can be the super-achievers and visual reminders of masculinity

 

 

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