A successful new theater company focuses on gay-themed works
by J. Cooper Robb, Philadelphia Weekly
“As Philadelphia theater grows, the theater community takes great pride in touting its diversity. Sadly this so-called diversity rarely includes plays geared toward gay audiences… The little company with the funny name may establish itself as the place to go in Philly for original gay theater.” Read more…
A successful new theater company focuses on gay-themed works.
By J. Cooper Robb | July 31, 2008
Typically it takes a new theater company a few productions to find its footing. Not so with Mauckingbird Theatre Company.
Founded by artistic director Peter Reynolds and managing director Lindsay Mauck, the company (which produces gay-themed theater with an eye toward classic texts) made an auspicious debut in January with an innovative and hugely entertaining staging of Moliere’s classic comedy The Misanthrope.
Featuring an all-male cast led by Dito van Reigersberg and Evan Jonigkeit, Reynolds’ production put a gay spin on Moliere’s tale of pretense and conceit, in the process exposing the pretentiousness of gay men who favor youthful beauty over sincerity. It was easily one of the season’s 10 best productions.
Mauckingbird attempts to follow up on the success of Misanthrope with a staging of Joe Calarco’s theatrically ambitious R&J. Focusing on four teenage boys at a repressive prep school, R&J blurs the lines between the schoolboys’ escalating sexual desires and Shakespeare’s original tale of adolescent love Romeo and Juliet.
Of course the appearance of any promising young-company is reason to celebrate, but Mauckingbird’s commitment to presenting gay-themed work makes their arrival all the more welcome.
As Philadelphia theater grows, the theater community takes great pride in touting its diversity. Sadly this so-called diversity rarely includes plays geared toward gay audiences. The city’s largest theater (with the possible exception of the Philadelphia Theater Company) basically ignore gay-themed plays, and the few companies that have regularly produced gay fare in the past ranged from artistically erratic to the downright disappointing.
The Philadelphia Gay and Lesbian Theatre Festival presents inspiring gay and lesbian programming for a couple weeks in June, but too often in the past decade gay theatergoers have had to settle for shallow beefcake comedies like the forgettable My Boyfriend the Stripper or titillating sex romps such as the idiotic’ Cruising Men for Dummies.
No newcomer to the demands of helming a company, Reynolds spent six years as artistic director of HealthWorks Theatre Chicago. Reynolds reports the experience was a satisfying one, but the rigors of running a theater left him exhausted and artistically drained.
Looking to restore his creative juices, Reynolds enrolled in Temple University’s renowned M.F.A. in directing program in 2OO2, where he distinguished himself with well-received productions of the musicals Into the Woods, Ragtime, Company and an imaginative remounting of Shakespeare’s notoriously problematic play Pericles. Last year Reynolds was hired by his alma mater to a full-time position as director of musical theater in Temple’s department.
Nevertheless Reynolds (who’s also one of the area’s busiest freelance directors with productions this year at Act II Playhouse, Hedgerow Theatre and Villanova Theatre in addition to Misanthrope) decided to launch Mauckingbird with managing director Lindsay Mauck (whose email address inspired the company’s name).
Mauckingbird arose from Reynolds’ desire to explore well-known plays and musicals from a fresh perspective. “I’m interested in classic texts and telling gay stories,” he says. “I’m always looking for scripts that put a twist on classic plays and interpret the language in a new way.”
The odds are stacked heavily against any new company, especially a company specializing in gay-themed drama. “I didn’t know what the reaction to Misanthrope would be in terms of finding an audience,” says Reynolds. Buoyed by strong reviews and word of mouth, the show’s run quickly sold out.
“We were really pleased with the turnout,” Reynolds says, adding that he was particularly pleased the production found favor among both gay and straight audience members.
Regarding Mauckingbird’s future, Reynolds says the company plans to stage a new genderbending adaptation of Hedda Gabler in January. Beyond that, he’s taking a wait-and-see approach.
“Right now we’re still not a nonprofit, though we hope that’ll change,” he says. “I can see us in the future perhaps presenting three shows a year, but I don’t ever envision us having our own space someday and mounting a seven show season. I still don’t know how much we’ll be embraced as a specific niche company.”
If R&J is anywhere nearly as popular with audiences and critics as Misanthrope the little company with the funny name may establish itself as the place to go in Philly for original gay theater.