It’s often lamented that musicals get to have all the flash and romance while plays lurk in the darker corners of the mind. Three up-and-coming playwrights are determined to dismantle that line of thinking, and are having a blast while doing it as part of the development series of this year’s Pride Plays Festival.
While Pride Plays presents four “mainstage” live stream presentations on Playbill throughout the month of June, 11 more works are in development as part of the festival.
These three writers and their stories are all examine forms of love in various subsections of the LGBTQ+ community.
Preston Max Allen’s Modern Gentlemen follows a trans man and his ex-girlfriend as they figure out their relationship, especially when the ex wants to stay together and keep the label of being a lesbian. “The fact that it’s as light as it can be, with moments of reconciliation and healing, to me just feels like I'm very happy to see that in my work for myself,” says Allen.
For Leonora, or, Companions, by Hayley St. James, follows an autistic book collector, Nora, who must navigate giving up her imaginary friend after she finds a connection with another young woman similar to herself.
Familial love takes center stage in Audrey Lang’s You Have To Promise, which follows two “baby lesbians” (as Lang calls them) on their journey of self-discovery. “I feel like love stories are so often thought of as falling in or out of love, and I think [the play] is much more about learning how to love people in the way that you actually need to be loved and that that they need to be loved.”
For all three, they’re stories steeped in personal experiences without being autobiographical. “The work has changed with me as I transition,” says Allen of Modern Gentleman. “It's not a story about me, or people in my life, but it's influenced by things that have come up in my dating life.”
And, despite the obstacles many face in the community, all three make a conscious effort to steer clear of the heavy undertones that often accompany LGBTQ+ works, complicated though these love stories might be.
“Having an opportunity to write a lesbian love story that doesn't end sad, or with them never seeing each other again, it felt like taking this narrative as an LGBTQ+ person, an autistic person, and writing an ending that I wanted to see in real life,” says St. James, prompting fervent agreement from Lang. “My mentor taught me, ‘You can be gentle’ and that’s something I’ve carried with me.”
Allen’s Modern Gentleman ending reads more open-ended than the other two plays, but the playwright says that’s still a positive. “I wanted to give space to the idea that sometimes there is no clear answer in a relationship that is going through these kinds of changes and rocky moments,” he says. “Leaving that open is really exciting to me; it feels really positive either way and growth for the characters either way.”