John Fisher's 'Slugs and Kicks' opens Theatre Rhino's season
by Richard Dodds
College kids are playing college kids in Slugs and Kicks, writer-director John Fisher's new play launching Theatre Rhino's 35th season. "At our auditions, all these college students were interested in trying out for a gay theater," Fisher said. "At callbacks, I said, 'Look, there's a lot of kissing in the play, and at this point you don't have to actually kiss.' And one of them said, 'Can we?' I never would have auditioned for myself when I was in college."
Fisher was an undergraduate at UC Berkeley in the early 1980s who was discovering sexuality, but not at all certain he wanted to uncover homosexuality in the process. Slugs and Kicks, set in and around a college drama department at that time, looks back comically, ruefully, and a bit farcically at the widely shared time when self-dramatization beat out anything that might appear on a stage. "I think of myself as pretty ridiculous now as I look back," said Fisher, who is Rhino's executive director.
The play, beginning performances Nov. 24 at Thick House, is not meant to be strictly autobiographical, but Fisher has no problem identifying that sexually conflicted drama student Rory is a variation on himself. "I think he is a little more idealized than the truth," Fisher said. "I was a pretty big geek, and he is a little more streamlined. But he's quirky and different even from the drama department kids, and that's me."
Other student characters include the girl who's tired of being the fag hag in the scenario, even though Rory is not ready to address the accuracy that leads to that description. The only openly gay character is the very openly gay director, older than the students and not sure he's allowed to actually like himself. "I think that was going on with a lot of gay men at the time," Fisher said. "These were supposed to be my gay role models, which I think is part of the reason I didn't feel comfortable being gay."
Serious ruminations are more in the subtext, while the overt action opts for a comedic and at times "naughty" tone, to use Fisher's word. "It's mostly about sex and love and finding yourself," he said. "I think of it like a John Hughes movie, like The Breakfast Club or Pretty in Pink ."
Slugs and Kicks is the first of four theatrical productions making up a season that also includes a New Year's Eve show returning singer-comedian Lea DeLaria to the Victoria Theatre, and a benefit show featuring big names in local LGBT entertainment at the Eureka Theatre on March 24. The series will unfold at multiple venues, an itinerancy that began when Theatre Rhino abandoned its 16th Street digs in 2009.
"We dialed back when we moved, but we've grown for the past four years," Fisher said. "Funding has increased, and our budget is actually larger this year than last. It feels healthy."
Eureka Theatre will be home to the second play of the season, Tennessee Williams' Something Cloudy, Something Clear, beginning performances on Jan. 2. The heavily autobiographical play, about a playwright's unrequited love for another man during a Provincetown summer, continues Fisher's interest in lesser-known Williams. "A lot of other theaters take care of the big stuff," Fisher said, "but I think there's a lot in these other works that people don't always see, and I love that."
It will again be the Eureka Theatre for the March production of A Lady and a Woman that examines the love between two African-American women in the late 19th century. Fisher discovered Georgia-based Shirlene Holmes' scant-produced 1997 play while browsing the gay/lesbian shelves at the public library. "When I read it, I was just amazed," he said. "I thought it was one of the most consistent plays about a lesbian relationship that I had ever read."
Rhino will move into the Costume Shop, ACT's Mid-Market performing space, for its final production of the season in late spring. Drunk Enough to Say I Love You, a recent play by Caryl Churchill (Cloud Nine), looks at applications of U.S. power around the world, and specifically the Bush-Blair relationship, through a homosexual affair between two men. "I think if you were gay-lib minded enough you could get upset by the way she uses a gay relationship," Fisher said, "but that's what makes it challenging and exciting. That's Churchill as an ultimate provocateur."
For season tickets, as well as single tickets to Slugs and Kicks, call (800) 838-3006 or go to www.therhino.org.