Tophyer Payne’s “Angry Fags” is a strange play. It initially it appears to center around Allison Haines (Kelli Walker): an openly gay female senator from Georgia. As the play opens, she interacts with audience members with charisma and charm, asking for their votes, and in a clever bit of meta-theatrical protocol, asking if they are sure that their cell-phones are turned off. It’s an election year (possibly 2016: President Obama is office), and she is pitted against Peggy Musgrove (Joanne McGrath), a moderate conservative who has aligned herself with far-right evangelical Christian organizations. Both women are warm and likable; in fact, they seem like foils; struggling to balance political necessity with personal convictions and interpersonal obligations, and while it clearly taking a toll on both of them, they are managing.
The men with whom they are allied are not. An evangelical Christian leader, backer of Peggy Musgrove, and defender of the “traditional family,” is leading a double life as a gay man. But real the drama centers around the gay men in Senator Haines’ life. When her friend Zachary is murdered in a hate crime, her staffer Bennett (Kevin Webb) and his roommate Cooper (James Nedrud) are unable to deal with the senator’s refusal to publicly denounce the murder in an aggressive manner, the police insistence that this may not have happened because Zachary was gay, and the fact that they are still maligned, attacked, and disenfranchised because of their sexual orientation. They decide on vigilante justice which quickly turns into “liberal terrorism, something that has never existed before” and they perpetrate some pretty horrific acts against an increasingly wide range of targets, arguing that they can no longer wait for things to get better, but must use extreme methods to claim their humanity. In the end, they leave a trail of blood so vast that ends up including more than just “collateral damage,” and the play’s end is both shocking and harrowing.
From the moment, Kelli Walker walks on stage, we sense that something has already been accomplished. She is utterly and totally convincing as an openly gay senator serving in the Georgia legislature. There are other excellent performances here. Joanne McGrath brings a lot of humanity to a character that it would be all too easy to demonize. We actually share her disappointment (although presumably not her views) when she finds out that the evangelical Christian leader and spokesman for “the family” who championed her campaign was a closeted homosexual leading a double-life. Though James Nedrud’s performance was excellent as comedy, it seemed out of place in a script in which the rest of the characters seemed so human and non-caricatured. Bennett Riggs gave an intense and vulnerable performance as he got sucked into terrorist tactics, choices, and decisions in which he seemed to have decreasing levels of agency—the psychology of this could have been better explored by Payne’s script, but the thrilling plot and tension never fail (Due partly to excellent blocking and direction by Derek Van Barham).
The most interesting performance by far was Jude Hansen as the charming farm-boy Adam Lowell, a colleague of Bennett and new-love interest, who appears fresh, clean-shaven, gentle, and innocent, but becomes far more complicit in Bennett and Cooper’s bloody path of destruction than anyone could ever imagine. Technically, the highpoint of the show is a mix of a flexible set and media screen (G. “Max” Maxin IV) and lighting (Rebecca A. Barrett) which gave the ambience of an apartment, a police station, and a campaign office. The screen, in particular, is used extremely effectively, to convey political rhetoric and news, and in a stroke of genius there are repeated interruptions in sound as the candidate’s speak, suggesting constant alterations in what candidates, journalists, and public figures say to match events and the lapses we as constituents and consumers never get into their views and lives.
Angry Fags is playing at The Garage Theatre of the Steppenwolf Theatre located at 1650 N. Halsted Street through April 26, 2015. Performances are March 21 at 8:00 pm, March 22 at 4:00 pm, March 27 at 8 pm, March 28 at 4:00pm, April 2, 8:00 pm, Sundays at April 5, 800 pm, April 11 at 8 pm., April 12 at 4 PM, April 17th at 8:00 pm, April 18th at 4:00 pm, Thursday April 23rd 8:00 pm, April 26 4:00 pm. Play runs for 2 Hours and 15 minutes with one intermission. Tickets are 20 dollars and can be purchased www.steppenwolf.org
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “Angry fags”