“Ex-Gays” shoot straight at the Minnesota Fringe Festival

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On the face of it, Ex-Gays—a show satirizing Marcus-Bachmann-like attempts to “cure” homosexuality—would seem to be one of the most pointedly political shows in this year’s Minnesota Fringe Festival. In fact, though, it’s not particularly political at all. Nor, actually, is it really all that gay.

The show does two things very well, neither of which directly engage the current national discourse about the legal aspects of homosexuality.

One of those things is goofy double-entendre comedy. It’s funny, but sometimes a buttsex joke is just a buttsex joke. It’s the kind of thing you see in Shakespeare all the time—just a little gayer. The other thing the show does well is poignantly depicting a pair of gay relationships. In both cases, though, there’s a third party involved and the scenes could have been shifted to a play about adultery (straight or gay) with only minor adjustments. (Consider how easily, in Far From Heaven, Todd Haynes slipped a gay subplot into Douglas Sirk’s Far From Heaven: it’s all about wanting to be with someone society says you can’t be with.)

The humor is so broad and silly that it doesn’t feel particularly pointed, and the drama is so precisely human that it doesn’t feel political. Perhaps it’s the fact that this show was abbreviated for Fringe purposes from a longer production I unfortunately missed, but though Sheila Regan and Carl Atiya Swanson (both, I should note, Daily Planet contributors—and friends of mine, to boot) movingly enact their characters’ battles to “stay straight” when they’re feeling gay, the script by Eric F. Avery makes it hard to understand how these characters can be so firmly anchored to the pro-hetero arguments of the patently ridiculous Camp Str8-N-Arrow.

I know camps not unlike this exist, and I’m sure they’re quite ridiculous, but this show pushes the satire so far that it distracts from, rather than supports, the drama. (By contrast, consider Seth Lepore’s depiction of new age gurus in Losing My Religion: without shying away from the absurdity of these characters, Lepore also—crucially—portrays their unexpectedly seductive appeal.) The finale pushes things into the realm of high tragedy, and seems to exist in another play entirely.

But setting aside the question of the show’s structural integrity, it’s very well-done. The cast members are unfailingly entertaining, and director Laura Leffler-McCabe moves the action fleetly but lucidly across the Intermedia Arts stage. Surely benefiting from its recent pre-Fringe run, the show feels taut and confident. (I don’t mean that as a euphemism, but it’s probably true in that sense too.) Even if Ex-Gays isn’t as pointed as it might have been, this satire is an important reminder of just how dangerously crazy are some of the notions most dearly held by people in positions of frightening power and influence in this country.