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Straight 

From Seattle-based writer and performer David Schmader

Wednesday, Apr 11 2001
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When Seattle-based writer and performer David Schmader received an irate letter in response to his newspaper story about gay prostitution from a woman intent on putting the fear of God into him, he decided to infiltrate "ex-gay support groups" and other modes of conversion therapy. Straight chronicles Schmader's journey from Metanoia, one such group in a Washington suburb called Bellevue, to a True Hope retreat while visiting his parents in Texas -- with many side trips along the way, including his coming out and his relationship with his father. Schmader delivers more than an in-depth story about conversion therapy and its ties with Christianity; he also dares to question the gay community.

Schmader's writing is fabulously intelligent and witty, and he has great command of narrative structure. Like a confident stand-up comic, he pulls us in with hilarious one-liners ("Watching ex-gays play touch football is like watching a dachshund swim. They can do it, but ..."). Then he easily switches gears, objectively discounting conversion therapy's attacks on "gays' weak spots" ("They're everyone's weak spots. For every miserable fag there's six heterosexual divorces."). Unlike so many other "preaching to the choir" plays, Schmader puts the gay community under the microscope, too, questioning the intent of gay pride, as if ""gay' was an impediment and "pride' was the cure." With this parallel questioning of both communities, Schmader transcends the accepted definitions of straight and gay, making Straight one of the most thought-provoking plays I've seen in a while.

However, where Schmader's writing excels, his performance skills fall short. He's an affable performer with an easy demeanor, but he doesn't differentiate the characters. At times he speaks too quickly and doesn't enunciate. Ironically, these flaws stem from his writing, which is infused with long sentences and modifying phrases that an experienced actor could handle. It seems he'd be much more successful simply reading at a podium. Though he addresses these shortcomings in the show ("I'm a bad actor"), he could easily have overcome them with basic solo performance pointers. Still, such minor flaws are forgivable in light of writing that's as risky and important as his.

About The Author

Karen McKevitt

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