Bob Fischbach / World Herald Staff Writer
“Voices From the Closet”, a collection of eight original monologues about the price gay people have historically paid for hiding – or revealing – their sexual preference, is an impressive, thought-provoking and moving evening of theater.
This SNAP! Productions show, which opened last weekend for a four-weekend run, is entirely local. Not many scripts by an Omaha playwright are as emotionally affecting and carefully crafted as “Voices From the Closet.”
The writer, Daena Schweiger, is primarily known in the theatre community as an actress and director, though the Shelterbelt staged her spousal-abuse play, “Love is Strange,” twelve years ago. This new piece demonstrates a sharpened ear for dialogue, keen instincts for detailed storytelling and character development, and impressive range in mood and tone.
Schweiger’s eight monologues are presented in chronological order, fragments in the history of the gay-rights movement. They reflect how some things have changed, and others really haven’t.
Directors Todd Brooks, Echelle Childers, M. Michele Phillips and Michal Simpson change up the staging of the pieces, some of which use other nonspeaking actors, so it never feels like an evening of stand-and-deliver monologues.
- A woman in 1835 Britain (Stephanie Kidd) is outed by a child who didn’t understand what he saw. Now the woman faces the death penalty, renounced by her partner.
- A man in 1890 Russia (Doug Hayko), betrayed by a friend who wanted to advance his career, writes of cruelty and severe cold while serving a hard-labor sentence in Siberia.
- An Irish woman (Nichole Nelson-Hawkins), headed to America in 1920 to join her female partner, writes her sister about the hazardous journey, Ellis Island and heartbreak.
- A 1950s man (David Ebke) nervously paces and practices a speech, trying to screw up the courage to tell his girlfriend he can’t lead her on anymore.
- A professional escort in 1963 Hollywood (Stephanie Anderson) regales a bartender with tales of closeted stars like Montgomery Clift, Farley Granger, Rock Hudson and Tab Hunter.
- A Nebraska farmboy in the 1970s (Robby Stone) talks of detassling corn, a budding friendship, facts-of-life talks with his father and the fear of ever revealing who he really is.
- A war veteran in 2006 Alabama (Scott Fowler) remembers the AIDS crisis and how it shattered his life, including his relationships with his parents.
- A 2012 teen (Alexia Childers) is haunted, recalling how her best friend asked for her help to stop cyberbullying – and how she failed to understand.
Hayko, Nelson-Hawkins and Fowler deliver are standouts in delivering some of the heavier stories, though every actor does justice to Schweiger’s varied scenarios. A mix of comic relief in several pieces keep things far from one-note grimness.
A collage of doors forms a backdrop. Stairs with landings on both sides lead to a raised platform center stage. It’s effective staging on a limited budget.
An all-cast epilogue nicely caps the evening, which runs about two hours plus intermission.