June 07--In 2011, Fuse Theatre Ensemble produced the Gay Pride Reading Series, a set of simple presentations of a few plays, such as "Love, Valor, Compassion." As Fuse co-artistic director Rusty Tennant, whose play "Dude Ranch" was part of the series, recalls, "They were the best-selling shows we've ever had."
For an adventurous company that at times has struggled to fill seats, the capacity crowds at Southeast Portland's Theater! Theatre! for the reading series proved an eye opener.
"It really centered an audience for us, gave us a focus to who we want to be as a company," Tennant says.
Now, after a year to strategize, the company hopes to build on the previous event with a larger successor, the OUTwright Theatre Festival, which Tennant says is intended to be an incubator for people writing on themes of interest to the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community.
The festival will consist of a half-dozen staged readings, each prefaced with a brief dance piece called "Same Love," choreographed by the Fuse ensemble.
Here's a rundown on what's in store.
"Consider the Oyster" (7:30 p.m. June 11): Ithaca Tell stars in a David MacGregor comedy that ponders the gender-switching propensity of oysters and what would happen if a human were to wake up one morning suddenly as a member of the opposite sex.
"Harmony" (7:30 p.m. June 12): This play by Michigan college professor Randy Wyatt focuses on an evangelical family and its response when the eldest son is seen kissing a man. "It's a play with a gay catalyst, but it's really more about the church and people who struggle with religion and belief," Tennant says. Its first-ever public performance features a promising cast including Jennifer Lanier, Todd Van Voris and Nikolas Hoback.
"Man Boobs" (7:30 p.m. June 13): New York playwright J. Julian Christopher examines the social dynamics of body image with the gay subculture known as Bears. Tennant both directs and performs in what he calls "an opportunity for me to play something very close to home."
"Sordid Lives" (7:30 p.m. June 14): Tennant directs the comedy that gave rise to a cult-classic film version from 2000. Jill Westerby, Jeffrey Frieders and Fuse co-artistic director Kate Mura star.
"Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde" (2 p.m. June 15): Bobby Bermea as Oscar Wilde. The unlikely and potentially inspired casting of a one of the city's most noted black actors as the famous Irish writer and bon vivant should be enough to make you interested in this account of Wilde's legal travails in the 1890s.
"Romeo and Juliet" (7:30 p.m. June 15): Original Practice Shakespeare Festival joins the festival, presenting a gender-bending version of the otherwise familiar tragedy. Here, the two teen lovers both are female, the Capulet clan is led by two fathers, and Juliet's faithful nurse is a cross-dresser.
-- Marty Hughley
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