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Gay and Lesbian American Plays: An Annotated Bibliography.

The late Terry Helbing, longtime theatre columnist for the New York Native, compiled the first bibliography of gay and lesbian-themed plays in his groundbreaking 1979 book The Gay Theatre Alliance Directory of Gay Plays. With the current proliferation of homophile theatre - both high-profile New York productions (Angels in America, Kiss of the Spider Woman, and Jeffrey, to name the most conspicuous) as well as the lesser-known grassroots performances taking place in smaller venues throughout the country - the time is certainly past due for an updating. With Helbing's blessing and cooperation, Furtado and Hellner have taken on the Herculean task of collecting and sorting through the plethora of material available to present this reference work on nearly 700 plays; for the most part they have succeeded admirably.

Each play is listed in a standard format providing publication information (if applicable); a somewhat arguable designation as to basic "type of play"; a brief synopsis or description; the number of acts, sets, and characters; where and when the initial production occurred; and sometimes, although not often enough, from whom to obtain performance rights. Eschewing Helbing's alphabetical listing by title, the current volume is organized according to playwright, but does include an index of plays by title, should one be looking for a particular play and not know who wrote it.

The book contains a listing of gay plays which were not included due to incomplete information; among these is Lanford Wilson's widely produced Burn This, cited as author unknown, which makes one suspect the authors' theatrical credibility and thoroughness. Also included are indices of agents, playwrights, and theatres to contact for production rights, a short bibliography of books on related topics, and a submission form to nominate plays for inclusion in subsequent editions.

One of the great strengths of the book is that it includes fairly comprehensive information on the work of both the expected big names in gay theatre (such as Robert Patrick, Susan Miller, Larry Kramer) as well as many largely regional playwrights who deserve a wider audience (such as San Francisco's Joe Besecker, Chicago's Howard Casner, and Los Angeles's Jeff Hagedorn). Unlike Helbing's book, which suffered from a dearth of distaff material, the new edition, happily, is almost evenly divided between lesbian and gay works. While most of the material covered, for obvious reasons, still originates on the coasts or in the major metropolitan centers, a smattering of plays from the hinterlands is also included.

I do have a few minor squabbles with both the content and structure of the book. Although the majority of the plays listed are recent, it might have been more valuable to delete the earlier material from Helbing's edition (who doesn't already know about Tea and Sympathy or Boys in the Band?) in favor of including the contemporary performance pieces and "alternative genres" which were deleted because they were deemed too personal or esoteric to sustain widespread interest. And rather than include initial, often outdated publication information, it would be preferable to know who currently holds the rights: it is more useful to know, for example, that Dramatists Play Service now handles Albee's Malcolm than that Atheneum originally published it in 1966; or that Angels in America is more readily available from TCG than from London's Nick Hern Books.

Some play descriptions are so brief or non-specific as to obscure why the plays even qualify to be included: the entire synopsis of Susan Schulman's Failures, for example, states that it is "About being 100% wrong" (140). One suspects that the authors relied heavily on agents or playwrights to provide such information, rather than reading through the plays themselves. And I would argue that including works with peripheral or stereotypical gay characters (such as Wasserstein's The Heidi Chronicles, or Clark and Bobrick's Norman, Is That You?) is akin to including The Little Foxes in a bibliography of black plays on the basis of its servant characters.

My only other objection is to the use of a bizarre set of a dozen "codes" in the index, purportedly to make it easier to find plays on specific subjects. Not only are these confusing ("H" stands for racially mixed casts, while "R" stands for historical pieces; "O" stands for coming-out themes because "C" stands for comedy), but they are often used arbitrarily or incorrectly: "T" is supposed to represent plays containing cross-dressed or transgendered characters, yet transsexual lesbian Kate Bornstein's autobiographical plays are not so identified, but rather are mislabeled "G" for containing gay male characters.

Despite these caveats, however, the present volume is a valuable resource both for the gay and lesbian theatre community and for more adventuresome "mainstream" theatres that may be looking to expand their repertoire beyond the traditional canon. One hopes that future editions will correct this edition's few flaws. And considering the myriad gay and lesbian plays and performance pieces that have debuted even since this recent volume appeared, it won't take another fourteen years for an updated edition.

DOUGLAS GORDY University of Colorado-Boulder
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Title Annotation:Gay & Lesbian Queeries
Author:Gordy, Douglas
Publication:Theatre Journal
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 1995
Words:830
Previous Article:The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader.
Next Article:The Rise of the English Actress.
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