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Telling our war stories.

Actor-writer Marc Wolf brings the gays-in-the-military issue to life in a bold one-man show

Until he started working on his debut play, the one-man stage documentary Another American: Asking and Telling, Marc Wolf considered himself an actor rather than an activist. Although he had long had an intense interest in politics--he double majored in political science and theater at Williams College in Massachusetts--Wolf took a sabbatical from social issues when he moved to New York City ten years ago, where he worked off off Broadway and on a soap, Guiding Light.

"I played a cross-dressing, psychotic, kidnapping, murderous villain," Wolf, 37, says of his daytime-TV character. "The role was very politically incorrect." In terms of gay civil rights, he did go to the 1993 march on Washington, but, he confesses, "I partied."

In 1996, however, Wolf began wondering why an issue that had exploded during the year of the march--gays in the military--had disappeared from view. "I wondered why active-duty gays and lesbians were no longer so present in the media," Wolf says, "and realized that all sides of the discussion felt that they had lost in '93, and so no one wanted to keep pushing the issue. More important, I realized that the `don't ask, don't tell' policy implemented that year had been effective: Gay soldiers had either been kicked out or had become anonymous. The policy had silenced the community."

Wolfs show, heading for an off-Broadway theater this fall as part of the season of the New Group company, should help keep the discussion going. Inspired by the technique of Anna Deavere Smith, whose work offers vivid stage characters based on painstaking interviews, Wolf presents sociologists, professors, activists, politicians, and, of course, veterans and active-duty military personnel from World War II to the present. He tape-recorded sessions with 150 people and turned these talks into the verbatim monologues he enacts during a two-act, nearly two-hour evening.

The piece may seem quite a departure for a guy who logged his first gay experience onstage in the bawdy off-Broadway hit Party, which Wolf describes as "like The Boys in the Band but without the self-hatred." But then Party was a big change for a man who had only recently realized that he was gay.

Even as an outstanding high school cross-country runner and wrestler growing up in Englewood, N.J., Wolf had no clue he might be attracted to men. "When this feeling started to happen in college, I thought it was something straight guys went through, part of growing up. Then it wasn't going away. I wanted to explore it, and I did."

A couple of years later, Wolf had come out to friends, but he didn't tell his parents "until I had a boyfriend, someone important enough to me that instead of saying, `This is who I am,' I was more like, `This is what I'm doing.'" It's a meaningful distinction for Wolf, who says he still takes note of an attractive woman now and then. "I'm comfortable saying I'm gay for political reasons," says Wolf, now happily settled in New York with playwright Robert Westfield. "I'm not comfortable saying it as a way that helps to define me as a human being."

His own gradual evolution is reflected in Another American. Among other things, Wolf says, his play is about "labeling people too early." His vision has touched off lively debate since its first performance in January 1998 at Dixon Place in New York. The work has since been seen at, among other places, the New York Stage and Film Festival in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., where it was directed by Joe Mantello, who will also stage it in Manhattan and who was introduced to Wolf by the show's coproducer, actor-playwright David Marshall Grant.

"The evening is an exploration of how America has confronted the issue of gays and lesbians in the military," Wolf says. "And I think some people who come to see it expect a one-sided, preachy point of view. When they realize that the play presents a variety of voices, they're not always happy." Some gay activists, the writer says, "maintain that I don't nail the military's position hard enough."

Wolf expects to encounter similar anger in New York City, but he also hopes to hear other opinions. "I've been gratified by the straight veterans who said that as a result of this show they had to rethink the issue and by the gays and lesbians who said that I made them look more deeply into the policy's complexity."

Although some of the characters Wolf presents in the show are given their real-life names--Miriam Ben-Shalom, for example, who challenged the military's all-out gay ban in the 1970s--half of the 16 onstage portraits have been masked by pseudonyms to protect vulnerable identifies. "I was struck by how fearful the policy has made people," he says. "One lesbian couple were still paranoid talking about their experience, and this was 20 years after they'd served."

Having explored the issue from multiple points of view, Wolf is now willing to call himself an activist. "As an actor," he says, "I felt I was not contributing to the cause of civil rights. I didn't want to be on my deathbed thinking I hadn't done everything I could for the gay rights movement."

Lemon is a writer and critic based in New York City.
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Title Annotation:actor Marc Wolf takes stance on gays in military
Author:Lemon, Brendan
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 28, 1999
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