Struggle creates bonding and love. That’s one of the themes of Terry Ray’s acclaimed human comedy and Los Angeles hit, Electricity. Ray, who also acts opposite Mel England, performed this hit two-hander in Los Angeles and Palm Springs for over an impressive two years. Now the co-actors are launching its first road tour at St. Paul’s Camp Bar with a special fundraiser performance for the Aliveness Project on Thursday, July 12.
Electricity is like a gay version of Same Time Next Year as it advances from 1983 to 2013 in the same motel. When two gay men hook up after their ten-year high school reunion, romance is sparked. Ray wrote the play to reflect the shift from the AIDS crisis ’80s to the current era of much greater equality.
Closeted Gary, played by Ray, has invented a fake wife to shield the reality of his homosexuality. Brad, played by England, wrestles self-destructively with the same reality through drug addiction, alcoholism, and sexual compulsion. In spite of all this, they find a powerful inter-connection in a world thrown to thwarting same-sex love.
Ray is perhaps best know for his role in the comedy series, My Sister is So Gay, with Minnesota’s own Loni Anderson as his mother. He recalls that “being a gay teenager in the late 1970s wasn’t for sissies. In high school, bullies ruled. There was no such thing as being ‘openly gay’, at least not in my hometown in the middle of Ohio, and not if you wanted to live through the day without getting your head stuck in a toilet for a ‘swirlie’. My only role models were Paul Lynde, Charles Nelson Reilly and later, Elton John—and they weren’t openly gay—we just knew. And then coming of sexual age in the ‘early ’80s, AIDS was a constant fear. Could you get it from kissing? Did you already have it? People you knew were literally dying. And yet, were things easier for us than the generation before? At least a pink triangle wasn’t sewn into my shirt and I wasn’t thrown into a concentration camp.” *
England has gained a following as Off-Broadway solo star of Swimming With Polar Bears and the honored gay indie film, Best Day Ever. He weighs in that “coming of age as a gay man today seems centuries apart from what we lived in the 1980s. Well, it was the last century! I grew up in the South and being gay wasn’t something you could even really talk about in public openly, definitely not with your family! You had to live in the closet. There were no role models and the only time you saw a gay character on television, it was a joke, something to be ridiculed, or the guy would commit suicide or end tragically.”
He reminds us, “Being gay was a dark secret only your closest friends knew, or you risked being ostracized by the whole world. When I first started going to gay bars in Dallas (way too young but where else was I gonna go?), I’d say half the guys were in the closet, and many of them were living a double life, actually married to a woman. That was normal in those days. You had to hide to protect yourself because of what other people thought. You could lose everything. It was like living a bad horror/thriller movie all the time!”
England also points out that “being gay was still thought of by religion as being intrinsically evil and as a psychiatric disorder. Even if you didn’t believe all that, you were surrounded by people who did. (Throughout most of the nation) there were no laws to protect gay people from discrimination or certainly for gay partners. It was normal to be arrested or harassed by police: I got beaten up by cops with a friend of mine because we were making out in a car. It was a nightmare, we had to go to court. They should have put the police on trial, but that’s another story. That’s when my parents sent me to a shrink. It’s okay. I survived to tell the story.”
*Note: During the Third Reich, homosexuals and suspected homosexuals were rounded up and sent to concentration camps where most met a dismal end. A pink triangle was sewn into their camp garb to signify their outlawed sexual orientation, real or perceived. Jews, who were the primary targets of the Nazi German extermination, also known as The Final Solution, had a yellow star sewn into their garb. Other groups such as gypsies and communists were also targets. Ironically, the Nazi economic plan was a variation on the communist/socialist perspective. Another irony was that Ernst Rohm, who was essentially out as a homosexually active man, was the leader of the SA, Sturmabteilung (the Storm Battalion), the Nazi Party’s original paramilitary’s leader until his official execution in the aftershock of Hitler’s Night of the Long Knives purge in 1934.
Fundraiser Performance for the Aliveness Project, Thurs. July 12
The Cabaret at Camp Bar, 490 N. Robert St., St. Paul