BY NOAH LEWIS
If you’re anything like me, you hear about a one-man play with 20 characters and you think: cheesy. You hear that it’s about gays in the military, and you think: uh, oh, preachy. Nonetheless, when I saw that such a play was in town, I rushed off to see it, based on the rave reviews of one recent HLS grad. A far cry from cheesy or preachy, Marc Wolf’s Another American: Asking and Telling inspires instead the words brilliant, amazing, and powerful.
You also may think that you’ve heard both sides of the debate over Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue, Don’t Harass (yeah, we often forget that last half). The fact is, however, that the people we hear arguing for gays in the military tend to be people arguing on behalf of gays in the military. That’s an inevitable side effect of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) policy.
In contrast, for three years in the early 1990s, Wolf went around the country and interviewed some 200 people representing all sides of the debate-gay and straight soldiers, veterans, advocates, and critics. By assuring their anonymity if they so desired, Wolf gained access to a world of largely hidden stories. The monologues woven together in the play are taken from these interviews.
When it came time to narrow it down and decide which stories to tell, Wolf says, “I chose people that surprised my preconceptions and my stereotypes because I’m not a military person at all. I’m not from the background and was never in the military; but I looked for people who could reveal the issues around serving in the military as a gay American. So much of being an American is that you live in this country that has these ideals, but you must also face reality; and there’s big distance between those ideals and the reality. Gays in the military live in that gray area and fight for our country in that gray area. I’m looking for stories that touch on that distance, and who we are as Americans, and who we strive to be as Americans.”
There are some stories conspicuous in their absence, namely those coming from Afghanistan and Iraq. Although Another American toured the country after it debuted in 1998, it never made it to Boston. When Boston Theatre Works asked Wolf to do a Boston run, he agreed, but chose not to update the material.
We are thus left to draw our own parallels. Are GLBT people in the military experiencing a reality more like the peace or wartime stories of the other characters? Have things gotten better or worse since gay people have become a more prominent fixture on prime time?
Whatever one’s position on DADT, one cannot walk away from Another American and think of the problem in abstract terms any longer. People with strong feelings on both sides can challenge themselves by grappling with the specific and real-life issues that Wolf raises.
Even if you really could care less about the issues of DADT, Another American is simply amazing to watch. Wolf is a gifted actor who convincingly creates each character and allows us to see the human faces behind the stories and statistics. The stories are so captivating that I had to keep reminding myself that they were real. For my part, I wish they were fiction.
Another American runs through Oct. 23, Thursdays through Sundays, at the Boston Center for the Arts Plaza Black Box Theatre, 539 Tremont St., Boston. For more information and tickets, call 617-933-8600 or visit www.bostontheatreworks.com. HLS Lambda is also organizing a trip. Contact email@example.com for more information.