Last night, the Civilians hosted another episode of their series Let Me Ascertain You. It was focused on LGBTQ stories and all the monologues were based on interviews with the people being depicted in the show. From a former military man into bondage, to a queer runaway who was being abused by his religious parents, to Michael Friedman's hilarious rendition of a song called Horrible Seders in the voice of Tony Kushner, the evening ran the gamut from the jocular to the sublime. The real-life stories were replete with honest portraits of suicidal thoughts, drug addiction, and families rejecting their children over their sexuality. But at the same time there were uplifting moments about the human spirit, our capacity for love, and the depth of forgiveness. If you've never seen one of these shows by the Civilians you can access past episodes via podcast but I recommend checking them out whenever they perform.
Artistic Director Steven Cosson introduced the segments including a
couple of songs from a new musical adaptation of the cult film Times
Square, sung by Alyse Louis and Mike Brun. A concert version of the
musical will take place at Joe's Pub on June 1 and 4. Cosson also
mentioned a new Civilians project, Be the Death of Me, that will be
happening at the end of June.
Last night's line-up kicked off with Paul Stovall who performed a monologue about a man who had struggled with drugs and addictions. This man spent much of his life fighting, robbing, and beating people. He finally settled into life with his husband and found happiness and peace. He works with others to help them realize their potential. As an ex-con he is living proof to others that "you can always start your life over."
I was pleasantly surprised to see Pedro Pascal pop up in the show. I LOVED his performance in Maple and Vine back in 2011 and had not seen him in a show since that. He portrayed Mark who loves a man who does not reciprocate. Mark is living with HIV. Pascal punctuated his monologue with a resigned and sad smile while expressing his subject's "fatalistic idea that [his HIV diagnosis] was inevitable." Laverne Cox, portrayed another HIV positive person who rejects labels such as transsexual or transgender, and declares "Me, myself and I identify by female." Despite a sassy and strong exterior, Cox, as her anonymous subject, was incredibly moving when she spoke of her family's acceptance of her after her diagnosis.
Michael Friedman announced before singing his song, "I am Tony Kushner in this song." Horrible Seders is a story song about what Seders must be like for Kushner and his family. It included the line "People yelling and screaming...And it's wonderful." The song was rapid fire, verbose, and multi-layered--much like a Kushner play. I fear I could not take notes fast enough but it will definitely be worth a listen when the podcast is posted.
Jax Jackson gave voice to Vincent, a self-identified queer who was being tortured by religious parents. With rage, sadness, and surrendering in his voice, Jackson portrays this young man who just wants to feel safe. Vincent runs away and finds community in the youth shelter population in New York. "I had never really belonged to a group."
The final performance of the night was Stephen Plunkett as David, an Iraq war vet. David lost the love of his life--but not through death or distance. Because his lover could not handle life out of the closet. It was a painful monologue about how you can love someone deeply and
forever even if they are not longer in your life. And how not everyone
gets the love and support they deserve. David is accepted by many of his fellow soldiers, but ultimately rejected by his religious mother. David asks his mother "Is your fear and embarrassment greater than your love for me?" She responds, yes.
Heartbreaking work again by The Civilians. If I sound like a Civilians fangirl. I am.