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3 Plays That Have Shaped LGBTQ Theater History

The Drag by Mae West

At the beginning of the 20th Century, you could have been arrested for putting on a gay play. It didn’t matter if the show sold out or if the theater was packed – it wouldn’t stop it from being closed down for showing “obscene” content.

Thankfully, most theaters in the US have now altered their behavior and attitude towards these plays, but it can still be a struggle to find gay theater. However, Ticket Sales sell a variety of theater tickets, including those for gay plays, in many theaters across the US, which is a huge improvement.

LGBTQ+ theater was usually a predominantly cis, white, male game. This isn’t necessarily the case in the suburbs, but these plays haven’t really interested the mainstream theaters. Below is a list of some of the plays that have shaped theater history.

1.     The Drag by Mae West

The Drag was originally written in 1972. It is about a gay gentleman called Rolly, who married a woman to hide the fact that he was gay as he was worried about how he would be treated.

The author Mae West (who used the pen name Jane Mast) was an unrelenting supporter of gay rights throughout the whole of her life. The Drag caused outrage due to Mae’s depiction of cross-dressing and homosexuality, and although Mae had planned for it to be performed on Broadway, it was shut down before making it there. Mae was also arrested and sentenced to ten days in jail with a fine of $500.

2.     Last Summer at Bluefish Cove by Jane Chambers

Last Summer at Bluefish Cove was the first mainstream lesbian piece of theater in America. It was produced in 1980 and is about a group of seven lesbians that go on their annual holiday together. Whilst on holiday, they meet another lady who has just left an unhappy marriage and is oblivious to the fact that they are all lesbians.

Jane Chamber’s play not only stands out because it was one of the first plays about lesbians to be written by a woman, as most previous plays had been written by men, but also because it is a magnificent piece of theater in its own right.

3.     Bent by Martin Sherman

Martin Sherman’s harrowing play focuses on the persecution of gay men during the Holocaust. The play is about a gay man called Max who lives in Berlin in the 1930s. After the Night of the Long Knives, both Max and his boyfriend Rudy are taken to Dachau, where Max pretends that he’s Jewish as he believes it will increase his chances of survival. Max’s boyfriend Rudy is brutally beaten to death, which devastates Max, but he eventually ends up falling in love with another man in the camp.

Bent is still well-known for being one of the greatest gay plays in theater history. It was also adapted to film in 1997.

In the last half of the 20th Century, we have come a long way. Attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community have changed in a positive way, and theaters no longer shut down plays that highlight the issues people face. Instead, many theaters promote and encourage people to attend them. These three plays are just a small selection of some of the amazing work out there.