REVIEW: Queertopia (About Face Youth Theatre)

No Fear in Queer


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About Face Youth Theatre presents
Written by Paula Gilovich
Directed by
Sara Kerastas
Center on Halsted, 3656 N. Halsted (map)
through July 25  |  tickets: $12-$20  |  more info

reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

About Face Youth Theatre - Queertopia 1Only two performances remain for Queertopia, an ensemble show that belongs exactly where it plays—in darkest Lakeview. Violence against gays and lesbians is the sadly topical subject of this year’s offering from the young people of About Face Theatre. For 80 minutes the frenetic storytellers tear around a stage filled with party balloons and a rolling scaffolding as they create a kind of Queer Love Army who  manage to meet in an abandoned condo in a not so distant dystopia. Like the squatters in “Hair” and “Rent,” they’re the vanguard of a cultural tipping point, even as they testify to their diversity in a series of confessions about what they do whenever they get home. “Out of the mouths of babes” has never felt truer.

Alas, little has changed and issues of gender identity, bullying, homophobia (here the Bible actually becomes a weapon), self-hatred, and harassment of and by minorities crop up as we meet Flea, a boy (the strategically ambiguous Britney Fryer) who while changing his sex falls for a straight girl and cops a dry known as T for testosterone. His new girlfriend incurs the wrath of Teddy (the wonderful Cristian Gorostieta) who finds an improbable common cause with the newly bisexual Lexi (lovely Neomara Serges) who somehow manages to be both Serbian and Bosnian, a truly composite soul.

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Cavorting to simulations of 21st century music videos, using the audiences’ faces as mirrors for their own, or just sleeping in a communal pile, these dozen young actors are all carving out, individually and collectively, their fabulous queer space and standing up to the bashers who want to eliminate it altogether. At its best the play presents a kind of blueprint for a gay community beyond the bars of Boystown that’s as much within as without. The acting, better than in previous Youth Theatre offerings, ultimately carries the day.

Rating: ★★★

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Review: "Fast Forward" by About Face Youth Theatre

By Venus Zarris

About Face Youth Theatre presents a delightful and imperative world premiere with Fast Forward. This oral history based production was two years in the making, incorporating several interviews with students, teachers and people inside and outside of the LGBTQ (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender & Questioning) community. What you see creatively acted out on stage are true stories. The priorities of these stories serve to show the truth about young people’s lives, admonish the life threatening lack of sex education in the schools and combat the conditions that threaten LGBTQ youth.

About Face Youth Theatre presents their newest play, "Fast Forward"

To say that being openly gay in high school when I was a kid was unsafe would be like saying that playing Russian roulette with a loaded gun is slightly dangerous. To say that gay visibility was nonexistent would be like saying that signs of compassion in the current presidential administration are hard to come by. That is to say, these declarations are profound understatements. When I was in high school there was nothing gay in the vocabulary or on the radar. We queer kids were flying solo. And although in some places things may have improved dramatically, depending on location, time seems to be at a stand still.

Multiply the difficulties of being safely and happily ‘out’ as an adult by about 10,000 and you have the general climate that still exists for most LGBTQ kids in America. There are so many aspects of queer life that still have a long way to go before we are fully franchised but perhaps the most profound area of importance is queer youth. Contemplate the dramatic strides that the community has made in the past few decades without the aid of safe and nurturing adolescent experiences. Now try to imagine the incredible social and political growth spurt that could result from a generation of kids that wouldn’t have to live in agonizing fear.

Grant it, from that adversity has come a great deal of fortitude. But imagine what could be accomplished if the formative years of these kid’s lives were not spent surviving the intolerance. Fast Forward to what could be accomplished if the energy and personal resources spent trying to justify one’s existence as a teen could be redirected to less primal necessities. What might queer people’s lives look like now if we could have been ourselves in high school as easily and with as much social support as the straight kids?

By illustrating the struggles that still exist for LGBTQ kids today, Fast Forward presents the situation as it stands and then dares to fantasize about a future classroom where kids are safe to be who they are and where education is responsible enough to give them the critical information they need avoid the very real dangers of sexual ignorance.

*55 youth are infected with HIV everyday in the United States

*In the U.S., half of all new HIV infections are among people 25 and younger

*$1 billion was spent on Abstinence-only-until-marriage curriculum

*No federal funding exists for comprehensive sex education

*Currently, no LGBTQ youth-focused sex education exists in the United States

FAR FROM ACADEMIC, dry, or sermonizing, Fast Forward showcases the talent and enthusiasm of a dynamic young ensemble. They are fearless and dedicated storytellers who infuse the exuberance of youth into their work while taking us on several personal, poignant and playful journeys. The occasional melodrama is easily eclipsed by the humor and passion of the lovable cast. Director Paula Gilovich squeezes every drop of skill and determination out of the exceptional ensemble and supports their efforts with a first rate design team to create a show that is as entertaining as it is provocative and vital.

In a scene depicting a high school sex education class a teacher diagrams a fetus but gives no information of how the baby was conceived. Her dull delivery, coupled with the lack of relevant information, falls on deaf ears as the students zone out.

“Don’t you think that’s a little odd? That SEX education would be boring to TEENAGERS?’ Asks one intuitive youth.

The topics covered are approached from several angles, displaying a well-rounded collection of perspectives. The stories range from funny to compelling to sad to redeeming and the delivery is very impressive, especially coming from such a young cast. Their devotion to story telling, as well as the critical messages conveyed, shines through and their exhilaration is contagious. The summation Rap delivered by Pookie L. towards the end of the show is alone worth the price of admission!

Fast Forward closes by asking, “What if we were the generation to stop this?” (referring to the bigotry and ignorance that LGBTQ youth must endure) And based on the intelligence, excitement and commitment of these kids, you believe they just might succeed!

About Face Youth Theatre does the community at large a great service and creates a playfully profound and fabulously entertaining accomplishment. Fast Forward is a good time that should not be missed!

Rating:  «««½


(“Fast Forward” runs through August 2 at Center on Halsted, 3656 North Halsted Street. 866-811-4111)