We go to the theater sometimes to laugh, sometimes to be moved, sometimes to tap our toes to a catchy tune or watch people leap and twirl with grace. Sometimes we go to learn something. Once in awhile, all of these elements come together. DV8 Physical Theatre’s To Be Straight With You, performed last week at the Lobero Theatre, leaped dramatically beyond this goal, and in addition to dashes of each, it incorporated serious truth-telling that was gritty, painful and illuminating.
Director Lloyd Newsom, who is gay, was inspired to address the subject of homosexuality and how gay people are treated by religious fundamentalists, especially Muslims, by instances of persecution he saw on the streets of his native England.
Eighty-five people in the United Kingdom were interviewed for the project, including gays and lesbians and anti-gay religious fundamentalists, as well as those who are both religious and gay. Their actual words made up the text and dialogue of the evening-long piece. Early on, audio clips of hateful anti-gay speech came thick and fast, setting a tone of tension.
After introducing us to the subject matter in that way, Newsom then told the individual stories of persecuted gays and lesbians in the form of monologues by the performers, who sometimes spoke the words themselves and sometimes lip-synched to the recordings.
A South African woman was outcast by her family for being a lesbian and was forced to turn to prostitution. An Iranian doctor was severely beaten for being gay, and his partner was killed. A young Indian man was knifed by his father after revealing to him that he was gay.
The six performers embodied the stories in a divinely physical manner. Often dancing — or, in one case, jumping rope — expressively while speaking the words, they portrayed the interviewees’ stories of persecution and violence with authenticity, sensitivity and respect. The performers are more than dancers, actors or storytellers. With this edgy, challenging and inspiring material, they go beyond any of those and have become witnesses and testifiers of truth.
Staging was minimal to start with — a backdrop of a wall and door, with a giant chalkboard featured prominently — but eventually included brilliant elements of visual technology.
Near the beginning of the show, a scrim was lowered between the audience and performers, and great use was made of this “canvas.” Projected onto the scrim were lines that appeared to be drawn by an unseen hand, boxes that a performer stepped into and through, like comic book panels, and a virtual globe that a performer stood behind and “spun,” stopping it and pointing to countries as he talked about laws regarding homosexuality in those places.
A particularly educational portion of the evening: Did you know that in seven countries in the world today, the penalty for homosexuality is death?
In a question-and-answer session after the performance, Newsom was asked if he thought he was just “preaching to the converted” with the show. “Never underestimate,” he said, quietly. “The power of the converted.”
— Justine Sutton of Santa Barbara is a freelance writer and reviewer.