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The Road to Oz 

One way to judge acting is to try to imagine another actor in the part. If you can't, someone is doing something right. This thought occurred to me as I watched Louisiana Likk-Hr (recently on the boards at Cowpokes), for the three actors blended so seamlessly into their characters, they hardly seemed to be acting at all.

The illusion was particularly striking, given the nature of the play. The cast had to take us on an imaginary journey through the byways and backwaters of the United States, from New Orleans to Chicago, with minimal support from scenery, props, lighting or anything else that falls under the general heading of "production values." Granted, they had something better: playwright Rebecca Basham's fluid, funny-but-unforced dialogue and her sure sense of character and director John Cash Carpenter's inventive and detailed-but-equally-unforced staging.

Louisiana Likk-Hr is a buddy/road movie for the stage. The set (by director Carpenter) was made up of highway signs of all sorts. A smallish square of slide projections in the background gave us the clue to each location: highway rest stop, Denny's Restaurant, hospital emergency room.

The buddies in this saga are Megan, Scott and Price. Megan is a lesbian, who prides herself on being butch, though she's hardly what you would call a diesel dike. She leads a double life, working as a lawyer in a prestigious firm while staying resolutely in the closet. In fact, she pays $80 a month for onsite parking where she works, but hides her truck in a lot 13 blocks away, so as not to attract attention to herself or her lifestyle. Scott and Price are gay -- and living it. Scott works at a gay novelty shop, and Price tends bar at The Corner Pocket. They are longtime roommates, but have never gotten physical. "Sisters," as they say. Scott is sensitive; Price is raunchy. The three friends share a marvelous sense of humor and a breezy, offbeat camaraderie that serves as a refuge from the greater world, of which they are and are not a part.

One night, after a bit too much Stoli and pot (not to mention hash brownies), they set out in Megan's new truck to buy pate at Dorignac's -- and, somehow, never quite manage to stop. The boys want to push on to "Paradise," that is to say San Francisco, the gay Mecca. They convince Megan to go along, ostensibly so that she can wreak havoc at the wedding of an ex of her ex -- though this motivation never really convinces us. Perhaps it never really convinces Megan either. (Must the voyage be a voyage of self discovery for every character?) At any rate, they're off on a lark. And they are great company with their mixture of cynicism, high spirits, witty banter and genuine affection. It's as though we accompany a jaded Dorothy and her eccentric companions while they follow the black asphalt road in search of Oz (though decidedly on this side of the rainbow). Instead of emerald glasses, these travelers view the world through the tinted lenses of their forbidden sexual identities.

Just as in Oz, the dramatic transformation involves the companions, rather than Dorothy. Scott, we learn, has always been in love with Price. After one raucous night of dancing, somewhere in Oklahoma (or Okla-Homo, as the boys put it), the two friends finally shack up. Bliss, however, fades with the morning light, for they have very different ideas about what has happened between them. The lighthearted journey darkens into a bittersweet meditation on love and friendship.

Along the way, an interesting secondary meditation takes place -- sometimes seriously, often comically -- about the difference between male and female same-sex romance: the men seeking many partners and fearing to become undesirable "trolls" by the age of 30, the women given to longer, more exclusive attachments. The discussion, however, is complex: Scott does not fit into the male paradigm; he plays the gay Lothario stereotype for the humor of it, but he is really in search of a more profound, more lasting bond.

Kriste Tujague (Megan), Jeff Poucher (Scott) and Jason Kirkpatrick (Price) deserve a big tip of the hat for their individual performances and for the greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts ensemble they created.

Two years ago, Cowpokes Theater got off to a modest -- in fact, unpromising -- start. But the progress has been remarkable. With solid revivals like The Rocky Horror Show and original plays like Midgets From Uranus and Louisiana Likk-Hr, the somewhat barren little room has emerged as not just a vital part of the gay theater scene, but of the theater scene, period.

click to enlarge Louisiana Likk-Hr's Jeff Poucher, Kriste - Tujague and Jason Kirkpatrick road trip to San - Francisco -- and self-discovery. - REBECCA BASHAM
  • Rebecca Basham
  • Louisiana Likk-Hr's Jeff Poucher, Kriste Tujague and Jason Kirkpatrick road trip to San Francisco -- and self-discovery.
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