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In 1948, eighteen-year-old Minnesota farmboys Gil and Ray are engaged in a passionate, secret love affair. But their relationship is exposed, and they face tough choices. Gil leaves their small community, going on to lead his life as an openly gay man, while Ray stays behind, choosing to take refuge in the closet and deny his homosexuality.
Playwright Lee Blessing explores this pivotal moment in these characters’ lives in his play Thief River, as well as the only other times Gil and Ray ever see each other again — once as middle-aged men in 1973, and once as elderly men in 2001. The show closes Theater Alliance’s current season, its first in a new home, the H Street Playhouse, and its first under the leadership of artistic director Jeremy Skidmore.
“This one really struck me for a lot of different reasons,” says Skidmore, citing similarities between Thief River and his own experience with a conservative home environment in which his parents have struggled to understand and accept his two brothers, both of whom are gay.
“The way it’s written, the fact that it’s so much about love, and not so much about sex…I really feel that it opens the eyes of more conservative audiences to what the story is actually talking about — how being dishonest about who you are and who you truly love is only going to give you a very miserable life.”
Skidmore, 26, was encouraged to program Thief River by director Steven Carpenter, and he was also cast by Carpenter in the role of 18-year-old Ray. Like Skidmore and Carpenter, all but one of the six-man ensemble — who portray Gil and Ray at various ages — are straight. But Skidmore expresses confidence that they’re doing the material justice.
“One of my board members said, ‘So, how are you going to play a gay guy?’,” Skidmore recalls. “And I was like, ‘I’m going to play a gay guy by being in love with a guy.’ That’s really the pursuit I’ve taken, and I know a lot of the other guys have taken as well — exploring what it’s like to love somebody you can’t have because of your sense of fear, duty, and what society says is right.”
From May 8 through June 7 at the H Street Playhouse, 1365 H Street NE. Tickets are $20. Call 800-494-8497. Visit www.theateralliance.com.