“It was deliberate,” David Drake, the artistic director of the Provincetown Theater, says of his schedule of new productions for 2020, his third year at the company. “Doing this season with a lot of LGBTQ representation — it’s the gayest season I’ve ever done — was on purpose, because we’re having our rights attacked, tearing away at our dignity. We need to claim it — but enjoy claiming it.”
Subscriptions are up, and the Provincetown Theater is resurgent under Drake’s leadership and a revitalized and engaged board led by David Wilson. Drake’s first season, when he presented You Can’t Take It With You; Love! Valor! Compassion!; and The Laramie Project, all ensemble pieces, was, he says, about “gathering” and bearing witness — coming together as a community with the theater at its center, where it hadn’t been in a while. Last year’s season, which featured August: Osage County; Sweeney Todd; and It’s a Wonderful Life: A Radio Play, was about “emotions,” Drake says. And the emotions were certainly intense. He’s been batting a thousand with all the theater’s homegrown productions, and 2020 promises to continue the streak.
It begins on May 14 with Mae West’s The Drag, described by the playwright as “a homosexual comedy in three acts.” The show, from 1927, was written before West became a major Hollywood star and was shut down by censors before it ever reached Broadway. “It has the funniest lines, and it’s an attack on puritanical attitudes toward sex and gender,” Drake says. “There’s a drag ball.” West is a natural icon in the world of drag. “She’s not a natural beauty,” Drake says. “She’s a construction: the jewelry, the hair, and the dresses.”
On June 29, the Provincetown Theater will present the world premiere of Sarah Schulman’s The Lady Hamlet, a backstage comedy about dueling divas who want to be the first female Hamlet on Broadway. There will be post-show talkbacks with Schulman, a novelist, playwright, teacher, and queer activist.
That’s followed by Jerker on Aug. 3, by the late Robert Chesley. It’s a 1986 love story of two men in San Francisco at the height of AIDS paranoia — a two-person play of phone sex (full title: Jerker, or The Helping Hand: A Pornographic Elegy With Redeeming Social Value and a Hymn to the Queer Men of San Francisco in Twenty Telephone Calls, Many of Them Dirty). “I did a reading of it in New York about four years ago,” Drake says. “I knew it was still relevant.”
On Oct. 8, Bekah Brunstetter’s comedy The Cake takes the stage. Brunstetter is the creator of the NBC series This Is Us,and the play is based on current events: a North Carolina baker refuses to create a cake for a lesbian couple. Complicating the issue, one of the women getting married is the daughter of the baker’s deceased best friend, and her fiancée is black, making the denial that much more divisive. “There are a lot of layers to that cake,” Drake says.
The season wraps up with Eugene O’Neill’s A Moon for the Misbegotten on Nov. 19. When he first took the job, Drake said that he was hoping eventually to be able to put on an O’Neill classic at the Provincetown Theater, and now he’s ready. “It’s his most forgiving play,” Drake says.
The Drag and Moon for the Misbegotten bookend the season with older plays. “They’re all by impactful American writers,” he says, “and this season we have plays written by three women,” which is noteworthy, because in the past two years there have been none.
Drake is intent on keeping the Provincetown Theater a year-round operation, and to that end, he cites the monthly Mosquito Story Slams that are lined up through April (next date: Feb. 8), and the 10th annual presentation of “The 24-Hour Plays” by the Provincetown Playwrights’ Lab on Feb. 15-16.
Also back is a program of “Winter Play Dates,” five staged readings on Tuesday nights every other week, starting on Jan. 28 with Sean Ably’s Popcorn Girl. “It’s based on an actual murder that happened in a silent-movie theater in L.A. in the 1990s,” Drake says. A reading of Steven Myerson’s political satire To the Extreme! is scheduled for Feb. 11; Squall, a thriller by Elizabeth Hemmerdinger about two women trapped on a Maine island, will be Feb. 25; a new work by L.M. Feldman is set for March 10; and Michael Wallerstein’s Chasing Happy, a gay romantic comedy set in Provincetown, is coming March 24.
The readings are done with local actors and only a few days rehearsal, and they’re free, followed by a talkback with the author. “They’re not auditions,” Drake says. “We’re helping to develop these plays.”
Another program that nurtures talent is the theater’s playwright residency program, which this year will bring C.A. Johnson (All the Natalie Portmans) to Provincetown.
It’s all part of Drake’s plan to make the Provincetown Theater a nexus of creative energy, and to have a trip to 238 Bradford St. be a regular part of people’s schedules, both townies and tourists. In year three of his tenure, that’s exactly what seems to be happening.
Winter Play Dates Begin
The event: Reading of Sean Ably’s Popcorn Girl
The time: Tuesday, Jan. 28, at 7 p.m.
The place: Provincetown Theater, 238 Bradford St.
The cost: Free