Arts & Entertainment

Theater celebrates gay writers

Mauckingbird Theatre Company’s collaboration honors gay writers Baldwin and Capote with university connections.

Mauckingbird Theatre Company’s collaboration honors gay writers Baldwin and Capote with university connections.

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The Threshing Floor is written by and stars Philadelphia-based playwright and theater professional James Ijames, as James Baldwin and other characters. Ijames graduated from Temple’s theater department in 2006.

James Baldwin and Truman Capote may be best-known for two things – their literary works and their sexual orientation.

Through the end of January, the Mauckingbird Theatre Company in Philadelphia is presenting two one-man plays, each focusing on the lives of Baldwin, in The Threshing Floor, and Capote, in TRU.

Located at the Adrienne Theatre on 2030 Samson St., Mauckingbird is known for its gay-themed productions. Temple’s Director of Musical Theater Peter Reynolds, Mauckingbird’s company founder and artistic director, said these plays were chosen because they examined the lives of Baldwin and Capote, two of America’s most influential gay writers.

Reynolds said many Temple alumni and professors work regularly for the company. Since Mauckingbird has strong ties to Temple, he said students should see the shows, noting that they are a great way to get introduced to two influential writers.

“James Baldwin and Truman Capote are important historical and literary figures,” Reynolds said. “If you are already a fan of their work, it is a great way to spend an evening with an old friend.”

The plays explore the ideas, values and shortcomings of the authors by delving into the minds of Baldwin and Capote as the characters reflect on their own lives.

The Threshing Floor, a one-man production on Baldwin, was written and performed by James Ijames, a Philadelphia-based writer and actor. Baldwin was an African-American writer and civil rights activist, whose work explored issues of race and sexual identity.

The play begins with a fictional encounter between Baldwin and a graduate student who comes to interview him at his home. The rest of the production is a chronicle of the writer’s life, from his rough childhood in Harlem to his seemingly perfect stay in Paris. Ijames also plays the roles of several influential figures in Baldwin’s life, from his parents and lovers, to his friends and mentors.

Director Brandon McShaffrey said the play was important because it concerned James Baldwin.

“[Baldwin didn’t] talk much about himself,” said McShaffrey, who is working toward his Master of Fine Arts in directing at Temple. “In this case, he does. It gave us a reason to show what makes the real author.”

McShaffrey noted that the performance was stronger because the playwright was also the actor.

Stage manager VonDexter Montegut II agreed.

“Just to emphasize the point of having the playwright in the room, that did help the process so much because oftentimes, you have to kind of take a little bit of liberty in your work when you’re going through directing,” Montegut, a senior theater and math major, said. “You’re attacking [the script], and you sometimes have to take a little bit of guesswork with what the playwright is trying to say here, what they’re really trying to go after. And it was really fortunate, I think, being able to have the playwright [right here].”

TRU takes a biographical tone similar to that of The Threshing Floor.

Written by Jay Presson Allen, TRU focuses on the life of Capote, played by Chris Faith.

Capote was an openly gay author who wrote several literary classics and battled problems with drugs and alcohol. The play is set in his New York City apartment around Christmas 1975, shortly after a chapter of his work, Answered Prayer, has been published in Esquire magazine. Because the chapter depicted his wealthy contemporaries in an unflattering light, Capote has to deal with the prospect of a lonely Christmas. Abandoned by his friends and lover, Capote is left to reflect on his past experiences that influenced him to become the person he is.

Reynolds said Capote was an important historical figure and gay writer, and he was proud to bring TRU and The Threshing Floor to Mauckingbird.

“I enjoy how different the two pieces are,” Reynolds said. “Both [are] very entertaining but structured in very different ways.”

Lena Van can be reached at lena.van@temple.edu.

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