If a straight person doesn’t have to come out, why does a gay person?
That’s one of the intriguing questions posed in Straight, a regional premiere drama that Utah Repertory Theater Company stages on March 9–25 at the Sorenson Unity Center.
The “potency of sexual labels” is another topic according to Out Magazine, which called Straight a “must-see.” The reviewer said at the hit off-Broadway premiere that “It’s not very often that I leave a theater emotionally raw. Straight is a charged and powerful play.”
Straight is funny, sad, sexy and surprising — and considers the morally complex issue of a generation that prides itself on the pretense of acceptance.
“Straight was an eye-opener to me when it comes to sexuality,” says JC Carter, the director of Utah Rep’s production. “I admit that I fell into the trap that the lead character Ben describes in the play: that if a guy does something with another guy, he goes over to gay, with everything attached. But that’s not necessarily true. I was forced to re-think my opinions on sexuality, and if the play can make me do that, I hope it might make others do that, too.”
Utah Rep’s staging of Straight initially caused controversy when rejected for production at Salt Lake City’s Sorenson Unity Center, which prompted a national debate on theater censorship and public offerings at state-owned theaters.
“When a celebrity publicly comes out, many consider it interesting,” Carter says. “When it’s someone close to you, the response is often ‘Are you sure?’ One of the beautiful messages of this play is that it’s okay not to be sure. As the play points out, we often classify those who come out as ‘brave,’ indicating they’re doing something that’s terrifying. I think maybe being able to understand the nuances of our own sexuality.”
Authored by Scott Elmegreen and Drew Fornarola, the New York Times reviewed the comedy-drama as “Smart, bracing and brimming with clever wisecracks and thought-provoking observations on sexual identity.”
“Something like Straight would normally never be done in Utah,” says Carter. “Or it would take years for a theater company would be ‘brave enough’ to produce it. I know the Hale Centre Theatre in Sandy would never touch it. But this isn’t a story that should wait until we’re ‘ready.’”
The acclaimed actors in the three-person Straight are John Valdez as Ben, Andrea Peterson as Emily and Dallon D. Thorup as Chris.
Valdez’s recent credits include Adrian in the Amazon TV series Amarog and fight choreographer for Cobb & Co. Theater’s The Three Musketeers. He has been studying acting in school, on stage and film with the intent of becoming a full-time professional actor. Using a mix of Stanislavski’s system and Strasberg’s method, Valdez brings a grounded realism to each of his characters to portray an accurate and honest human experience. He is a certified stunt professional through the United Stuntmen’s Association and is a second-degree black belt in kung fu.
Peterson recently played the lead role in Utah Rep’s production of The Other Place. She has also worked with Salt Lake Acting Company on the world premiere of Winter and performed at the Great Salt Lake Fringe Festival in the world premiere of Exposure, another Utah Rep staging. When not wearing the many hats of stage and film, she is producing videos and podcasts for Salt Lake Magazine and teaching film for stage actors at the University of Utah. She recently wrote, directed and edited two short films, Past a Moment and Sisters, and has been nominated for awards for Robyn Cage’s music video “Theatre Noir.”
Straight marks Thorup’s seventh Utah Rep production. Past credits include Footloose (Ren), Sweeney Todd (Beadle Bamford), Utah Rep’s staging of Amadeus (Venticelli), Damn Yankees (Joe Hardy), Seussical (The Cat), The Addams Family Musical (Fester Addams), and Romeo and Juliet (Benvolio).
Carter, a Utah Rep board member, previously directed the well-reviewed Grace, Amadeus, and Doubt: A Parable for the company. He has also directed Steve Martin’s Picasso at the Lapin Agile and Sam Shepard’s True West.
Tickets can be purchased at utahrep.org/tickets.
Photo: Blake Yelavich