Last Thursday, top hat and dance lovers alike flocked to Sonoma State University’s Person Theatre to see the opening performance of “Abraham Lincoln’s Big Gay Party.”
While the theater only reached less that half its capacity, the audience members that came were greeted by the young actors onstage who brought a fun and eccentric script to life.
The play was put on by Sonoma State’s theater arts and dance department and was directed by Doyle Ott.
The play opens with Mernard County’s presidential Christmas pageant followed by an ensemble of several people dressed up as Abraham Lincoln performing a combination of a square dancing and Broadway chorus dancing.
At the end of the routine, one Lincoln came out and explained that the order of the show would be chosen democratically, voted on by members of the audience.
Audience members were asked to text the code for which act they wanted to see. This added an element of excitement as the crowd watched the bars fluctuate on the screen, hollering as each act took the lead.
The first act started when Anton and Cubana photographer Esmeralda Diaz visit backwater Mernard County, Illinois to report on “the trial of the century.”
Matthew Lindberg, the actor who played Anton was particularly strong, fully embodying the celebrity’s egotism and snobbish flamboyancy, while still showing compassion and vulnerability.
On the other hand, Esmeralda seemed a little bit over the top. This was not as much the fault of the actress, Anna Leach, but likely due to the way her character was written. While the other characters were very relatable, she seemed overly-stereotyped to the point of being more of a caricature .
Anton and Esmerelda meet local Jerry Houser, played by Joe Ingalls, at a pie shop. Jerry’s father Tom Houser (played by Connor Pratt) comes in, and Jerry lies and says that Esmerelda is his girlfriend. Jerry later admits to Anton that he’s gay, but is afraid of coming out due to his father’s status as a right-wing, anti-gay rights congressman.
Both Ingalls and Pratt gave particularly strong performances, though Ingalls had the advantage of playing a very relatable character, especially for college students. Pratt, who had the more challenging role, embodied Tom Houser’s conservatism without being over the top, creating a character the audience could sympathize with.
With each act, more plot points are revealed, and not necessarily in chronological order. Eventually the audience sees the trial play out aslocal school teacher Harmony Green is sued by Tom Houser for suggesting to her students that Abraham Lincoln is gay.
While many of the lines were hilarious, parts of the show were intense. Each act ended with a cliffhanger, including the last one which failed to offer the audience a real conclusion.
One scene that stood out involved Anton asking Jerry how he actually broke his arm. Jerry explained that he broke it fighting a man he went home with, when he wouldn’t stop taking nude photos of him. The fact he had to lie to his parents about a serious injury demonstrated the struggles the gay community still faces today, in ways that many people don’t think about.
The sets were very wellexecuted. It was obvious that the design team put a lot of time and effort into the sets, and they effectively pulled the audience into the setting. The number of sets alone were impressive for a college performance.
Despite this, there were certainly elements that could’ve been done better. For one, most of the dance numbers seemed pointless.
The director can’t throw a fake beard on some college kids, give them some simple dance instructions and expect the audience to find it hysterical. Unfortunately, many of the dance numbers were boring in their simplicity. Luckily, the dance numbers were short and far apart and the audience shouldn’t expect professional skills outside the dance department.
Students can still catch the show through Saturday, Oct. 24 for free with their student I..D.