For a generation of gay men, nightclubs were a magical refuge from the homophobia of friends, coworkers and even family, an energetic “Never Never Land” where seemingly everyone — and everything — was accepted.
Playwright Michael Yawney, a former New Yorker who once worked in one of those clubs, knew that world well.
“The public sees this fantasy of the club, the extravagant decorations and beautiful performers who emerge from nowhere,” he explained, “but what happens when all of the guests are drunk and happy and get to go home and the staff have to stay and mop up?”
Nearly a decade after relocating to South Florida, Yawney explores the darker side of the nightlife industry in a new play, “It Feels Good,” that will get its first reading on Monday, Aug. 4 at GableStage in Coral Gables as part of the South Florida Theatre League’s Summer Theatre Fest.
Yawney, whose most recent work explored the public anti-LGBT crusades of Anita Bryant, decided to write the play after talking to students in the high school and college classes he know teaches.
He realized that while gay and lesbian youth may have found greater acceptance from their families and peers in recent years, many still seek “artificial ecstasy” at the clubs and must deal with the adult repercussions that follow.
“The play started from a conversation with other high school teachers,” recalled Yawney, who spent 16 months penning the script. “We were concerned about students moving into situations with older people.”
The plot centers around a middle-aged gay man who becomes involved with a college freshman and introduces the youth to the world of nightclubs and drugs on Miami Beach. He is one of those people who “creates that fantasy,” as Yawney puts it, while his best friend is a middle-aged club owner whose girlfriend is half his age. They have been together for nearly 10 years.
“It sounds seedy, but it grew out of my time living in Miami and hearing about a lot of these intergenerational relationships,” he said. “ I really didn’t understand the attraction. Why would an 18-year-old be attracted to a man in his forties?”
Ultimately, the young people in his play must make some difficult choices.
Yawney said, “After a point, the sun rises and the hangover comes on, along with the decision of what to do with their lives. Do I grow up or stay Peter Pan forever?”
The playwright is looking forward to the GableStage premiere, under the direction of Joe Adler. Adler and his audiences rarely shy away from “edgy” topics, so Yawney is confident they will be engaged with his play’s dark story. In fact, Adler chose the play through a blind process, without Yawney’s name attached.
“The beauty of this program is that theaters are able to expand their range with plays that may or may not fit their audiences….and gauge what material their audiences might accept,” he said. “The festival has been a tremendous success for everyone.”
He’s also looking forward to valuable feedback from the director and cast in the hopes his latest work will be fully staged soon, the ultimate goal for any playwright.
Michael Yawney’s “It Feels Good,” will receive its first reading on Monday, Aug. 4 at 7:30 p.m. at GableStage at the Biltmore Hotel, 1200 Anastasia Ave. in Coral Gables. The reading is free. For more information about the South Florida Theatre League’s Summer Theatre Fest, free weekly play readings through Aug. 25, go to SouthFloridaTheatre.com.