It’s been two decades since the Off Broadway premiere of David Dillon’s play, “Party,” but the story about a group of gay friends still rings true.
Dillon, who was active as a director at that time in Chicago, had been looking for a new gay-themed play.
“All of the plays that were out there dealt with the dark side of being gay—death, AIDS, homophobia, bashing,” he recalled. “I thought, wow, is this really the perspective these writers have on gay life?”
In 1992, the LGBT community had begun emerging from “a horribly dark decade,” Dillon admitted. Sex had changed from “a celebration into something that was dangerous. Never before had sex and death been so closely related.”
The playwright decided to draft his own story based on his own circle of friends, absent the homosexual self-loathing of Mart Crowley’s “Boys in the Band” or the sobering view of gay life in the era of AIDS portrayed in Terence McNally’s “Love! Valor! Compassion!”
“My friends were well-adjusted, happy people. I wanted to show the flip side of what everybody else was writing about,” he said. “The kinds of problems we faced were human problems, not gay problems.”
Dillon came up with a story about a party attended by six middle-class gay men. They discuss show tunes and sex until a variation on the game, “Truth or Dare,” has them slowly removing articles of clothing. They ultimately reveal not only their bodies, but deep-seated feelings of love, lust, guilt and regret.
At the time, The Advocate called the play “one of the most uplifting and affirming representations of gay life on any stage ever.”
The play will receive its first production in more than 13 years this spring at Empire Stage in Fort Lauderdale.
“I think now it’s a bit of a period piece. I didn’t realize it at the time, but (the play) was firmly rooted in the early ‘90s. I actually stopped approving productions in 2003,” Dillon said.
He added, “Not enough time had passed for it to ring true. It’s not so much that there are events in the play that are specific to the time, but it’s very much a sensibility of a place in history.”
Last fall, Dillon pulled the play out for a reading and realized the time was finally right. Coincidentally, fellow playwright Ronnie Larsen (“Making Porn”) approached him about reviving the show in South Florida.
“I’m actually excited about the collaboration,” said Dillon. “Ronnie saw the original production and there’s something for me about the fact that here we are so many years later and Ronnie is passionate about doing it.”
Larsen tapped Los Angeles-based director and actor Nic Arnzen, who performed in the original production, to direct his new production with a cast of local actors.
“We have a very strong history and I know Nic gets it,” said Dillon. “I have all the faith in the world with him. I don’t have to be there looking over his shoulder.”
David Dillon’s “Party” will be presented May 6 - June 12 at Empire Stage, 1140 N. Flagler Drive in Fort Lauderdale. Show times are Wednesdays through Fridays at 8 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets are $35 for general admission and $50 for preferred seating at RonnieLarsen.com.