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September 6, 2022
Lavender Men turns out a pretty grey performance
Review of Lavender Men

The idea of rewriting history to include a much clearer account of what happened and who people were than the one that fits our current preconceptions about the past. The version of history shown in Lavender Men (written by Roger Q. Mason and directed by Lovell Holder), however, was better left unvisited. In the play, a "fabulous queer creation of color" (played by Mason) invites Abraham Lincoln and Elmer Ellsworth (a legal clerk to Pres. Lincoln and the first casualty of the Civil War) to revisit their lives together, with the promise that they could “get it right” the second time around. Lincoln (played by Peter Ploszek) and Ellsworth (Alex Esola), who refer to each other variously as “boy”, “son”, “soldier”, “sir”, “Senator” and only occasionally by name, are at first reluctant but eventually agree to take part, with the promise that they can change the ending and choices they make along the way. 

However, the play never gave me a reason to care except the abstract one of inclusion--I couldn’t see why Taffeta why was invested in Lincoln and Ellsworth instead of every other closeted male couple in history, or why she eventually broke her promise to them. We follow them through a process of meeting, building friendship and eventually falling in love, Lincoln choosing to run for office again, but at no point did the story become dynamic, interesting, or anything other than tedious. Perhaps the virtual performance was slightly to blame--I had difficulty following some of the audio, including a mysterious voice in the background that seemed to be addressing Taffeta--but neither Ploszek or Esola seemed convinced by their roles as fairly wooden, poorly accented placeholders. I also could not tell when Taffeta was being Taffeta and when she was speaking in character as Mary Todd Lincoln or Sadie, the cleaner for Lincoln’s office. 

The portrayal of Mary Todd Lincoln also felt dismissive. In a play that was dedicated to (apparently) helping two white men admit their love for each other, why was Mary Todd not allowed her place and claim in the story? Why was she a background character to be filled in by Taffeta, thereby equivalent to the tree and chandelier that Taffeta plays in other scenes? Moreover, assuming that any woman must have an eating disorder made it feel, as a woman watching, as though that was the only thing women cared about--male approval and being skinny enough to win it. Mary Todd Lincoln is far more complex, and deserves her own revisitation of this play. 

The consistent erasure of LGBTQ+ individuals from history is wrong, and it should end. Lavender Men chose to address many themes that are consistently dismissed, and the decision to do so itself laudable. For that reason, I applaud the sentiment behind the play. However, as a piece of theatre it was insufficient. Were I given the chance, my own version of ending the story right would have included a different ticket. 

Enter the historical fantasia of Taffeta, a self-proclaimed "fabulous queer creation of color,” as she invades the private world of Abraham Lincoln to confront issues of LGBTQ+ inclusion and visibility that still challenge us today.

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Written by: Rebecca Russavage
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