Stage

StageStruck: Cognitive Dissonance

Plays explore a clash of assumptions.

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

As a young gay man, Richard Vaden is interested in what his generation has learned—and hasn't—about "what being gay is supposed to mean." As a student at Simon's Rock in Great Barrington, he interviewed 17 young gay men and turned their stories into documentary theater. Several versions later, the now-semi-fictionalized play was presented in New York by Scheherazade Productions, directed by Mark Vecchio. It's playing this weekend and next, with most of the New York cast, at Easthampton's PACE.

Hide and Seek explores the "cognitive dissonance" experienced by many young gay men—and LGBT people in general. The characters "are simultaneously hiding something about themselves, while seeking something—something within themselves or from someone else." Some of their stories are "very entertaining, and some of them are heart-wrenching, and some are both."

Above all, he says, he was struck by his subjects' "extraordinary resilience. No matter how devastating their story was"—for instance, there were hardly any non-traumatic coming-out experiences—"all of them at the end were like, 'I've made something of my life, I survived and kept going.'"

Vaden says his message is that there's no single answer to the question of what it means to be gay: "You don't have to subscribe to images in media, images in [other people's] stories. You can find yourself by yourself, and have the courage to embrace it."

Hide and Seek: Jan. 29-30, Feb. 5-6, PACE, 41 Union St., Easthampton, (413) 527-3700, pace@pioneerarts.org.

Parallel Worlds: The experiment known as NT Live has been more successful than its founders and subscribers might have hoped for. Since its debut last summer, more than 300 cinemas worldwide have hosted satellite-borne high-def screenings of productions from London's Royal National Theatre. These include the Amherst Cinema Arts Center, which this weekend screens the third in the series, broadcast live, with a repeat next week.

Nation is adapted from the young-adult novel by Terry Pratchett, best-selling author of the megaseries Discworld. Set in a "parallel world" that is both like and unlike ours, it imagines a cross-cultural encounter between two teenage orphans—a boy whose island village has been destroyed by a tsunami, and a shipwrecked Victorian girl. Together, they forge a new "nation" by sharing each other's knowledge and questioning each other's beliefs. The NT's colorful production fills the stage with striking visual effects and fantastical puppets, including whimsical birds and an enormous warthog.

Nation: Jan. 30 and Feb. 2, Amherst Cinema Arts Center, Amity St., Amherst, (413)253-2547, amherstcinema.org. Suitable for 10 years and up.

Culture Wars: David Mamet's Oleanna puts a hot-button topic through an all-too-possible scenario and positively dares anyone with prior opinions on sexual harassment (or political correctness) to feel vindicated by the outcome. In the unnerving two-character confrontation, a young male professor on the verge of tenure is accused by a female student of being "sexist, elitist, classist, manipulative and pornographic." Like the nun/priest clash in Doubt, the play's moral conflicts have ignited both probing dialogues and screaming arguments between homeward-bound theatergoers. This weekend's production at Westfield State features alums Panagiota Kanavaros and Colin Kiley.

Oleanna: Jan. 27-30, Ely Studio, Westfield State, (413) 572-5682.

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