Those Liberation Blues

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Gently Down the Stream
A play by Martin Sherman
The Public Theater, New York City

 

GENTLY DOWN THE STREAM might be called, to borrow from Tennessee Williams, a “memory play” whose main character, Beau—played by that Tony-winning force of nature, Harvey Fierstein—has several long monologs recounting his life as a gay man who has loved and lost more than once. Equally important, Beau is a repository of gay history from the 20th century and the opening decade of the 21st. In recounting his past, he is also conjuring the history of gay life. Its brief, gemlike flame flashed during World War II when, amid global catastrophe, new possibilities seemed to emerge; but decades of repression followed, and then the specter of AIDS came to loom large and to extinguish individual lives along with recent gains by a burgeoning sexual minority. These musings, addressed to the audience, are in fact prompted by a much younger man, Rufus, an English lawyer who has maneuvered his way into Beau’s life after a one-night stand. The play begins on the morning after.

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