On November 8th, as part of our ongoing Lecture Series, I interviewed Dr. Robert Vorlicky, who teaches drama at NYU and is author of Act Like a Man: Challenging Masculinities in American Drama. Here is an excerpt from our conversation about Streamers:
Ted Sod: The characters are all trying to define this army barracks as a safe place, even though they’re facing certain death if they go to Vietnam. So what about this intimacy between men drives this play?
Robert Vorlicky: I think that’s a really important question. Part of the battle in this play is how does one speak about the wish for intimacy? Can you feel close to someone just by being able to talk about what’s on your mind? Can you share a dream? Can you share a story? The characters are asking: “If I tell a story about myself or someone I know, how much trust can I get back from you?” It’s almost as if the characters are asking: “Can I tell this story without automatically having who I am be questioned?”
TS: (Spoiler Alert!) In 1975, it was still unusual to have a gay character be so prominent on the Broadway stage. Richie doesn’t fully come out until the very end when Cokes asks, “Are you queer, boy?” and then he finally says that he is. What is it about that character’s ambivalence that makes him so important to the story?
BV: I think it’s a huge step for Rabe to deal with this. It’s a “don’t ask, don’t tell” situation. In fact, I think that using the military for the setting was an incredibly brave choice [by Rabe]. Richie is asked by other characters, “Are you queer? Have you done this?” And he says, “Yes, I have.” And it’s up to us as an audience to ask, “Well, has he? Or has he not?” There’s ambivalence about this. It’s not safe for him to self-identify. He has to trust as one might at home telling the truth to brothers or sisters or a family member or best friend. In this play, the gay character is one of many kinds of men. He’s neither a minority nor a majority. Bi-sexual Carlyle is absolutely fine with moving forward with having some kind of sex with Richie. It doesn’t necessarily make him gay, but it certainly says that he doesn’t mind engaging in homosexual activity. Rabe is showing the fact that the army is this social organization, a place where people of the same sex bond with one another. I think that this play is charged with a homo-eroticism which is very different from homosexuality. Because homo-eroticism is saying that you can have characters that actually desire to be close to each other without necessarily wanting to have a relationship through the sex act. The play is about characters who desperately want to be able to speak more intimately about themselves, whoever that self might be.
2008-2009 Season, Streamers