Pride Month 2024: An Abundance of Theater of All Stripes

American theater has long been more welcoming to queer lives and stories than Hollywood has been, so the abundance of shows during Pride Month is unsurprising. It’s also overwhelming — there is just so much to see.

On Broadway, queer characters play central roles in productions as starkly different as “Illinoise,” a dance-theater work based on a Sufjan Stevens album, and Paula Vogel’s autofictional “Mother Play,” starring Jessica Lange. In the Max Martin jukebox “& Juliet,” a romance involving Juliet’s nonbinary best friend makes up a sweet subplot.

And of course, the gayest show of the year returns on June 26, when Cole Escola’s madcap comedy “Oh, Mary!” — about Mary Todd Lincoln’s secret life and aspirations — begins previews on Broadway after a popular run at the Lucille Lortel Theater. As Joshua Barone wrote in his review, “Escola’s humor is tailored like a Bernadette Peters concert gown to New York gays who were brought up on a diet of alt-cabaret and ‘Strangers With Candy.’”

Save some money for the city’s smaller stages, though, because they are offering a flurry of shows for Pride Month and are where you can spot rising talent.

Already up and running is the choreographer Raja Feather Kelly’s playwriting debut, “The Fires,” about three gay men in the same apartment, but in different time periods. The piece, which Brittani Samuel described in The New York Times as a “lustrous, emotionally textured play,” has been extended until June 30 at Soho Rep.

Another intimate downtown venue, the Wild Project, is presenting Bailey Williams’s “Coach Coach” through June 13 as part of Clubbed Thumb’s Summerworks series. Set at a retreat for life coaches, this stylized, dryly surreal comedy delights in self-help’s manipulative underbelly. The show feels as though it’s picking up the baton dropped decades ago by the Five Lesbian Brothers troupe, and it packs almost as much smoldering lesbionic eye contact as the musical “The Lonely Few” (which concludes its MCC run on June 9, so hurry).

At the Tank Theater, the playwright Joey Merlo and the actor David Greenspan, who had a cult hit last year with “On Set With Theda Bara,” reunite for “Midnight Coleslaw’s Tales From Beyond the Closet!!!,” whose rough edges are very 1980s East Village. Greenspan appears only in the last of this anthology’s three one-acts, a monologue in which he plays a therapist reminiscing about the freewheeling gay old times he much prefers to the normie present. The bittersweet, yet biting, piece is starkly different from the other two, not to mention the interstitial song-and-dance segments starring the lip-syncing “drag vamp” Midnight Coleslaw (Charlene Incarnate). The middle installment, “Daddy’s Girl,” does get my vote for the year’s most twisted psychosexual melodrama. As a boon to programmers, Merlo’s spook ride works for both Pride and Halloween.

And “Midnight Coleslaw” is just one of the simpatico offerings at the Tank this month, with Kev Berry’s monologue “We Had Not Ceased Desiring,” about the role of cruising and public sex in gay-male culture (June 13-24), and a jam-packed PrideFest (June 21-30).

Just make sure you go to the right place when you turn up on West 36th Street, because in the same building as the Tank is the Chain Theater, where fans of old-school camp can catch Jeffrey Vause and Steve Hauck’s 1960s-set classic Hollywood tribute “Tomorrow We Love” (June 13-23).

Joe’s Pub is wall-to-wall with Pride-related fare this month — which, admittedly, feels only a little gayer than a regular month at that venue. The fare is agnostic when it comes to artistic genres, and some of the more familiar names include Joey Arias (June 14), Mike Albo (June 18) and Justin Vivian Bond (June 20-30). The Civilians, a theater company that usually builds its docu-material from interviews, presents “The Pride/Shame Cabaret,” and promises a teaser for its upcoming show, “Sex Variants of 1941: A Study of Homosexual Patterns.”

The bright light of the Broadway musicals “Once on This Island” and “Shucked,” Alex Newell takes over the Minetta Lane Theater for the Audible presentation “Alex Newell and the Gospel of a Diva” (June 27-29). Nobody will be surprised if the “Shucked” anthem “Independently Owned” is on the set list, but I’m holding out for Newell’s first-rate disco number “Kill the Lights.”

Irish Repertory Theater’s Féile Bród (Pride Fest) also covers a fairly wide spectrum in just two days with “The Folktale That Made Me: A Night of Storytelling and Dance” (June 27) and “There Will Be Rainbows,” a cabaret evening with Stefan Fae (June 28).

A sober reminder that not everybody has the opportunity to live openly is the Criminal Queerness Festival at the Perelman Performing Arts Center (June 21-29), focusing on works by playwrights from countries where some humans are afforded less rights, safety and dignity than others. This year’s lineup features pieces set in Uganda and Kenya, as well as one about transgender characters of Algerian, Jordanian and Lebanese backgrounds.

Places known for experimentation are jumping into the action as well. Over in Williamsburg, Cosimo Pori and Travis Amiel’s dance-theater piece “Das Ersatz” promises a tantalizing “prismatic assemblage of Bob Fosse, Vaporwave and Pina Bausch” at the Brick Theater (through June 16).

Abrons Arts Center is another destination for daring companies, and that’s where you’ll find the National Asian American Theater Company’s “Isabel” (June 14-July 6). Reid Tang’s play, about a sibling relationship, centers transgender and nonbinary voices, and the cast includes Haruna Lee (whose “Suicide Forest” had a successful run at the Bushwick Starr a few years ago).

Judson Memorial Church, in Greenwich Village, has been an avant-garde hotbed since the 1960s, and this month it’s hosting Prism: A Festival of New Queer Musicals, presented by the Makers’ Ensemble (June 25-29). On June 29 you can decide for yourself if any of the shows qualify as innovative: You can see all four for just $40.

Finally, if you miss FringeNYC’s ramshackle spirit, rejoice: It’s alive and well at the 10th edition of Queerly, the annual festival run by Frigid NYC at Under St. Marks (June 13-July 3). The fest certainly keeps the tradition of attention-getting titles alive, with such gems as “The Ho Must Go On” and “Do You Queer What I Queer?”

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