I arrived a few minutes late for the final night’s performance of the popular, successful and sold-out Gay Camp at HERE Mainstage Theater. The usher said “Ordinarily I would never seat anyone late, but there’s only one empty seat on the far side, front row. You’ll have to walk by the stage to get there.” Then he opened the door for me. In a small theater with only three feet separating the players from the knees in the front row, I didn’t dare trespass. Instead, I stood in the side aisle and began to absorb the rapid fire jokes thrown at the audience with an agility that far surpassed their merit.
Gay Camp is a cotton candy comedy about a summer camp designed to turn gay kids straight, but staffed by silly characters who are secretly gay. It includes every one-liner and bit of queeny schtick that has escaped the mouths of the urban gay in the past few years and has already been processed into sandwich meat on Glee.
With its heavy reliance on Santorum as the frequent source of its humor, Gay Camp is seriously dated. I suspect that when it was new, there was need for the moment in which the closeted lesbian who wants to ascend to the top job at the camp makes the audience recite the Google definition of Santorum. Today, and for this audience, Santorum is either old news or forgotten. I kept wondering how the playwright could remedy this. Who might he substitute for Santorum? No name came to mind.
While the exuberant and skillful cast (uniformly skinny Williamsburg hipster types who seemed to be brothers?) brought forth a pink vibrator that wouldn’t shut off, a feather boa, an eroticized banana and some really bad wigs, I began to think that this play might work in fly-over country and for a very straight/suburban or rural audience with no gay friends who had already schooled them in modern gay humor. Also, I began to wonder what the venerable Charles Busch might have done with the topic.
I left before the end, and in the heat of the subway, I studied the weary faces of the unentertained. I think Gay Camp would be a hit in a subway car with its energetic cast delivering their lurching kaleidoscope of gaiety for the tired folks riding out the dirt and humidity of their passage home. In a theater, not so much.
In all fairness, many people laughed loudly and repeatedly throughout the play. From where I was standing in the aisle, I could clearly see the faces of the laughers. I don’t know those people and their tribe. I’m sure they are fine and smart folks, but I just do not know them. Therefore, my lack of amusement may be more my fault and less the quality of Gay Camp. Or maybe I just wanted to end this on a kind note, having myself written some lines that turned out not to be funny.