Representations of lesbians tend to be rare onstage, much less African-American lesbians, but the play “Walk Like a Man” – returning to Atlanta Saturday for a one day gig —has a cast full of women and LGBTQ themes.
“Walk Like a Man” is adapted from Laurinda D. Brown’s book of the same name, a set of short stories which won a 2006 Lambda Literary Award. It deals, via dramatic monologues and vignettes, with issues such as same-sex domestic violence, gay parenting, rape, runaway youth, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” inter-office affairs, new love/romance and HIV/AIDS.
In all, the book featured more than 20 stories; nine of the characters Brown wrote about are featured in the stage version. Shortly after the book’s release, the play was adapted and performed at D.C. Pride. It later became the first African-American lesbian-produced play to be performed Off-Broadway.
For the author, it was important to portray multi-faceted, three-dimensional women in the book and stage version.
“I wanted to put my characters in a positive light and not make them stereotypes,” said Brown. “I wanted to show a side to these women that is not always put out there.”
In her writing, she doesn’t want to be seen just as the poster girl for lesbian characters. She wants her characters to be seen as who they are, like everyone else, with their sexuality unimportant.
“Being gay is just a part of everyday living,” she says.
Adapting her novel into a stage work was not difficult.
“Most of it is monologues,” she says, “so it was easy to bring it to the stage. We did add a little variety to it, though.”
The Atlanta gig of “Walk Like a Man” will be followed by another play, “Caught Up: An Emotional Affair.” “Caught Up,” which began as one of the skits in “Walk Like a Man,” tells the story of two female couples and how emotional cheating affects them. Each of the women has her own take on how cheating has affected them both individually and as a couple – and whether it’s worse than physical cheating. Saturday’s engagement will be the local bow.
After adapting that first play, Brown hasn’t slowed down.
“Walk Like a Man” was recently selected, along with Brown’s second play “Bois Don’t Cry,” to be in the 2011 DC Black Theatre Festival in June. A fourth play, “Size Matters,” is a modern-day lesbian take on Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” scheduled for the holiday season, while a fifth, “Invisible Me,” is about a woman who seeks acceptance in society for being female, African-American and a lesbian. Brown plans to unveil that during Black Gay Pride.
She is currently under contract with Simon and Schuster for another book and laughs that she is overdue on it.
Originally from Memphis, Brown now lives in Atlanta and says the city has proven to be a popular locale for her work.
“Walk Like a Man” was staged in Atlanta back in 2006 and again in 2009, both times successfully.
“The response is always strong,” she says. “Even in these economic times, people come out to the show, which is flattering. I think people are hungry to see work like this.”
Although she has written and produced plays for LGBT audiences, she has been gratified to see them become more mainstream.
Many of the actresses in the two plays Saturday are openly lesbian, says the playwright. Out actress Cole Thomas, who is in both productions, says Brown’s work fills a void that is not often addressed.
“When I was coming out, there were no positive public messages directed at lesbian women in the southeast, certainly no public art,” she says. “The fact that plays like ‘Caught Up,’ ‘Bois Don’t Cry’ and ‘Walk Like a Man’ feature predominantly lesbian women acting in primarily lesbian roles offers women in the LGBTIQ community performance art in a way even television hasn’t.
“We’re face-to-face, audience interactive, and unpretentious with our fans, most of whom are women of color. Add to this that Ms. Brown’s characters come to life through the African American women — butch, femme, and ‘tween — most of whom have lived some of these very experiences, whether comedic and horrible, and I can tell you that we fulfill a need the LGBTIQ community hungers for.”
Top photo: Laurinda Brown (courtesy image)