The sting of this usage is certainly its appeal, yet the word is deployed with manufactured innocence, often by people who would never say fag. Willfully, they overlook its poison: "Spider-Man's so gay," they whined. "All he does is cry."
To which I wanted to shout: "He cried over the girl who broke up with him! What the hell do you think gay means?"
At Steven Eubank's gay-but-not-lame production of Zanna, Don't! later that night, I thrilled to everything those movie-theater fools were too scabbed-over to enjoy. Hope even blossomed: Bus enough folks to shows like this, and things might change — if not minds, maybe definitions.
The show — an Off Broadway smash by Tim Acito — is a gay fantasia by way of The Twilight Zone, a one-joke musical that's good for dozens of laughs and even some insight. Acito imagines a world of supreme gayness, one in which gay is the new straight. Men pair with men, women pair with women, and the captain of the football team takes the lead in the high school musical — in this case, one about whether heterosexuals should be allowed to serve in the military. Young men trot off together to do "guy stuff" — baking brownies and watching Ellen — and school librarians fight on behalf of books with titles such as Heather Has One Mommy and One Daddy.
Acito's great idea is to present gayness as sunny, sweet and utterly wholesome. Other than some tiresome business with a phallic magic wand, Zanna, Don't! is squeaky-clean, its innocent world what a gay Ronald Reagan might have imagined. Chucking out too-easy bawdiness for something akin to satiric nostalgia is a master stroke: Acito cheerfully forces audiences to reconsider the very idea of normal.
It's also great fun. Memorable songs — ranging from folk-pop to country to a dark disco ballad ripped from Dickens — come and go so quickly that the show might as well be a revue.
Lording delicately over all this is Zanna, a matchmaking "love sleuth," played by the sensational Justin Van Pelt. Each morning, a bluebird flits through Zanna's window and tells him who in the world needs to find love; then, Zanna dresses like David Bowie as a figure skater and pairs off his classmates. Van Pelt skims through the show like a firefly through a June dusk, all lit and lovely and somehow bittersweet, too. We know that Zanna's paradise, like June nights, won't last.
Eubank's productions have been increasingly professional, but Zanna, Don't! is a retreat after last year's crisp Rocky Horror. The show I attended started 20 minutes late and was plagued by sound problems, offstage scrapings and colliding dancers. Kendra Burke's choreography is inventive, though sometimes too much for the ragged (but enthusiastic) cast. The exceptions: Van Pelt and Spencer Brown; the latter mugs with distinction in a featured ensemble role. Eubank's direction is mostly a parade of pleasures, but a climactic prom sequence is curiously flat. Still, even if some bits never take flight, Zanna, Don't! is jubilant, invigorating and even somewhat important. If gay is always this much fun, maybe the kids will shift back to saying retarded.