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The Emancipation of Alabaster McGill

The Emancipation of Alabaster McGill
For More Info: (323) 229-2753For Tickets: brownpapertickets.com


The Emancipation of Alabaster McGill

The topic of gay rights and gay marriage is a hotbed for theater as of late, what with play after play being produced in Los Angeles alone over the past few years since Prop. 8 was passed. And just when you think the subject can’t come up with an original angle, up pops Jeff Goode’s The Emancipation of Alabaster McGill.

Set in 1865, the action takes place in and around the front porch of a house in a Kentucky border town on the eve of the passing of the Emancipation Proclamation. But this isn’t a play about African-American civil rights. No. The emancipation of one particular slave is used as a metaphor for the right of gay couples to marry as well as gay rights in general.

We first meet the adorable Ethan (Brett Fleisher) and Evan (Matt Valle), two hicks from different towns who have become fast friends. Shirtless in overalls and chewing on weeds, the boys aren’t the brightest of fellas, but what they don’t have upstairs, they have in charm. So much so they seem to be very fond of each other, although openly admitting that hasn’t really occurred yet.

The two meet to “wittle” (used awkwardly as a metaphor for masturbation) and find themselves near the house of their friend Captain Avner Pilicock (James Sharpe). A stoic and genial man, he serves the boys sweet tea and allows them to wittle right there on his front porch. He even joins them. But just as the sun beats down and the three enjoy the day, they witness crazy old Deacon Chickory (Nathaniel Stanton) falling down the hill of his house and landing in the street. Grabbing him before he gets run over by a horse-drawn carriage, the boys bring him onto the front porch with them. There the Deacon explains how much he hates his wife and later, how the church was actually a brothel that has been out of business for some time.

While the Deacon regales the group with stories, a riled-up Deputy Lynch (Jude Evans) arrives to announce that loony old Abraham Lincoln has signed the Emancipation Proclamation allowing the slaves to go free. He believes this to be the end of times and in doing so, reveals himself to be a Klan member ready to do some “hangin’!” Which is when Grocer Baggot (Frank Ensenberger) shows up, hollering about how the Emancipation will cause all sorts of problems with his store, not to mention lower property values.

All of this bigotry is mixed in with the fact that Evan is from a town across the bridge called Collard Green. Because he is a “collard,” he is treated with disdain by many, even the confused Ethan who keeps ignorantly voting for the collards to be hanged even though he is clearly in love with him. It’s as if no-one really knows where they stand because the simple issue of getting along with each other gets confused by everyone’s personal and political agenda.
Sound familiar?

It’s when Act Two begins and the Emancipation has passed that the Captain’s long-standing African American friend Alabaster is allowed on the porch and the question of racism and bigotry is put into light and compared to gay civil rights. This is done in quite a clever and amusing way. Most notably is the fact that everyone seems to accept Alabaster outright until they are “told” he is black and then suddenly they have a problem with him.
Throughout the active Act Two, the Deacon has a wonderful extended bit on the abominations of the Bible, and the Grocer gets to bombastically try and get the new equality of the blacks to be not so equal.
There are many pleasures in The Emancipation of Alabaster McGill and it’s best to let the giddiness of the story unfold without any idea where it’s going. Not that shocking surprises abound, but Goode is quite good at making his points while disguising them as something else. The only trouble is, he has a lot of points to make and this creates a play that goes on about a half hour too long. It is also so skillfully metamorphosed that the play almost demands a second viewing to get every reference.

Some of the bawdy gay humor doesn’t work, but still manages to cause a chuckle or two. (Evan’s fascination with Alabaster’s long knife is pretty funny.) It will certainly get the gays in the audience to laugh, although the play is written so that those against gay marriage will see the error of the ways. Unfortunately, this is another play about gay rights that will be preaching to the choir. Not that it won’t give people that are pro-gay good fodder for arguments to their friends, family and co-workers who are against the equal rights, so in that, it’s a good thing.
All in all, though, The Emancipation of Alabaster McGill is a charming show with terrific actors all around and an original premise that stands out among the myriad of equal rights plays that have flooded our stages. Expertly directed by Eric Curtis Johnson, this is a show to seek out. We just have to get the gays to take that long trip to North Hollywood to see it.



After a startling revelation is made in Act II of Jeff Goode’s funny new comedy, two dumbstruck boys freeze as one says to the other, “Don’t say anything; maybe it’ll just disappear.”

The setting might be Kentucky, 1863, but that good ol’ Southern methodology prevailed even in free lovin’ California, 2008, when Goode’s editorial on Proposition 8 was rejected by a major publication because it wasn’t election coverage. That dismissal became the springboard for this world premiere, which uses a 19th century discussion over the imminent Emancipation Proclamation to draw parallels between slavery and homosexuality. Goode’s got a knack for clever innuendo: Self-pleasure is as thinly veiled as “whittling,” and Jude Evans’ Klansman/Deputy has a tiny pocketknife.

Director Eric Curtis Johnson has found a cast with impeccable comic timing: In the Huckleberry Finn/Tom Sawyer tradition, Brett Fleisher and Matt Valle puzzle over problematic situations before announcing the most logical solutions. With a static setting and a few too-frequent occasions of the pedantic dialogue, as Deacon Chickory (a scene-stealing Nathaniel Stanton) drums into your head, that “slippery slope” into preachiness. “We ain’t got time to debate this or think about what we’re doin’!” Frank Ensenberger’s Grocer Bag Baggot sputters on the eve before the Proclamation takes effect.

You might be for or against Prop 8, but kudos to Goode for taking that time.

SkyPilot Theater at T.U. Studios, 10943 Camarillo St., North Hollywood; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru June 19. (800) 838-3006.skypilottheatre.com (Rebecca Haithcoat)


I caught a wildly original and highly entertaining production on the weekend
By Pat Taylor

Naughty, bawdy and screamingly funny… it pokes fun at both politics and homosexuality… in the olden days. Funny, how little things have changed!

Still laughing after seeing this whacky and riotously raunchy play, Producer Bob Rusch has been telling me about this project for over a year. It is as hysterical as he promised! Loaded with outrageous political and sexual innuendos, the razor sharp double entendres attack your psyche like cerebral bullets!

The press notes state in part, “A Civil War border town is gripped by controversy when the dreaded ‘Emancipation Proclamation’ (setting free the slaves) threatens to redefine freedom as they know it. The city’s sea captain, the deacon of the local church brothel and the friendly neighborhood Klansmen are united by their hatred of that liberal pantywaist, Abe Lincoln.” Beyond that “wee peek”… I don’t want to spoil your fun!

A varied assortment of queerly quirky men sit on a porch sipping “sweet tea” and “swappin’ splinters” (whittling twigs), as they verbally debate with hilarious verve! Ingeniously written by the successful contemporary playwright, Jeff Goode, and playfully directed with precise timing by Eric Curtis Johnson… the whole controversial and kooky journey is a laugh riot! Kudos to Gideon Potter for his eye appealing set design!

A cast of seven excellent male actors bring their nutty characters to life… each one funnier than the last! James Sharpe plays the Captain, hosting the others on his porch, with classy comedic charm; Jude Evans is a scream as the overly authoritative Deputy Sheriff; Frank Ensenberger is annoyingly funny (as written) as the nerdy local grocer; Matt Valle and Brett Fleisher are lovably looney as two hayseed teen boys discovering their sexuality; and Arden Haywood is elegantly effective as the newly emancipated slave in the title role of “Alabaster McGill.” Saving my favorite stellar performance for last… Nathaniel Stanton is marvelously manic as the disheveled and “offbeat” Deacon Chickory… with his own zany “take” on life. Flawless!

This is a “titillating” team effort, driven by the skill of its entire cast, and “should” garner attention come “theatre awards” season. My guest Marla and I had a blast, and talked about the show all the way home! Not for the easily offended… but all others will laugh uncontrollably!

BONUS TIP: I just learned that this play was given a “GO” in the L.A. Weekly. Not an easy feat… Congrats!

Running through June 14 at T.U. Studios located at 10943 Camarillo St. in North Hollywood. For seats, call (800) 838-3006 or go to www.skypilottheatre.com.

Photos from The Emancipation of Alabaster McGill