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Reaffirming Avow in The Age of Gay Marriage

Playwright Bill C. Davis talks about what it means to achieve full equality

As long as the world keeps changing and the church keeps staying the same, this play will endure, opines playwright Bill C. Davis. Speaking by telephone from his home in Connecticut, the celebrated author is referring to Avow, his play about two gay men, Brian and Tom, who ask Father Raymond, the notably open-minded and liberal priest at their Catholic church, to marry them. They are taken aback when the request is necessarily refused—more so when the priest recommends that the romantic young men resign themselves to a life of celibacy.

Additional twists in the fabric of the play arise when Brian’s sister, Irene, finds herself unmarried and pregnant and the gay men ask if they can raise the baby. The action rises further when Irene goes to discuss the gay marriage issue with Father Raymond, and unexpectedly finds herself attracted to the unexpectedly young and attractive priest. Complication mounts again when Father Raymond finds himself equally attracted to Irene.

Yes, Bill C. Davis, also author of Mass Appeal, Dancing in the End-zone, and Wrestlers, knows how to start with a conflict and keep the action rising. Moreover, he knows how to explore issues without preaching, and without reducing either side to the ridiculous.

“I am sincerely interested in what happens when two personalities approach a situation from different directions,” explains Davis. “I am interested in the way that a confrontation happens and something is revealed, which forces another confrontation in which something is revealed, and on and on.”

In addition, Davis has a knack for locating the comedy in a serious situation. All of his plays are notable for serious issues handled with deft subtlety and for delightful flights of comedy that keep them from being deadly dirges of sturm und drang.

“The trick,” says Davis, “is to maintain a balance, so that the comedy is neither ignored, nor allowed to take over and completely overshadow the seriousness of what is at stake.”

BUA has done Avow before, in 2001, but the play always lingered in the memory of artistic director Javier Bustillos as a favorite. With the issue of marriage equality so much in the news this year, and as part of BUA’s celebration of their 20th anniversary season, the company is presenting the play again.

Interestingly, the play also stayed on the mind of Bill C. Davis, who has made some revisions to the text to reflect the current discussion of marriage equality and contemporary spiritual issues. Buffalo will be among the first cities to see the revised text.

At a time when many people question why anyone would continue to embrace a church that rejects them, Davis feels that the situation is complex and begs for scrutiny.

“Watching the Republican Party go through their primaries reminds me of how potent these issues are,” says Davis. “We hear these candidates say that homosexuality is a deep moral failing or a defect, rather than a variation of the human experience. We hear them say that they are committed to undoing rights that people have fought hard to achieve. They oppose gay people serving in the military. They oppose marriage equality. They oppose the right of same sex couples to adopt. All this reminds us that these issues are still current, still vital, and still important.

“I think whoever you are, all aspects of society need to be open to you,” continues Davis. “It is easy for some people to say, ‘The church calls me an abomination,’ so fuck it. That is the response of Irene in the play. But I think it is damaging to cut people off from all aspects of the world in which they were raised and the culture they know. I think it is important for gay people to demand equal participation in all of society’s institutions. I think that it is important for gay people to affirm that their sexuality is not a sin and that they are not an abomination.”

Kathleen Betsko Yale returns to reprise her performance as the devotedly Roman Catholic mother of the gay son and unwed pregnant daughter. Joe Natale returns as the older priest. Their scenes together provided memorable comic zest to the 2001 production. Tess Spangler returns as the goodhearted and protective, if judgmental rectory housekeeper. Kelli Bocock-Natale will again direct. New to the cast are BUA leading man Michael Seitz as the socially liberal but doctrinally inflexible Father Raymond; Danny Beason and Kevin Keleher are the lovers; and Diane Curley is Irene.

Avow will play at the BUA theater (119 West Chippewa Street) from January 20 to February 11. Call 886-9239 for tickets.