‘Give’ and take

Posted on 21 Jan 2010 at 10:56am
By ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Life+Style Editor jones@dallasvoice.com

Raising a family together wasn’t stressful enough for Douglas Carter Beane and Lewis Flinn — they also had to write a world premiere musical for the Dallas Theater Center


CHILDREN OF MEN | Beane, left, and Flinn brought their children Cooper, center, and Gaby to Dallas while working on ‘Give It Up,’ which premieres tonight at the Wyly Theatre. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

TAKING TO THE COURT
GIVE IT UP at the Wyly Theatre
2400 Flora St. Through Feb. 14.
DallasTheaterCenter.org.

Let’s be frank: When someone says "high school basketball," chances are the words "gay men" aren’t the first to spring to your lips.

But say the words High School Musical and, well, that’s an entirely different story.

So leave it to Douglas Carter Beane — the camptastic author of As Bees in Honey Drown, The Little Dog Laughed and To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar — to combine the two. The product is Give It Up, a musical receiving its world premiere at the Dallas Theater Center this week.

Premiering a show is never easy, but Beane seems to have gone out of his way to make this one especially challenging. The London premiere of Little Dog opens the same week as the New York debut of his latest play, Mr. and Mrs. Fitch with John Lithgow and Jennifer Ehle, just as he’s knee-deep in rewrites for Give It Up.

And his life partner, Lewis Flinn, is, for the first time, his collaborator on a show — as if life weren’t stressful enough.

If it is stressful, it doesn’t register on Beane’s jovial face or in his ebullient demeanor. Tall, broad and toothy with a wide, welcoming face, he strides around the halls of the Wyly Theatre with kids in tow, cramming down pasta between rehearsals.

Based on Lysistrata, Aristophanes’ 5th century B.C. comedy about women who go on a sex strike until their menfolk cease waging a pointless war, Give It Up takes place at Athens High School where the Spartans’ cheerleading squad won’t give their losing team sexual release until they win a game. Beane wrote the script; Flinn composed the music and lyrics.

A broad sex comedy set in a high school seems like an easy fit (oversized erections and boys’ locker room antics from a gay playwright? We are so there), though at first Beane was reluctant to pursue it. He has just finished working on Xanadu, his Tony-nominated stage adaptation of the dreadful ’80s movie musical about how the Olympians send a Muse to earth to make a songwriter successful. (Beane kept the kitsch in place, turning it into a howlingly silly spoof.) A second play derived from Greek mythology? It seemed pretentious.

"Then a friend say, tell them it’s part of a trilogy," Beane says. (You can get away with a lot if you pretend there’s a method to your madness; Beane says he still doesn’t know what the third one will be.)

"Besides," Beane offers, "with Xanadu, I was classing up a trashy property; here, I am trashing up a classy property."

Whatever the approach, Give It Up was born. Or at least the egg was fertilized — the process has been a long one. Beane first conceived of it in 2001 as a movie ("my response to 9/11" he says, though he insists later that was a joke). He asked Flinn (himself a theater composer and musician) to write songs for it.

"We did a reading in 2002, wrapped it in 2004, then it sat on a shelf. A lot of other stuff happened to us," Flinn says.

And by that he means: Fatherhood.

"It was something to do before we had children," Beane agrees. "On our first date Lewis said he wanted to have two kids, a boy and a girl. That’s the way I remember it; he claims it didn’t happen."

Although that is how it has worked out. Son Cooper came along in 2004, followed by daughter Gaby in 2006. ("Standard gay men naming their children," Beane observes: "They sound like French tarts or escaping slaves.")

Because Flinn — "Daddy" to the kids — and Beane ("Papi") don’t usually do shows at the same time, they share parenting duties. "If we do [both have shows], it’s usually night stuff and we just swap off," says Flinn.

Until now. The script was basically in screenplay form until last year, when Beane’s friend Dan Knechtges, who choreographed Xanadu, sent Dallas Theater Center artistic director Kevin Moriarty a rough draft. Within two weeks, Moriarty was calling, negotiating the premiere at the new Wyly.

Flinn had much of the score done by September, but a week before opening night is still involved in rewrites, as is Beane, who says he often "writes from the chair" — recrafting dialogue and even entire scenes during the rehearsal period.

"This is a crazy time for us," Flinn says.

But as any parent will tell you, it never gets less crazy. Indeed, the insanity of child rearing could be the makings of an outrageous comedy. Maybe one set in Greece.

That trilogy may yet be close at hand.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 22, 2010.

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