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Art & Culture

Blue Camp — A Searing Re-examination of the Power of Coming Out

 By William G. Schulz

The power of coming out — the revolutionary act of gay people, one by one, no longer hiding who they are and who they love — receives fresh and compelling re-examination in this play, an original production by DC’s Rainbow  theater Project.

Written by Tim Caggiano and Jack Calvin Hanna, and directed by Christopher Janson — all veterans of the DC theater scene — Blue Camp takes us back to the mid-1960s and the namesake last stop for men on their way to a dishonorable discharge from the U.S. Army. Here we meet a group of soldiers found guilty of “being queer” and awaiting shamed re-entry to civilian life along with a rogue’s gallery of probably-straight thieves and killers.

Specifically, the play is set in the weeks leading up to the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in which Congress gave President Lyndon Johnson the power to send troops to Southeast Asia. This so-called peacekeeping, of course, would quickly morph into the horror of the Vietnam War.

Back at Blue Camp, we meet Billy (Moses Bossenbroek), a flamboyant black soldier who can just as easily fling shade as take down an attacker with brute strength and quick reflexes. He and his fellow queer cellmates trade jeers and insults with the criminals across the way whose macho posing belies just how threatening a little lipstick and some feather boas can be in “This Man’s Army.”

(l-r) actors Rocky Nunzio, Ivan Carlo, Jared Michael Swain photo–RCG Photography–courtesy Rainbow  Theater Project.

What unites all of these men — all except Billy — are the secrets they carry, be that an attraction to other men or an irresistible urge to steal things. Billy’s truth-telling, his love of men, and the joy of song and dance, unnerves nearly everyone, including the supervisor of this toxic way station, Sergeant Swinger (Jared H. Graham), who Billy insists on calling “Sergeant Sugar.” Billy and his fellow inmates tell us their stories and remind us that “hell is trying not to be who you are.”

Enter “The Colonel” (Craig Houk), the very embodiment of a realpolitik Cold Warrior who knows cannon fodder when he sees it. The story turns on a familiar betrayal of gay people — happily tolerated when needed but quickly dismissed as perverts when the mission is over. He orders a re-evaluation of Blue Camp’s band of misfits and suddenly everyone’s fate will be at least partially re-determined by the necessities of war. No one incarcerated at Blue Camp, however, should be expecting a Purple Heart.

A baseball game at Blue Camp — meant to peacefully settle the score between the criminals and the queers — quickly devolves into the sort of routine physical violence against gay people often empowered by official discrimination. The parties retreat to their corners; any hope for understanding differences drowned out by the approach of military helicopters.

You can almost smell the napalm.

Of course, gay people today serve openly in the U.S. military. Volunteers are needed and the play’s discrete reference to the late President Dwight D. Eisenhower reminds us of his warnings about the military industrial complex. Is it any wonder that gay people could die for their country before they could walk down the aisle with a same-sex partner?

While Blue Camp sheds light on an important but nearly forgotten corner of U.S. military history, it’s also a warning about the fragile state of gay rights in America. Already, we see transsexual military personnel having their rights revoked by the Trump Administration. And as gay people continue to fight in the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines, the Supreme Court is reconsidering our right to love at home.

It seems that the threat of a wedding cake with two grooms on top is very real for this country. After all, the war might soon be over when people put down arms and learn to love one another instead.

Blue Camp is on stage through November. 24th at the Thurgood Marshall Gallery at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church, 555 Water Street, SW. Tickets are $35 and available online.

Copyright © 2019 InTowner Publishing Corp. & William G. Schulz. All rights reserved.