Showtime commissioned three playwrights for a anthology of gay history. We visit the 50’s, 70’s and 00’s to see the challenges gays and lesbians faced in small towns. Common Ground is most notable for its starry cast. Brittany Murphy, Steven Weber and Jonathan Taylor Thomas play tragic homosexuals who teach straight Eric Stoltz and Ed Asner lessons in tolerance. Jason Priestly has some fun as a sassy gay marine. He’s a bright spot in a slow and preachy film.
Want to learn more? Then read my spoiler filled recap.
Content warning for homophobia, violence and sexual assault.
A Friend of Dorothy by Paula Vogel.
Homer, Connecticut. 1954.
NARRATOR (Eric Stoltz): Welcome to my home town. It’s a mighty fine place. Unless you’re different.
DOROTHY (Brittany Murphy): I’ve been discharged from the Navy. Section 8.
MOM (Margot Kidder): Get out of my house! I have no daughter!
TOWNSFOLK: That’s the lesbian! Shun her!
BULLIES: Let’s beat her up!
DOROTHY: I can take these runts.
NARRATOR: Now, now. Straights won’t feel sorry for you if you fight back. Run away now. Go on.
CLOSETED CLERK (Helen Shaver from Desert Hearts): What happened?
DOROTHY: Well you see… (Flash back to)
SASSY GAY SEAMAN (Jason Priestly) Oh honey, I’m a friend of Dorothy too. Let me take you to a gay bar.
(Police raid the gay bar. Dorothy is arrested and dishonorably discharged.)
DOROTHY: And now nobody will hire me.
CLOSETED CLERK: Here’s some money and a contact in New York.
(Dorothy gets on a bus to New York.)
NARRATOR: And that’s how I learned that lesbians were people too. Twenty years later I’d meet some homosexual gentlemen.
Mr. Roberts by Terrence McNally.
Homer, Connecticut. 1974.
GAY TEEN (Jonathan Taylor Thomas): I need to talk to you. I’m starting to think that I’m…
CLOSETED TEACHER (Steven Weber): I have to get to class.
(Swim team beats up the gay teen.)
GAY TEEN: Let me guess. I don’t fight back. Despite the fact that I’m in terrific shape.
NARRATOR: Now, now. Don’t victim shame. There are a myriad of psychological reasons why a muscular athlete and a combat trained Navy woman might not fight back against a physical assault.
GAY TEEN: I guess you’re right.
NARRATOR: Now lay on the ground so’s they can kick your ribs.
GAY TEEN: I don’t know what to do. I’m being bullied because I’m…
CLOSETED TEACHER: I can’t help you.
GAY TEEN: Then I’ll throw the big swim meet so that the whole team loses.
(Swim team sexually assaults the gay teen.)
CLOSETED TEACHER: I’m ashamed. I’m coming out and giving my class a stern lecture on bullying.
GAY TEEN: But not on sexual assault? You’re a terrible role model.
(Gay Teen gets on a bus for New York.)
NARRATOR: Ah New York. A magical place. But by the year 2000 our small town had become awfully progressive. There were even gay commitment ceremonies.
Andy and Amos by Harvey Fierstein.
Homer, Connecticut. 2000.
WEDDING PLANNER (Harvey Fierstein): Yes, I wrote myself a part. Shut up. Is everything ready?
ANDY (Andrew Airlie from Fifty Shades of Grey): No. My fiancée’s vanished and his father organized a protest against the wedding.
TOKEN LESBIANS: We want your sperm for a baby!
NARRATOR: Yes, a baby! This particular trope was popular for lesbian characters in the early 00’s. They looove babies!
(Amos hides in a tree house. His father finds him.)
AMOS (James Le Gros from Girls): I’m calling off the wedding! I’m tired of assimilating for the sake of bigots like you!
FATHER (Ed Asner): Wedding day jitters? I had those. I suddenly find you relatable. (Father drags Amos past the protestors and into the church. Andy & Amos are wed.)
AMOS: I’d like to thank all the generations of brave homosexuals who got us to this point.
NARRATOR: Why, I can see them now. Dorothy, Gay Teen, Closeted Teacher and Closeted Clerk are sitting in the back of this church watching the wedding. Like dream ghosts.
DREAM GHOSTS: No Jason Priestly?
NARRATOR: I never actually met him. But I’m sure we all share some common ground.
The Times They Are a-Changin’
The chance to watch 90’s TV stars play gay sounded exciting. Brittany Murphy and the engaged couple get to show some affection. Jonathan Taylor Thomas’s swim champ struts about in a speedo. But, for the most part, the roles are pretty tame. If you want to see Steve Weber play a passionate gay role watch Jeffrey. If you want to see Jason Priestly get homoerotic watch Calendar Girl or Die Mommy Die.
What are your favorite works by these playwrights? If you’re unfamiliar, check out Paula Vogel‘s How I Learned to Drive, Terrence McNally‘s Love! Valour! Compassion! or Harvey Fierstein‘s Torch Song Trilogy. Did you see this when it aired? Am I being too hard on it?
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