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An Otherwise Hopeless Evening
The Jewel Box Lounge
Kansas City, MO
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An Otherwise Hopeless Evening

Plays by William Motter Inge
Artworks by Joseph Keehn II
Stage Direction by Travis Chamberlain

The Jewel Box Lounge
3227 Troost Avenue
Kansas City, MO 64109

February 1-24, 2013

The evening begins with the audience mingling through a makeshift theater, interacting with the cast and engaging with an exhibition of meticulously handcrafted site-responsive artworks...

An Otherwise Hopeless Evening is a collaboration between Kansas City-based visual artist Joseph Keehn II and New York City-based director Travis Chamberlain on the occasion of the centennial of the Midwest's most celebrated playwright: William Motter Inge (1913-1973). Presented within the walls of the legendary Jewel Box Lounge (home of "The Most Unusual", Kansas City's first "femme mimic" revue, 1948-1982), An Otherwise Hopeless Evening is simultaneously a world-premiere anthology production of four short "homophile" plays by William Inge and a site-responsive exhibition of original artworks by Joseph Keehn II. As a whole, the production and exhibition generate an exchange between mid-20th Century "homophile" experiences (represented through Inge's texts and the colorful history of the Jewel Box Lounge) and the present day realities of the city's diverse LGBTQ community.


Travis Chamberlain's production of An Otherwise Hopeless Evening of Very Gay and Extremely Grim Short Plays by William Inge revives the history of the Jewel Box Lounge with an all-male ensemble of Kansas and Missouri-based performers. Staged in an immersive theatrical environment with performers, at times, engaging directly with the audience, the production features star-turn performances by five actors playing eleven characters across boundaries of gender, race, and age. The ensemble includes Ray Ettinger, Tom Lancaster, Brad Shaw, Justin Speer, and local living legend De De Deville.

This world-premiere anthology includes two unpublished works (The Killing and The Love Death) and two rarely produced works that were published towards the end of Inge's life (The Boy in the Basement and The Tiny Closet). At times campy and unhinged, other times melodramatic and deathly serious, these works reveal Inge's struggle to reconcile his sexuality with his conservative Midwestern upbringing. By deconstructing the aesthetics of drag and female impersonation, performers shift rapidly between characters, settings, and time periods. At one moment an actor plays a nosy landlady in an absurdist comedy about privacy at the height of the McCarthy era (The Tiny Closet)...and the next transforms into a handsome gay hustler in a psychological thriller where suicide is intermingled with seduction (The Killing)! De De Deville also appears in "boy drag" for the first time in 18 years, portraying a closeted mortician in a play that has been credited as the inspiration for the hit TV show Six Feet Under (The Boy in the Basement). Your host for the evening is the character of Byron Todd (The Love Death), a flamboyant self-entitled and profoundly misunderstood artist and drama queen--played intermittently throughout the night by every member of the ensemble.

Underscored with melodramatic abandon on a vintage 1950s organ, An Otherwise Hopeless Evening of Very Gay and Extremely Grim Short Plays by William Inge offers audiences a fierce overdose of farce, thrills, melodrama, and unflinching satire! Recommended for mature audiences, the production contains adult themes, nudity, and some strong language.


Further transformations abound! Kansas-City based artist Joseph Keehn II takes the site of the Jewel Box Lounge to mount an exhibition of original and site-responsive works, arranged alongside curated artifacts on loan from the Gay and Lesbian Archive of Mid-America (GLAMA). An Otherwise Hopeless Evening of The Most Unusual and So Homophile Works by Joseph Keehn II includes: embroidered headlines from LGBTQ history on canvas; portraits of Jewel Box Lounge performers as hair dye drawings of their wigs embellished on wood panels; monoprints of jockstraps (collected from the Kansas City LGBTQ community) on wallpaper samples; and a series of still life photographs of objects culled from GLAMA's collection. Grounded in performance and queer culture, Keehn's time-intensive use of craft techniques--such as carpentry, knitting, needlepoint, and quilting--is durational, meticulous, and riddled with dichotomies: craft/fine art, feminine/masculine, traditional/non-traditional. Ultimately, the body of work presented here reveals the subtle differences between gay and straight worlds, which are constantly in flux (and have been since before such concepts even existed).


JOSEPH KEEHN II (Artist) - Joseph Keehn II is an artist, curator, and writer born and raised in Topeka, Kansas (T-town to the natives). His conceptually driven projects have combined text, images, videos, and performances to address issues of conventional norms, history, and power structures. As in the case of An Otherwise Hopeless Evening of The Most Unusual and So Homophile Works, Keehn's projects are often temporal and site-specific, residing in an intentional place for a particular reason. In his series Subway Paintings (2007-2009), Keehn used cleaning supplies and tape to remove the grit and grime of the subway station platforms in his neighborhood. Still visible in the Classon subway station on the G train in Brooklyn, the work questions traditional views of painting while revealing the neglect of public transportation in an underserved neighborhood. Other works have temporarily resided at Moss-Thorn Gallery of Art (Hays, KS), Shift Space (Wichita, KS), Mulvane Art Museum (Topeka, KS), Campbell Square (Salina, KS), Hobbs (Kansas City, MO), and Center for Contemporary Art (Seattle, WA). For more information, visit josephkeehn.com.

TRAVIS CHAMBERLAIN (Director) - Travis Chamberlain is a curator, director, and producer based in New York City, originally from rural North Carolina. An Otherwise Hopeless Evening expands his interest in the recovery and reconstruction of frequently overlooked LGBTQ histories through a combination of site-specific research, community engagement, and performance dramaturgy. This project is a sequel of sorts to Chamberlain's site-specific staging of Tennessee Williams' Green Eyes, which positioned Williams as a pivotal figure in the queer avant-garde. Green Eyes was cited by The New Yorker in their Top 10 list of the "Best Theater of 2011" after receiving its New York City premiere in a suite at the Hudson Hotel in Columbus Circle, presented by Performance Space 122. Green Eyes subsequently premiered in Boston in 2012 at the Ames Hotel, presented by Company One, where it received the Elliot Norton Award for Best Performance by a Female Lead. Chamberlain is a member of Lincoln Center Theater's Directors Lab.  For more information, visit travischamberlain.com.

WILLIAM MOTTER INGE (1913-1973) (Playwright): A century after his birth in Independence, Kansas, the works of William Motter Inge, the "Playwright of the Midwest," have been enjoyed by millions of theater- and moviegoers and will continue to be celebrated through the William Inge Centennial in 2013. Inge is perhaps most renowned for his four successful Broadway plays, Come Back, Little Sheba (1950), Picnic (1953), Bus Stop (1955), The Dark at the Top of the Stairs (1957), and the Hollywood films based upon them. Set in the American heartland of his native Kansas, each drama portrays the domestic tensions, repressed sexuality, and conservative societal norms that Inge associated with life in small Midwestern towns. It was a lifestyle Inge had experienced first hand  born, raised, and educated primarily in Kansas. Inge wrote, "Maybe we find beauty only in what we know. Mountains have never intrigued me. They have none of the mystery of the prairie, where one can always feel close to some eternal truth concerning man and his place in the universe."  That mystery and that truth became the center of his literary geography. A lifelong bachelor, Inge kept careful guard over his personal life, seeking to suppress any information that might adversely affect his careers as a high school teacher, newspaper arts critic, and college professor. Later, his difficulties with alcohol, his sexuality, and his extensive psychoanalytic therapy were cloaked in secrecy so that he might maintain his well-crafted public image as one of the most successful and highly respected dramatists of the 1950s. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1953 for Picnic and the 1961 Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Splendor in the Grass, Inge kept his sexuality closeted throughout his career as a playwright, screenwriter, and novelist. The four plays comprising An Otherwise Hopeless Evening are of the few surviving works that address Inge's struggle with homophile realities in the Mid-20th Century. Inge took his life in 1973 leaving a legacy of works portraying small-town life rooted in the American heartland. For more information on William Inge, pick up a copy of Ralph Voss's biography The Strains of Triumph: A Biography of William Inge.

THE JEWEL BOX LOUNGE (1948-1982): Known for its "femme mimic" performers in the late 50s and 60s, Jewel Box Lounge on Troost Avenue was the place in the Midwest to see local and nationally-recognized female impersonators like Rae Bourbon and Skip Arnold perform their comic diatribes and singular renditions of popular songs from the time. Sandwiched between the Cat Baleau and the Yum Yum Club (a house of burlesque and strip club, respectively, all owned and run by John Tuccillo), Jewel Box Lounge welcomed audiences of all kinds. Heterosexuals and "homophiles" (or homosexuals) came together here to drink, smoke, mingle, and share a laugh. Throughout the 50s, the Lounge survived bans on crossdressing and police raids on gay bars--part of a local and national effort to crack down on the "homophile problem" during the Eisenhower years. The Lounge remained at Troost until 1972, when it moved to 31st and Main Street--coinciding with a general shift in drag performance trends from cabaret song-styling to lip-syncing. The Jewel Box Lounge closed its doors for good on Saturday, March 6, 1982 with a final performance by the legendary Sandy Kay.

THE CAST: An Otherwise Hopeless Evening stars a diverse ensemble of local actors with strong ties to Kansas City's LGBTQ community and history, including some direct relationships to the Jewel Box Lounge itself. Brad Shaw worked there throughout the 60s, designing costumes for George Meadows and many of the other queens who graced its stage. Today Shaw splits his time between designing costumes, teaching, directing, acting, singing in the Heartland Men's Chorus, and performing as a storyteller with Kansas City Young Audience. Tom Lancaster, a fellow member of the Heartland Men's Chorus, is a celebrated local actor, improviser, and host. He will appear as Mr. Lambchop in the upcoming Starlight Theatre production of Flat Stanley (Kauffman Center, January 16-20). Justin Speer, the youngest member of the cast, is currently starring as Marty in The House of Yes (Fishtank Performance Studio, December 6-16). Both Ray Ettinger and De De Deville were featured members of Kansas City's infamous Late Night Theatre (1996-2006), known for its high camp renditions of iconic movies and plays with such titles as The Birds, Come Back to the 9 to 5, Dolly Parton, Dolly Parton, and A Very Scary Carrie Christmas. Today, Ettinger remains active as an actor, musician, and singer, celebrating more than 50 years in show business. De De Deville, meanwhile, is well-known by locals for her exceedingly prim, proper, and well-mannered drag performances, making regular appearances at Hamburger Mary's Drag Brunch on Sunday afternoons. GLAMA recently started a special collection in Mrs. DeVille's honor. An ever-growing wunderkammer of good taste, the De De DeVille Collection presently contains all of Mrs. DeVille's old Late Night memorabilia and early 90s drag paraphernalia.

This project is presented with the kind permission of the William Inge Collection and Estate and through special arrangement with Dramatists Play Service, Inc. Additional research support is provided by the Gay and Lesbian Archive of Middle America (GLAMA). Contact Stuart Hinds (Head, LaBudde Special Collections) at 816-235-5712 for more information about viewing the archive and making donations.


The Jewel Box Lounge (View)
3227 Troost Avenue
Kansas City, MO 64109
United States


Arts > Performance
Arts > Theatre
Arts > Visual
Music > Classical
Music > Spiritual

Minimum Age: 16
Dog Friendly: No
Non-Smoking: Yes!


Owner: Joseph Keehn II
On BPT Since: Dec 14, 2012
Joseph Keehn II

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