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Essay

From the Artistic Director: Log Cabin

By Tim Sanford, Artistic Director

Policy shifts and public attitudes affecting the LGBTQ community have changed dramatically over the last 20 years. Obama inherited the discriminatory Clinton Era policies of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act. Obama was instrumental in the repeal of DADT in 2011, but it took until 2013 for the courts to strike down DOMA. Many of those on the left felt exhilarated and perhaps even a bit complacent about the rate of change. Then came a backlash determined to draw a line in the sand somewhere, most frequently against the trans community. Even as trans characters started appearing on TV shows like Transparent, the community’s right to a public bathroom or military service was suddenly threatened. One might think blatant examples of discrimination would engender solidarity, but with so many fights to fight, and with no agreed-upon resistance leader, outrage fuels our social media feeds and private conversations get fractured — sometimes absorbing the self-inflicted wounds of identity politics.

Doesn’t the survival instinct cause some of us to duck and cover?

What does “Log Cabin” connote to you? I assumed most people would pick up the reference to “Log Cabin Republicans,” the organization of gay republicans, dedicated to conservative fiscal policies and libertarian social politics. Their website embraces the legacy of the party of Lincoln (when they formally organized in the late 70s, the name “Lincoln Club” was already taken) and celebrates examples of political courage from Republican leaders over the years, like Reagan’s denunciation of the Brigg’s Ballot Initiative (which would outlaw gay teachers). I imagine being a Log Cabin Republican must also be quite frustrating. I suspect most of them must have been privately vexed by this same Reagan’s notoriously sluggish response to the AIDS crisis. But isn’t that how it is in political crises sometimes? Doesn’t the survival instinct cause some of us to duck and cover? Hunker down in safe harbors waiting for it to blow over? Perhaps a “log cabin” suggests just such a refuge as well, a home in the woods (let’s face it, probably a second home in the woods) to get away from the clamorous city.

The characters in Log Cabin would no doubt scoff at the deductive contortions of their conservative gay brethren, but they nonetheless share some of the same qualities. Both the gay male and lesbian couples at the heart of its story seem economically comfortable, and their day-to-day concerns center on bougie topics like child-rearing. Their trans friend Henry then seems, by comparison, quite the maverick with his 20-something girlfriend and hipster beard. And he definitely stirs things up.

In my experience, Art has usually led the way in my own process of opening up and seeing the world differently. It was Caryl Churchill’s masterpiece, Cloud Nine that first rocked my world through its exploration of themes of sexual oppression via gender-fluid casting. Churchill identified Genet as her primary influence, but one could argue that Churchill’s work has had more widespread influence, especially in terms of her aesthetics. In my own work, I would have to point to Tom Donaghy’s Boy and Girls, which similarly portrayed the domestic tensions that entered the lives of two gay couples — one male, one female — when the ladies invite one of the men to act as a father figure. And of course Taylor Mac’s Hir broke ground through its depiction of a trans character portrayed by a trans actor.

Log Cabin owes a bit of debt to each of these plays, while also standing as a sterling, singular achievement from this superb, inexhaustibly adventurous, curious playwright. And we are proud that Log Cabin will occasion the fourth production at Playwrights for both Jordan and his magnificent director, Pam MacKinnon.