ICONS: The lesbian and gay History
of the World, Vol. 1 and 2
Through Nov. 20
Jade Esteban Estrada performs in 'ICONS' at the Alley Theatre. photo by Angel Hess
"Don't get caught up in all this gay activism. It's not a gay thing, it's a human thing," says Jade Esteban Estrada as Gertrude Stein in his one-man show ICONS: The Lesbian and Gay History of the World, Vol. 1. That one sentence speaks volumes, not just about the show, but about the gay rights movement in general. Instead of looking at the shows as "gay plays" (well, really almost musicals) you can see them as reminders that throughout history, gay people have been amongst us - important people, movers and shakers. And, extending the metaphor to the political, gays are human, therefore "gay rights" should be a given.
Humanization is paramount in Estrada's two shows. Instead of focusing solely on the sexuality of each individual he brings to life, he instead gives the audience a look into who these people were, and why they have achieved the status of "icon": someone to remember, to look up to, to say "thank you" to - and not just for the GLBT community.
Estrada created Vol. 1 first (which makes sense) and it is obvious - it is a more polished and fleshed out show, and character switches are more defined and entertaining. You can see Vol. 2 and not see Vol. 1, however, as they are not dependent on each other, and both cover vast amounts of history, with no specific cut-off date. Both start in the distant past and work their way to the present.
Estrada, through songs and monologues, portrays each character through personality, clothing and wigs. Vol. 1 begins with Sappho, who gives us a run-down of the decimation of the homosexual lifestyle as the Catholic Church came into power. Next, in one of the most powerful vignettes, Estrada performs as Michelangelo. At a time when many things were beginning to be questioned, Michelangelo's statement still rings true: "Mankind is beautiful in all forms, and that is the word of God." Next up, Oscar Wilde, Gertrude Stein, Sylvia Rivera (the transvestite who threw her shoe and began the Stonewall riots in '69) and Ellen DeGeneres.
Vol. 2 begins with Alexander the Great, and also includes Queen Christina of Sweden (who abdicated instead of marrying), Susan B. Anthony, Billy Jean King, Harvey Milk, and ends - a little emotionally, a little abruptly - with Mark Bingham, who died in the Sept. 11 Pennsylvania flight and was one of the group who fought back against the terrorists.
Through this whirlwind, Estrada, though a little flouncy at times, convincingly creates separate personalities, so that a new character is defined by more than costume changes. Lighting - or the lack thereof - in the Alley Theatre for Vol. 2 was a problem, but the next night, at Vol. 1, Estrada had more than shadows to work with. Vol. 2 needs pepping up during the costume changes; lacking is the quirky chatter that keeps these transitions from dragging during Vol. 1.
And just for the record: I'm not gay. But I loved these shows.
ICONS continues at the Alley, 1716 N. Illinois St., through Nov. 20. Vol. 1 plays Thursdays at 8 p.m. and Saturdays at 3 and 8 p.m. Vol. 2 plays Fridays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets are $15. Call 926-8888.