A rumor persists that Abraham Lincoln might not have been 100 percent straight because he shared a bed with his friend Joshua Speed. But as Menard, Illinois elementary school teacher Harmony Green finds out, you can't suggest the former president is gay without drawing some pushback. Or in her case, without going to court in Abraham Lincoln's Big, Gay Dance Party, presented by Rockfire Theatre at Mag's 940.
Green (Lisa Luongo) gets in trouble when she writes her school's Christmas pageant to include Lincoln's "intimate friendship." It's not easy to understand why Green faces jail, but her case attracts outrage and media attention. The show depicts the trial from three perspectives: Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Anton (Kevin Murphy) and two Republican politicians, Tom (Ben Clement) and Regina (Monica R. Harris). An audience member picks the order in which the segments are presented, and actors play different characters throughout. At some point, each of the actors plays Lincoln, who is the show's guiding conscience.
Director Matt Reed ably controls the show's pace and tone. He knows when to increase the camp factor, as in choreographed numbers to ABBA songs, and when to pull back for quieter moments. The stage at Mags 940 is compact, and the actors and set designer Matt Collier use every inch of it in smart and efficient ways. Transitions, marked by pop songs, are seamless.
The title's "Dance Party" may imply it's a techno-fueled, frivolous satire, and there are many glittery, over-the-top moments, but there's also surprising depth. The narrative explores the politics of free speech and anti-LGBT legislation. Tom is a disgraced politician who sees the trial as his way to get back into public favor. He is a bigot and his aggressive demeanor makes him easy to dislike. His campaign manager Lloyd (Stephen Stanley) is corrupt and creepy. Stanley skillfully embodies several characters, and he's an entertaining chameleon. It's especially satisfying to watch his Lloyd try to work a shady deal with an opposing campaign manager, the bawdy and self-assured Tina (Kate Kuen).
The show centers on the trial, but one of the most touching relationships is between Anton, who is gay, and the humble Jerry (Gavin Robinson). As Anton, Murphy presents himself as fabulous and edgy. He brings in a fiery Cuban photographer named Esmeralda (Harris), a hilarious diva, and they quickly determine Jerry is a closeted gay man. Robinson shows the complexity of being gay in a small town, and his conversations with the quick-tongued and jaded Anton offer unique views on self-acceptance.
Anton tries to convince Jerry to come out to his father, and Abraham Lincoln's Big, Gay Dance Party takes an intense turn. The dynamic cast handles an emotional conclusion with humor and heart.