Playwright Jan Buttram locates queer madness at the heart of Lone Star football frenzy
They are total football freaks. Texans. Pillars of society. Onetime high-school footballers themselves.
“You settle this before the damn Longhorns kickoff,” snaps Cecil Ray Bonner, the best and most esteemed doctor in the whole dadgum town, at Harold D. Carney, his high-priced wheeling-and-dealing lawyer.
“Jim Bob, you’re getting all tangled up in the replay––look at the end of the game,” the doctor instructs his lifelong best friend, conscious-stricken Methodist minister, and part-time accountant, Jim Bob Mason.
Money guys. Solid citizens. Their conversation salted with gridiron terms. “A little quarterback sneak”… “This is a time out”… “You were the fastest running back in the region.” And, of course: “I have not missed a Longhorn game in 20 years.”
Sorry, Cecil Ray. Looks like you and Jim Bob and that actory pretty boy, Delbert Simmons, are going to miss the Longhorns kickoff after all. You all three have been busted for hanky-panky in the men’s room in the town park in the middle of the night. You’re in the hoosegow, and, in the case of the two older men, trying to appease your frantic wives by telephone.
Yes, that’s it, you’re Texas homos, even if “homo,” in Latin, merely means “man”––Texas men, not goddamn queer homosexuals, is the way blustering Cecil Ray puts it. And “Texas Homos” is the name of a scathingly funny-bizarre-sad play at the June Havoc Abingdon Theatre on West 36th Street through the end of this month.
“The names and the place”––Tyler, Texas, pop. 80,000––“have been changed to protect the guilty,” said playwright Jan Buttram, an Abingdon co-founding co-artistic director, “but the basic facts are true. I’m from Texas, a teeny town called DeKalb, population 2,000, which I left 30 years ago, but I go back periodically, including to a wedding two years ago.
“This story was in the local paper the next morning: A dozen men––well, I guess 11––had been arrested in a city park where the restroom had become a meeting place. In the group were a minister, a doctor, and a lawyer.”
Was the minister also a part-time accountant like poor Billy Bob Mason?
“No. I made that up. I just loved the idea.”
The comedy, which gets serious in act two, is directed by Melvin Bernhardt, whose sensitivity stretches all the way back to a Tony and three Obie Awards for such as Paul Zindel’s “The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds” and Beth Henley’s “Crimes of the Heart.” It is the first time Bernhardt and Buttram have worked together.
Bernhardt knows nothing about football; asked whether he preferred the Patriots or the Eagles in the Super Bowl, Berhardt shrugged, smiled, said, “I’m a sissy.” The playwright even had to demonstrate for him what a huddle was in football.
“Where I grew up,” she says, “sports are god. Football players are almost equal to doctors. They’re the elite—“
“––and rich,” Bernhardt interrupted.
“I was in the band at DeKalb High School,” said Buttram, who came to playwriting through acting. “Football was just a giant monster.”
Had she gone out with football players?
“No, but our principal did psych us up for the games, a huge thing.”
So was she going to root for one team or the other in the Super Bowl?
“Yes, the Eagles, because Ed McKeany, director of development of the Abingdon Theatre, is a huge Eagles fan. And because my nephew lives in Philadelphia.”
It was the actor George Grizzard who told her: “Get Melvin Bernhardt, because this guy knows a play inside-out.”
So Buttram pedaled her bike up to Bernhardt’s Upper West Side apartment and dropped off a script.
“When I start to do a play,” said the director, “everything else in my life stops. So if I’m going to give up my life, the play has to be good”
Bernhardt makes no bones about being gay. As for Buttram, “I’ve been married a couple of times, but it’s safe to say I’ve played on both sides of the fence.”
The actual hero of “Texas Homos,” Buttram feels––the good guy versus the bad guy––is Jim Bob Mason, the Christ-seeking minister who outs himself, and along with himself, everybody else. Jim Bob says: “I’m not going to live a lie any more. I’m going to tell the truth to the people I love”––and one of those people is his lifelong friend Cecil. Who hates it; hates the truth.
“Of the two, Jim Bob is the healthiest. You know,” Buttram said, “in this country you can be a schmuck, can vote for all the wrong things, support a war, but if you make a lot of money and have the right toys in your garage, you can get away with it. I’ve been fighting that all my life, usually with plays about the abuse of women.”
This one’s more about self-abuse, by people who don’t even know it. For the Longhorns, it’s three and out.