‘Pink Champagne’ offers fresh look at family matters

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The storyline sounds familiar: Joey, a 17-year-old kid, runs away from home and moves in with the grandparents he hardly knows, since they have long been estranged from his parents.

But we haven’t quite seen this story before, because the grandparents are a gay couple, Donald and Patrick – yes, “Grandma” is a man. And Joey is a gay kid who has had enough of the bullying he’s suffered and of the insensitivity of his own parents, Gene and Corrine.

The play is “Pink Champagne” by Wisconsin playwright Neil Haven. Funded by Joseph Pabst and the Milwaukee Arts Board, the production is the result of a groundbreaking collaboration between the Milwaukee Gay Arts Center and Uprooted Theatre, an African-American theater company.

“This production is our largest collaboration to date,” says MGAC executive director Paul Masterson. “It is a large-scale production produced with an African-American theater, with Equity actors and in an offsite venue, the Tenth Street Theatre. We’re hoping that such a collaboration will be successful at reaching a diverse community, and will, in fact, help create change.”

“The four founding members of Uprooted attended a staged reading of the play last year, and we loved it,” says director Dennis F. Johnson, one of Uprooted Theatre’s founders. “It’s a very human story that focuses on coming out and family reaction, but it’s just a play about people – a kind of everyman social commentary that spans three generations in one family. The fact that Joey’s parents are an interracial couple is almost irrelevant. Corrine, the wife/mother/daughter-in-law just happens to be African-American. ‘Pink Champagne’ perfectly fulfills our mission of bringing diverse stories to the stage.”

The play is a double coming-out story (grandfather and grandson) that also deals with contemporary concerns about family, gay teens, gay seniors, bullying, parenting and other serious issues. But it’s packaged in a hilarious comedy.

“We’ve had the luxury of the playwright, Neil Haven, being around as we’ve workshopped and expanded the play,” Johnson says. “We’ve added about 45 pages to the script, including accenting the various relationship issues. There are a lot of heavy things in this show, but the humor saves us from being preachy!”

Most of the accomplished cast is well known to local theatergoers: Marti Gobel (Corrine), T. Stacy Hicks (Patrick), John Kishline (Donald), John Maclay (Gene). Also in the cast is newcomer Ari Shapiro (Joey).

“Essentially, all families have their issues and values, whether they are LGBT families, or traditional families,” Masterson says. “They all have the same problems, and the same ways of dealing or not dealing with those problems.”

“Pink Champagne” brings together a diverse audience by exploring those problems from a new perspective.

“Pink Champagne” plays at the Tenth Street Theatre, 628 N. 10th St., May 20-June 5. The May 20 performance is followed by a reception hosted by PFLAG. General admission is $15. Call 414-383-3727 or go to milwuakeegayartscenter.org.

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