Theater Review: THE PRIDE OF LIONS (Theater Rhinoceros)

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by Chuck Louden on April 11, 2024

in Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area


Founded in 1977 The Castro District’s Theatre Rhinoceros is the longest-running queer theater in the nation. This month is the world premiere of non-binary playwright Roger Q. Mason’s boundary breaking play The Pride of Lions.

1928, New York City. Mae West’s play, The Pleasure Man, which opened on Broadway at the Biltmore Theatre. became a sensation not just on stage but in the courtroom. Police arrested the entire cast of 56 after a performance and they were charged with indecency. This particular story tells of five female impersonators and a night spent in the can. Gracie (Brendan Looney), Shasta (Frances Domingo), Molasses (Sean Prescott) and Madame Red Hook (Michael DeMartini) had just finished auditioning for a vaudeville show hosted by Mae West when the cops burst in and hauled all the girls off to jail.

Old school, vindictive, and angry veteran police officer Grey (Kim Larson) takes pride and sadistic pleasure keeping city streets free of any perceived criminals, This of course includes queers and homeless alcoholics wandering the streets. Young rookie street cop Hammer (Nic Moore) is a closeted homosexual and sleeping with Gracie, who he’d like to rescue from a life as prostitute and performer. Most of the drama in the show is about this night and how the five “girls’ from all different backgrounds come together to protect each other and fight for their rights to be themselves.

Hammer and Grey definitely play out the Good Cop/Bad Cop dynamic. Hammer wants to protect his friends and argues to get them released. Grey is the polar opposite and has a sadistic streak and enjoys physically and mentally torturing his captives. The real stars of the show are the female impersonators, whose grit and determination bond them. Director Ely Sonny Orquiza gets big performances from all his actors despite the small space, which lends itself to an intimate and claustrophobic experience for both characters and audience. Hector Zavala’s minimal set is used to good effect to create intimate moments. Lyric Cross’s makeup design and Wendell C. Carmichael’s costumes give a unique and glamorous look for the performers, particularly the vintage sparkly flapper dresses for the girls.

Pride of Lions refers to creatures that are loyal to each other and harm no one unless they are provoked. This serves as a perfect metaphor for gay rights. Today in 2024 with the passage of many anti-trans laws being passed in mostly Red and Southern states, the underlying message of continuing to fight is very timely.

photos by Seth Dorcey

The Pride of Lions
Theatre Rhinoceros, 4229 18th St in San Francisco
Thurs-Sat at 8; Sun at 3
ends on April 21, 2024
for tickets ($25-$35) visit The Rhino

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