Connect with us


New LAB play focuses on family and sexual identity

Bill DeYoung



The Trahans, from left: Mandy Keen, James Skinner and Tiffany Faykus. Photos provided.

From the “good things come in small packages” file, an incisive, emotional script, an engaging and committed cast and brisk, clear direction make SYD, the new show at Ybor City’s tiny LAB Theatre Project, a major accomplishment.

LAB’s founder, Owen Robertson, develops and puts up new works, plays that have never been produced before, anywhere (hence, the theater is literally a laboratory).

D.C.-based playwright Craig Houk says that Roberston – who’s directing SYD, onstage through March 10 – and his team included him at every stage of the process. “I was really impressed with their mission, and the process of developing plays, with the playwright, from beginning to end,” Houk explains.

“There are things that Owen did in this production that I did not envision. And we didn’t always agree on everything. But in my mind, as a playwright you have to give up the ring – you have to hand your work over to people, and trust what they’re doing.

“He and I would talk about it, and sometimes he’d say ‘No, you’re right; let’s stick with what you think.’ And then sometimes he would say ‘You just have to trust … This is the way we’re building these characters and these relationships, so I’m going to try something different.’ And I said ‘Great.’”

Set in 1973 New Orleans, SYD is the story of a family caught up in changing times. Bud and Helen Trahan are concerned that their 19-year-old nursing student daughter, Sydney, has become rebellious, angry and secretive.

The Larsons: John D. Hooper, left, and Isabel Natera.

In an era when homosexuality was still mostly viewed as deviant in polite society, and sexual identity was not something you talked about, the Trahans – old-school yet compassionate – must come to terms with Syd’s life choices.

Meanwhile, the family’s “deeply Christian” neighbors, Beau and Beverly Larson, have ostracized their own son because he is gay.

The plot turns on a real-life incident – in June, 1973, an arsonist set fire to the UpStairs Lounge, a New Orleans gay nightclub, and 32 men died.

Houk was inspired to write SYD after a conversation with a gay woman named Diana Smith. “She told the story of a time in 1973, when she was studying to be a nurse in New Orleans. One night, she decided to go out dancing with bunch of her girlfriends, and they got arrested. It was a place called Brady’s; they called it a ‘notorious lesbian bar.’ She got arrested because it was illegal to dance together.

“So of course, her parents got involved. And her father, who was a wonderful man, wasn’t concerned about the fact that she was a lesbian. There was never a discussion about it, but this was the ‘official’ way she had to come out. Her parents supported her; they were more concerned about her having a career as a nurse, and living a good life.

“The fact that her parents were so supportive really resonated with me.”

While researching the period (“to see how I could flesh out the story and build from that”), Houk read about the UpStairs Lounge tragedy. And so the “Larsons” got involved in that part of the story.

After the first reading, Houk says, he, Robertson and the cast talked for hours about the play, and the characters. Houk even wrote an entirely new scene based on someone’s suggestion.

“In my mind, this production is an absolute success, a hundred percent,” he says. “The cast is incredible. They all brought their own stuff to it. And some of it’s better than what I imagined.”

Find showtimes and tickets here.














Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

By posting a comment, I have read, understand and agree to the Posting Guidelines.

The St. Pete Catalyst

The Catalyst honors its name by aggregating & curating the sparks that propel the St Pete engine.  It is a modern news platform, powered by community sourced content and augmented with directed coverage.  Bring your news, your perspective and your spark to the St Pete Catalyst and take your seat at the table.

Email us:

Subscribe for Free

Share with friend

Enter the details of the person you want to share this article with.