Oliver Mayer Sets the Stage For His New Play, Members Only

Oliver Mayer Sets the Stage For His New Play, Members Only

By Jasmine Lowe

Critically acclaimed Los Angeles playwright & Professor of Dramatic Writing at USC School of Theatre, Oliver Mayer, has brought to life the groundbreaking and controversial story, Blade to the Heat. The play, produced by Mark Taper Forum in the 1996 production, featured the character, Pedro Quinn, an introverted nobody-turned-championship boxer coming to terms with his sexuality in the 1950’s. Mayer is now setting the stage for his new work, Members Only, the long-awaited sequel to the play whose rights were originally bought by pop icon, Madonna.

Mayer’s latest piece, Members Only, meets up with the characters of Blade to the Heat about 27 years later after the lead character is accused of being gay by a dethroned champion.

“It was probably seven or eight years ago when my wife, who’s a great actress, Marlene Forte, said to me that she was getting too old to play this part,” said Mayer. “She always wanted to play the part of the women in Blade to the Heat. She said hey if you write a continuation of it then I can do it. So, I kind of jokingly said yes, but jokes sometimes sort of come true and I realized, if I were going to tell the one character’s story then I tell all the characters’ stories. It seemed only right. Only fair to see where the surviving characters landed.”

The play’s story takes place in the 1980’s during a time in America’s history when people are forging racial and sexual identities while dealing with the growing soon-to-be-named HIV/AIDS crisis. Pedro Quinn is also grappling with boxing over the age of 40 and fighting for the right to be himself on his own terms.

“I left that play in roughly 1960 when the last fight takes place in the play,” Mayer explained. “The lead character is in his twenties. It’s a period when Liberace was straight, at least officially. It was a period when gay and straight seemed to be cut and dry.”

Mayer went on to comment about how much the world has changed in the twenty-two-year gap between the last fight in the play, Blade to the Heat, and the beginning of his latest play which takes place in 1982.

“In this case, looking back at the year 1982, I was seventeen, and at seventeen it was all starting for me. It was so exciting the world, music, all kinds of cultural events, dancing, sports, education, sexuality, but as I was leaving to go to Cornell, my mother stopped me, she worked at County General Hospital, she said there’s something out there, wear a condom.

“Although the play deals with pain and violence on stage, the messages are still decidedly hopeful.”

It went right through me because we didn’t even have a name for AIDS yet in 1982,” Mayer continued. “The disease was beginning to take people, but we didn’t know what to call it. The first name was GRID, and it was just this mysterious thing that was more whispered about than anything. So, my mother, I really credit her more than once, but in this case for potentially saving my life and also giving me a historical frame with which to look back at my own life and that of my friends. Some of whom didn’t make it. Being from the theater, so many of our best and brightest really were in effect the initial line of fire in the 80’s and this play is dedicated to them.”

Although the play deals with pain and violence on stage, the messages are still decidedly hopeful. The play is centered during a momentous period when culture and society were changing, and many people were redefining themselves. In the play, and society at that time people came to realize that life and love are unstoppable and that members of a community can make a change and diminish hate and ignorance by coming together and fighting for what is right.

“We’re getting a lot of the same push back that my characters got in 1982…”

“I look at that period and, maybe it was because I was of that age and just partisan to it, but it was a time of great discovery, said Mayer. “In a lot of ways identity politics in our culture, or at least contemporary identity politics and there was an opportunity to be other than binary, other than cisgender, and it was an opportunity to put that into your work and crossover that way whatever the work might be. I think that’s what it comes down to; I think people were redefining who they wanted to be, all these years later we’re doing it again.”

Mayer utilizes the lead character, Pedro Quinn, to inform the audience about the choices the country has made, but particularly regarding how our society treats one another in terms of ethnic and sexual difference and identity. The play’s audience can also view the relevancy of the story to today’s social and political climate.

“We’re getting a lot of the same push back that my characters got in 1982, and in both cases I think we and the characters are saying, hey, wait a second, I have a right,” said Mayer. “What it means is there’s going to be tension. It means there’s going to be a fight. Every scene of this play is a fight, but fights are fun. Fights can be fun anyway. I mean they’re dangerous but in a lot of ways when you get your passion up, and you are fighting for something you believe in you might surprise yourself with your strength.”

Audience-goers will be able to experience the play, Members Only at the LATC, Theatre 3 October 25, 2018, through November 18, 2018. Jon Huertas, Marlene Forte, Darrin Henson, Carolyn Zeller, Ron Alvarez, Hansford Prince and Geoff Rivas star in the play, Members Only.  Ray Oriel (who played Quinn) and Sal Lopez (who played Alacran) in the original production will be reprising their roles. Tickets are available for purchase by clicking the following link: https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pe.c/10321804.

Leave a Reply

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

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.