"The most difficult part about being in this production" says actor Michael Brown has "been the response that I've had from some friends and family….I wasn't expecting the anger that I was confronted with. To be clear this anger wasn't coming from the fact that my character (Russel) was gay but rather that I was playing a gay character."
If simply playing a gay character can evoke such strong emotions, imagine being gay in high school. In Brent Hartinger's fast paced and funny stage adaptation of his own book, The Geography Club, we meet Russel Middlebrook. He is convinced he's the only gay kid at Goodkind High School. Then his online gay-chat buddy turns out to be none other than Kevin, the popular but closeted star of the school's baseball team. Soon, Russel meets other gay students. And his best friend, Min, reveals that she's bisexual. But how can such a diverse group of kids get together without drawing attention to themselves? By creating a club that's so boring, nobody in their right mind would ever, in a million years, join it-The Geography Club.
Director Jerry Rapier was thrilled when the University of Utah's chair of the theatre department, Gage Williams, approached him to find a piece that could be tied to the University's Pride week activities. "The Geography Club has been one of the most banned books in American high schools over the past decade, simply because it treats the romance between two gay teenagers the same as any other romance."
When asked why people should see this show, Brown and Johnson said it better than I ever could:
"The content in the play isn't heavy. It is a simple story about high school students dealing with adult problems. But the themes in the play are examined too infrequently. To whom does a child turn when they are afraid of who they are? The rise in bullying and teen suicide is an epidemic that cannot be stopped by force. It can only be stopped through learning and understanding. And hopefully, through this play, some understanding will be gained."
"This show is relatable in so many ways; it doesn't matter if you are gay, straight, or whatever. Looking at it initially, sure, it can seem like a high school comedy drama about teenagers. But it is so much more, it's about the people we have in our lives, the way we choose to act, how we accept morals and social protocol. And to get out of all the super deep and analytical stuff: this show is a funny romp through high school full of awkward moments and clever laughs. It's really damn charming."
The Geography Club is playing through October 7th at Studio 115, located at 240 South 1500 East in the Performing Arts Building. Parking is available in the visitor's lot to the south of the theatre, at Rice Eccles Stadium, or on President's Circle. Tickets are $8-10. Visit the University of Utah's website for more information.
Photo Credit: Michele Collins