"Coming Out at the Caffe Cino:

Toward a Re/visioning of Homosexual Stage Representation"

My research investigates representations of homosexual visibility as they occurred in plays presented on stage at the Caffe Cino, a small New York coffeehouse that pioneered the 1960s Off-Off-Broadway movement. I examine a small group of plays written by Cino playwrights: Doric Wilson, Lanford Wilson, Robert Patrick, Robert Heide, William M. Hoffman, George Birimisa, Soren Agenoux, H.M. Koutoukas, and Haal Borske. By interweaving the thematic elements of the plays with social and cultural history, I explore how issues of sexual identity, gender expression, social oppression, communication codes, and camp performance coalesce around bodies of performance that resulted in free and unapologetic depictions of homosexual characters

 

Prior to the Cino, gay characters were subject to suppressive socio-political and -cultural norms that maintained their invisibility. The liberating public presentation of homosexual identity at the Cino, however, broke through this dramatic closet and crashed full force into audience view years before gay liberation efforts saw results in the late 1960s.

 

My research looks at how Cino playwrights paved new paths of exploration by reflecting on themes such as isolation, self-hatred, assimilation, and loneliness while presenting warning signs to audience members about the dangers of social confinement and heterosexual manipulation. A few playwrights challenged mainstream containment by advocating hope and empowerment through depictions of homosexual culture that demanded recognition and validation. Other writers chose to locate their gay characters within conditions of political turmoil, scientific advancement, or exaggerated settings of camp performance to demonstrate how gay people relate to both their own surroundings as well as those within the hegemonic mainstream. Through an analysis of these gay-themed Cino plays, my research illustrates how playwrights at the Caffe eliminated suppressive theatrical norms and paved a path for new, correct, and real portraits of homosexual characters on stage.

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