This summer, Queensbury Theatre presents Shakin’ the Blue Flamingo, written by Gwen Flager and directed by Claire Hart-Palumbo.
In it, five former sorority sisters, who once ran naked across a golf course, ate a lot of greasy fries chicken, survived multiple sorority scandals and somehow graduated from college, reunite to plan the first LGBT prom for local high school students in the Deep South. Should be easy, right? Thirty years of life since college has not dulled the jealousy and unrequited love of a few of the women. As prom night arrives plans unravel, infidelities are revealed and these friends learn that there is always more than one secret. Let the laughter begin!
Recently, playwright Gwen Flager discussed her inspiration for the play, and more, with MONTROSE STAR.
MONTROSE STAR: Gwen, your play, Shakin’ the Blue Flamingo, produced this month by Queensbury Theatre, deals with LGBTQ issues and takes place in the Deep South. Did you consider that scenario an obvious conflict?
GWEN FLAGER: I didn’t. I was raised in Shreveport, Louisiana, and attended college in Mobile, Alabama. It doesn’t get much more “Deep South” than Mobile. Most of my plays are set in the South. It is the locale I know.
STAR: You were raised in the South, is any of the play autobiographical?
GF: Yes. Bits and pieces are. I can tell you I had my heart broken by an “older” woman who lived in Fowl River, Alabama. I also nearly broke every bone in my body when I skied into her boat dock on Fowl River (not, however, on the same day).
STAR: Are the women based on people you actually knew?
GF: The characters are composites of women I’ve known. Actually, we all know these women. They are a fun-loving, heart-breaking mix of female energy that drives the best in life.
STAR: Were there any reservations by Queensbury, or any other theatres, about producing a LGBTQ-themed work?
GF: L. Robert “Lonnie” Westeen was the Playwright-in-Residence and New Works Coordinator for Queensbury Theatre when this play was selected in 2017 to be developed and produced in 2018. Lonnie and Queensbury Theatre had absolutely no reservations about this play. I do believe that some theatres are still uncomfortable with lesbian characters.
STAR: Shakin’ the Blue Flamingo deals with jealousy and unrequited love of a few of the women yet promises tears and laughter. How do you juggle the mix?
GF: I hope well. I try to find the humor in life. I generally don’t have to look very far to find something to smile or laugh about. And, we’ve all known heartache and the tears that go with it. One size does fit all.
STAR: What message do you want the audience to take with them after seeing Shakin’?
GF: I want the audience to love these seven lovely, flawed women, to ache for them, to be angry with them and, if necessary, to forgive them. I hope the audience talks about Shakin’ all the way home.
STAR: How did you begin in playwriting?
GF: I have always enjoyed writing — making up stories, as it were. I took several writing courses at Rice. I tried my hand at short stories and a novel. I found I was long on dialogue and short on descriptions. Playwriting seemed the logical format for my work. I submitted my first play to the 2009 New Play Reading Series at Country Playhouse (now Queensbury Theatre). I was surprised and grateful that my play was selected as one of the six to be read in that series.
STAR: Are there currently other plays in the works?
GF: I have two other full-length plays that are floating out and about the theatre universe. I, like other playwrights, am waiting to “hear back.” The development of Shakin’ has been my primary focus for the past eight months. The re-writes became more intense and time-consuming than I imagined.
STAR: Are there playwrights you are inspired by?
GF: I am inspired by Diana Howie, Nancy Geyer, Diana Weeks — Houston playwrights. I admire their talent, courage and persistence. I am grateful to these women who have encouraged me and my work.
STAR: There are currently LGBTQ-themed plays being produced at Houston’s Main Street Theatre and at The Alley. Is that encouraging to you and your writing?
GF: It is. I believe that we all want to see plays about people like “us.” Whatever that “us” may be. I am grateful that Queensbury Theatre is portraying seven of “us” this summer on its Houston stage.
STAR: Is there a project working for after “Shakin’…” closes?
GF: A producer has reached out to me and submitted Shakin’ to out-of-state theatres. I hope Shakin’ is well received in Houston and the “buzz” starts here. Wouldn’t it be something to see Shakin’ at The Alley some day?