By Donalevan Maines
Photo by Rick Malone
Jaston Williams plays “an elderly gay man” (he’s what, 45?) who reminisces about the good ol’ days with a lesbian (played by Lauren Lane from TV’s The Nanny) in a scene from A Wolverine Walks into a Bar, which bows this month at the Grand 1894 Opera House in Galveston.
“They are delightful, old-school gay revolutionaries,” says Williams, describing two of the many colorful, quirky and endearing all-American bar patrons that he and Lane portray in the collection of short scenes that Williams wrote.
The Grand’s stage will be transformed into “a bar-like atmosphere” with a few audience members seated around small tables as part of the set, says Williams. He’s the out, lanky, drawling native Texan who shot to fame when he and heavyset Joe Sears co-wrote (with Ed Howard) and performed the gender-bending ’80s stage hit Greater Tuna and its popular sequels.
“Lately, I’ve become a monologist—for my entertainment—really fleshing characters out and letting them speak for themselves,” he explains. “I lived for 13 years in the French Quarter of New Orleans, so I’ve heard some amazing bar stories.”
Wolverine began with a tryout in San Antonio, with Williams performing monologues like conversations in a bar. “Each scene is told through the eyes of a ‘Barfly,’ who is almost like the Stage Manager in [Thornton Wilder’s 1938 classic play] Our Town,” he says.
When Wolverine was presented last fall in Austin, Lane joined the cast, with Williams divvying up the monologues between them, plus penning two scenes with both of them in it, including the reminiscing older gay man and lesbian.
“We still have the barfly,” says Williams, with Broadway veteran Kevin Bailey portraying that character in Galveston. “He ties each story together with ‘News of the Weird.’”
Williams turned 65 last month on June 28, the 47th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots that launched the modern gay-rights movement.
“One thing the play deals with is how easy it is to forget what it was like years ago for these pioneers,” explains Williams. “I teach several times a year at Texas Tech University and I always tell students, ‘You did not invent sex. I know you think you did, but you didn’t.’”
However, Wolverine isn’t just a history lesson; it’s also a drag show!
“I only get out of gender once,” laughs Williams, who donned drag to play some of Tuna’s most memorable characters, including bratty Charlene Bumiller, used-weapons saleswoman Didi Snavely (“If we can’t kill it, it’s immortal”), Tastee Kreme waitress Helen Bedd, and snooty Vera Carp, vice president of the Smut-Snatchers of the New Order.
His distaff turn in Wolverine finds him as a sexually liberated old hipster. “She’s an old, old gal who has had a lot of fun in her life. She’s still good in the sack,” he says. “There’s nothing like old people talking dirty.”
Williams is married to Kevin Mooney, PhD, a musicologist who is a senior lecturer at Texas State University in San Marcos, where Lane is the Head of Acting. “Kevin is amazing,” says Williams. “He is a wonderful, gentle, loving, calming individual—everything I never looked for.”
Eight years ago, the couple moved to Lockhart, about 30 miles south of Austin, with their son, Song, who is now 20.
“Kevin said, ‘This is going to be wonderful,’” recalls Williams. “I said, ‘Maybe. Maybe not.’” I’ve lived in small towns all my life, but Kevin is a city boy, from Omaha [Nebraska]. We came into town—two big gay guys with a Chinese orphan who is on the autism spectrum. I said, “That’s going to be a subject of conversation. They cannot imagine who we are.” I say we tried to give ’em a break, but frankly, we dug right in, went anywhere we wanted, ate anywhere we wanted. People saw how we reared this child, and that we expected him to behave. We go to a little Episcopal church. All that hatred can be pushed on Fox News, but over time, when you see us with your own eyes, you can’t deny the kind of people we are. We’re the luckiest two men in the world. We know if we were to ever have an emergency, we could call anybody—anybody—in town, and they would come sit here with Song.”
What: A Wolverine Walks into a Bar
When: Saturday, July 16
Where: The Grand 1894 Opera House, 2020 Postoffice, Galveston
Details: thegrand.com or 800.821.1894
Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.