Newly Out Actor Gets to Play Gay at Theatre Southwest’s Festival of Originals
J. Eric Dunlap stars in ‘Joey & Chuck’
By Don Maines
J. Eric Dunlap struck out three times marrying women, and now he’s out of the closet.
“I’ve been gay all my life, but I always did what was expected of me,” says the 48-year-old Dunlap.
Even in community theater, where he’s been performing since 1991, Dunlap steered clear of gay thespians.
“I kept my distance, not drawing attention to myself. This is the first time I’ve even played a gay man onstage,” he says of his role as Chuck, the older man in a gay relationship in Joey & Chuck.
Thomas J. Misuraca of Tarzana, California, wrote the comedy and submitted it to Theatre Southwest’s 20th annual Festival of Originals. Joey & Chuck was one of five titles chosen for production July 21 through Aug. 5, each with their own cast and director.
Out thespian Jay Menchaca directed Joey & Chuck, casting Matt Prideaux as Joey Weaver, and Lance Stodghill and Suzanne King as Joey’s well-meaning parents. They really, really want to be progressive and supportive, but both father and mother are taken aback to find out their son’s new boyfriend, at age 55, is older than they are.
The Weavers’ reaction plays out in a restaurant where they are being served by Brit Garcia as a wise-cracking waitress.
“Are you guys [already] living together?” Mr. Weaver shudders.
“No,” replies Joey. “What do you think we are? Lesbians?”
“A joke like that you might have to be ‘family’ to understand,” says Dunlap, who has been learning some ins and outs of queerdom since coming out 16 months ago.
“I didn’t shout, ‘Hey, I’m gay!’ or fly a rainbow flag or anything,” says Dunlap. “I started by telling a longtime friend. He was very supportive. He’s gay. He introduced me to his friends, and I started dating.”
Dunlap also confided in his daughters, ages 17 and 24, one each from his first two marriages.
“The younger one said, ‘I knew it!’” recalls Dunlap. “It turns out they had been talking.”
Dunlap, who lives in Houston’s upscale CityCentre neighborhood and owns an illustration business, says he’s found him a fella who’s an attorney in a downtown Houston firm.
“He’s actually a bit older than me,” says Dunlap, “so the play is a role-reversal compared to real life. He’s also been married. He has a 28-year-old son, so we are both former ‘breeders.’”
Unlike Joey, Dunlap doesn’t think he’s exclusively attracted to older men.
“I think he just has to be a good person,” he explains. “I find that out by talking to them. You look at their eyes.”
The other plays in the Festival of Originals are a heterosexual marriage drama, The Next Move, by William Ivor Fowkes of New York; a twists-and-turns mystery, Card Game, by George Rapier of Smyrna, Tennessee; a chilling tale of redemption, Blur in the Rear View, by Aleks Merlio of Portland, Oregon; and a mystery comedy, Elimination Game, by prolific Houston author Carl Williams.
For ticket information, go here.