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A Gathering' presents old-fashioned murder mystery with modern twist

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Lyric Theatre and www.tarsplace.com present "A Gathering," a new play written and directed by Oklahoma playwright Robert Matson. In the work, an invitation leads to the revelation of deadly secrets and hidden desires after nine gay men are gathered together by an unknown stranger and held accountable for their past crimes.

Over the last 10 years, Matson has written and directed the plays "Ginger Exposed: The Life of Ginger Lamar," "Drama Queens," and the sold-out hit, "Beneath the Zipper" "? a male response to "The Vagina Monologues."

"I started writing more plays with gay themes and characters in them, and I found a nice following," Matson said. "There are people that want to see something different, something diverse."

Even though the play is set in modern times, he deliberately crafted stylized dialogue that would evoke the bygone era of the books and movies that inspired him.

"Up until now, I've done a lot of loud, gay comedies, but I grew up loving old classic murder mysteries. I fell in love with Agatha Christie's novels, and I wanted to try something different. This is nothing like I've ever written before, but I'm always willing to push the envelope and take a risk. That's why I love theater."

MIX OF GAY AND STRAIGHT
The cast of "A Gathering" is a mix of gay and straight actors. Rather than hold auditions, Matson utilized his extensive knowledge of the local theater community to handpick the cast. "I knew the guys I could trust with the material, who wouldn't be afraid to take a risk with it," said Matson.

He said many of the actors were surprised, and maybe even a little apprehensive, when first approached to perform. But after reading the script, Matson said they were excited to be a part of a unique project and the rare opportunity to play a gay character onstage. Even the straight actors were eager to take on the challenge, he said, including kissing another man.

"The thing that surprised me was that the straight actors got the hang of it while one of the gay actors, after his first kiss, got so befuddled that he couldn't stop giggling, and he forgot all his dialogue and blocking after that," Matson said.

He said the play continued to evolve during the rehearsal process.

"When you get your actors in, they start to shape the material in new ways and make you think of other paths that you can take with the story," he said. "They find ways to ground the characters and their motivations in a reality."

While all the characters in "A Gathering" are gay, Matson worked hard during the writing and later with the actors to make sure that each of the male characters were unique and had very different personalities, backgrounds, ages and unique ways of expressing their sexuality.

"We have characters that range from the very flamboyant, to the macho, to the very conservative, to being in denial about their sexuality all together," he said. "The one thing they have in common other than their sexuality is a hidden crime in each of their pasts "? a crime for which they are now being judged by the unknown host that has arranged the gathering."

"?Eric Webb

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