Kevin Michael West hesitated to play the role of a sexually dominant “top.” After a few unconvincing attempts, he decided to channel the awkward experience into a play.
Top and Bottom ran in New York, Los Angeles, and Provincetown, and is now part of the Rainbow Theater Company’s first season of full shows.
West—who, while an Emerson graduate, chose not to reveal his graduation year—said the play centers around the awkward, intimate experiences of two young men. One plays the role of a sexually dominant top and the other plays the role of a submissive bottom as they discover more about themselves and one another.
West said the show’s universal themes of self-discovery and dealing with interpersonal situations allow a variety of viewers to relate to it, despite the specific subject matter.
“I think we all have things that we are self-conscious about, and this play is sort of about accepting that,” West said.
Christopher Janson, the play’s director, said that while many people cannot connect to the show’s subject material, anyone can identify with the young men’s emotional experiences.
“My neighbors—a straight couple—came to see it, and they totally related to it,” Janson said. “While the specifics of the play are about two gay, cisgender men, it’s a human thing, learning how to be intimate and comfortable with another person.”
Janson said the play covers experiences unique to gay men.
“When you come out, you’re for the most part welcomed into the LGBTQ community, but then there are all these labels like top and bottom, and there’s no real instruction book,” Janson said. “These two young guys in the play are exploring that.”
West said the story is about becoming comfortable with yourself.
“There are two characters, and one has sort of made his peace that he has this unusual side to him, and the other one is still sort of struggling with that,” West said.
Despite D.C.’s large theater community, Janson said the city has not sustained an LGBTQ theater company for more than a few years. Janson said that Lee Gable, the project’s art director, and Michael Kelley, the project’s managing director, came together to solve that.
After showing smaller plays and story-telling nights for almost five years, Top and Bottom will be the Rainbow Theater Project’s second full-fledged show.
The Rainbow Theater Project previously produced DOMA Diaries, a play West wrote about the Defence of Marriage Act which allowed same-sex couples who were married in their home states federal protections. Janson claimed the show received critical acclaim, and West said it provided him the platform to write further.
“Because of the success of DOMA Diaries, I felt confident to talk to them about other projects,” West said. “I was really happy that they liked it. It worked out well.”
Top and Bottom will run throughout the month of April.
“It’s been a lot of fun to work on this play,” Janson said. “I hope that we can continue a partnership with Kevin, but it’s been a real blast to work on this.”
Correction 5/4/18: A previous version of this article stated that the playwright’s name was Michael Kevin West. This has been corrected to Kevin Michael West.