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Short Stories 365/264 | N.S. Beranek

“Night of the Sea Beast” by Brandon Cracraft from The Touch of the Sea (Lethe Press, 2012). Edited by Steve Berman.

Pretty soon we’ll have compiled a great enough number of LGBT stories concerned with the hijinks on the sets of B-movies to fill a dedicated anthology.

It makes me think, of course, about the fact that John Waters will be one of the guests at this year’s Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, and also that this March, for the first time, that festival will be held in conjunction with the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival. Moreover, the festivals will coincide with a production of Suddenly, Last Summer. (And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.)  I ask you, does it get any better than this? How could it possibly?

This story is great fun, yet contains enough of a nod to serious issues to be truly satisfying. Hughie Wildsmith is a McCarthy-era working Hollywood actor. Or rather, he was. His career has just been destroyed by the revelation that he is a homosexual. That would be bad enough, but people want to run him out of town. Mothers pull their children away from him and grown men cross the street, afraid to be near him. He’s about to be evicted, despite having always paid his rent on time. He might be able to slink away and re-start his life in obscurity, if the flames of hatred weren’t being fanned by a radio personality named Harry Ipswich. Ipswich is targeting Hughie, and seems unlikely to stop anytime soon.

Enter an angel named Trevor Trecaman. A B-movie maker, he casts Harry in his latest picture and treats him like a human being, not a pariah. It’s more than that, though. Everyone on set accepts Hughie. None of them buy into any of the B.S. being peddled by people like Harry Ipswich. They’re zany, raucous, refreshing and kind individuals. No, it’s more than that. They’re allies. More than one of them has a relative or friend who has already or will be harmed by the Harry Ipswich’s witch hunt, and they’re going to do whatever they can to help Hughie. They welcome him into their fold. The whole endeavor is a great relief, even if, in order to throw off the zealots, he must do all of his acting from inside a rubber sea monster suit.

Naturally, a real sea monster then appears and starts picking people off. The piece uses outrageous humor to keep from ever becoming too grisly or maudlin.

One final thought. Last week I attended an incredible production of the new play Perfect Arrangement by Topher Payne, put on by Pandora Productions here in Louisville. That script deals with the same era as this story, but the plot revolves around a couple of characters, male and female, who are employed by the State Department. It’s been their job for several years to root out and expose Communists. The pogram hits home when the target becomes homosexuals. Each of the characters exists within two relationships: a faux, opposite-gender one that they affect to appease public sensibilities, and a true, same-sex one that’s private. Because of the anti-nepotism rule in their workplace they have not wed one another, but have each married the emotional, non-legal, actual spouse of the other. The two couples occupy a duplex with a hidden doorway so that they can live as they want away from prying eyes. The play contains the same mix of high comedy and biting social commentary as this story. If you enjoy one, I feel sure you will like the other.