Queer revolutionaries in the digital age

Azuka Theatre and Simpatico Theatre present R. Eric Thomas's An Army of Lovers

3 minute read
Onukwugha, in a white blouse, listens to Zuhairah, who has a gray afro and wears a draping peach jacket, and points at her.
Brittany Onukwugha (left) and Zuhairah in Azuka and Simpatico’s ‘An Army of Lovers.' (Photo by Johanna Austin.)

How does a queer revolutionary dictate their legacy from within a technocracy hellbent on erasing it? So asks An Army of Lovers, the new play by author and playwright R. Eric Thomas now getting its premiere in a co-production by Azuka Theatre and Simpatico Theatre.

The drama occurs on the campus of Connection, a fictional tech giant that borrows its most dystopian elements—surveillance of its users and employees, selling user data to unscrupulous advertisers—from its real-life corollaries. There is something immediately familiar about Connection, from the rhetoric that insists on its own importance in human connectivity, to the bland sleekness of the conference room where a violent crosshatch of bright orange steel (scenic design by Marie Laster) separates the characters, and us, from the row of trees beyond.

Much like the tech companies of our real world, Connection has discovered the potential profitability of LGBTQIA+ people, enlisting several of its queer employees to organize its first Pride ceremony. The committee invites Page Freemont, a Black lesbian activist and writer played by Zuhairah, to speak at the event. Upon arrival, she does not mince her words, announcing, “I do not come in peace.”

Palpable heat; complex tensions

A five-person cast brings palpable heat to the stage under director Kash Goins. Leading the charge is Zuhairah, undeniable in the role of Page, delivering speeches in the past and present that transcend the fiction of the theater. On opening night, several of her monologues brought explosive applause, reminiscent of a real-life political rally. Zuhairah embodies Page's full range, breathing emotional truth into the activist's more vulnerable, private moments in equal measure.

Brittany Onukwugha and David Bazemore perform a captivating tête-à-tête as a young new hire with progressive ideals and a company loyalist with a Zuckerbergian commitment to wearing the same white polo and green slacks (costumes by Anna Sorrentino) for most of the play. As the dubiously titled “Head of People,” Erin N. Stewart embodies the vacant affability of a corporate ladder-climber who has journeyed astray from her queer revolutionary roots.

At the core of Army's politics and emotions is the relationship between Page and her old friend Chuck (played by David Bardeen). In their younger days, Page and Chuck marched together in the struggle for queer liberation before falling out for years. Chuck, who is white, has bought into a system that actively suppresses him and his queer coworkers, albeit for sympathetic reasons. Page, meanwhile, has continued to fight from the outside, still committed to effecting change. Zuhairah and Bardeen capture the complex tension of this fractured, decades-long friendship, rife with regret and longing. Every time they are on stage together, it is impossible to look away.

Questioning and courage

Thomas's script tackles many issues. In addition to the erasure of queer people from history and the encroachment of tech companies on basic liberties like privacy and free speech, An Army of Lovers tackles generational divides in queer politics, the vast difference in perspectives inherent to white and Black queer experiences, the compounding indignities of the American healthcare system, and the material allure of assimilating to a hostile culture like Connection—among others. Thomas manages to balance this breadth of themes, framing them within a cathartic human drama, aided by the disarming power of laughter. Importantly, this play shows us how interconnected each of these issues is, and how they tie back to the common enemy of an exploitative society that allows behemoths like Connection to exist.

It's difficult to identify a single takeaway from An Army of Lovers, and that seems by design. This play challenges its audiences to look inward at their own place in the struggle for liberation. It communes with queer audiences in a way that is neither comforting nor hopeless; instead, it invites us to interrogate our present reality and commands us to find the courage to change it.

What, When, Where

An Army of Lovers. By R. Eric Thomas, directed by Kash Goins. Pay what you decide (cash, credit, or Venmo). Through May 19, 2024, at the Proscenium Theatre at the Drake, 302 S Hicks Street. (215) 563-1100 or azukatheatre.org.


The Drake is a wheelchair-accessible venue with gender-neutral restrooms.

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