by Chuck Graham

What is gender exactly? What does it matter? What does it really mean, aside from the biological differences in plumbing? Underneath the socially approved manners and dress for men and women, are we all the same?

Playwright James Still kind of says we are in “Iron Kisses,” a one-act of domestic drama designed to contrast and compare the emotional differences of one loving family in a small Midwestern town. His play is set on two actors.

The new Invisible Theatre production casts Carrie Hill and Dwayne Palmer. In lengthy monologues, each plays both parents. Then as the tension escalates, Hill becomes Barbara and Palmer becomes Billy, the grown children of those two parents, reflecting on their home lives and sibling loyalties.

It is a daring theatrical manipulation, which these actors make work beautifully. With direction by Gail Fitzhugh, we see traditional parent roles transform from authoritarian figures into a pair of caring people finding their own paths to understanding their son’s homosexual lifestyle.

In the opening scene, Palmer sits on a chair talking sweetly about Bill. Then we realize the character talking is Bill’s mother. With only the briefest pause, Palmer’s body language becomes more rigid and his voice more brusque. Now he is speaking as Bill’s father.

This back-and-forth monologue flips several times between mother and father, as each goes further into their desire to support their son even as they disapprove of homosexuality. What we get in the audience is a fascinating perspective about the nature of love – that between parents and children, between brothers and sisters, between the grown children and those they will choose in life to be their own lovers.

This is theater poetry at its finest. The language is clear and natural, but the impact is mystical and indefinable, just as poetry’s impact can be mystical and indefinable. Even though we can’t precisely describe the feeling, each of us can feel it in our own way.

We feel their struggle deepen when Hill takes the stage alone to play both the mother and father who recall other memories of their children. The mother responds to the genuine love she sees between Bill and Michael, when the young couple is invited to dinner.

Mother remembers them secretly holding hands under the table, exactly what any shy heterosexual couple would do during a visit with parents. It is the ordinariness of these memories that holds the most power, dramatizing again how we are so similar.

“Iron Kisses” does step the drama up a notch with Palmer and Hill onstage together. While Bill feels guilty about being gay and tries to overcompensate by being the perfect doting son, Barbara becomes the adolescent rebel.

Although the subject matter may be inflammatory, the language is as natural and unpretentious as macaroni and cheese for dinner. Hill and Palmer have an equally natural chemistry onstage.

We can believe they are brother and sister, competing for their parents’ attention but also defending each other against the rest of the world.

There is plenty of humor in the dialogue, though the play becomes a bittersweet experience as we watch this family – unique by definition – discover it isn’t the differences but the similarities that will keep them together. Without any preaching, we are also reminded the differences aren’t really all that different, anyway.

Performances continue at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays, to March 7 at Invisible Theatre, 1400 N. First Ave. Tickets are $22 Wednesdays-Thursdays, $25 Fridays-Sundays. For details and reservations, 882-9721, or visit

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