Republican firebrand Newt Gingrich is known for his dramatic flourishes, whether the Contract with America from 1994 or his more recent proposal to colonize the Moon. During this primary season, he has been on stage at press conferences, Republican debates, and numerous campaign events. Soon, in a drama only partly of his own making, he’ll be on stage again, quite literally, in Hyattsville, Maryland.
In the new play, Accidental Activist, Newt Gingrich is certainly a central character. But he is upstaged by his lesbian half-sister Candace. The two have had a sometimes combative, sometimes affectionate , and sometimes public sibling rivalry ever since Candace came out in 1988 and became a leading LGBT activist. She chronicled this relationship in a 1997 memoir.
Fifteen years later, thanks to playwright Rebecca Gingrich-Jones who is married to Candace, this drama has gone from the page to the stage. The relationship between the two nationally prominent Gingriches has experienced several intriguing twists and turns since Candace published her memoir.
Accidental Activist both updates the relationship and brings it to life as the debut production in the new Beltway Drama Series. The monthly series, which features DC-area playwrights reflecting on social justice and global issues, will occupy the stage of the Zinn Room at the new Busboys and Poets in Hyattsville. MD.
In 1994, Newt Gingrich rose to national prominence with the Republican take-over of the House. It was also the year that reporters discovered that his half-sister was a lesbian. Since Newt was a strong proponent of “family values,” this story was an instant sensation in the press. Candace went from the relative obscurity of a UPS worker to becoming perhaps the most famous activist at the DC-based Human Rights Campaign. Newt, meanwhile, tried to maintain a delicate balance between his “open-to-ideas Republicanism” and his belief that real families consist only of heterosexual couples. When it came to homosexuality, Newt argued, “Our position should not be promotion and it should not be condemnation.”
In Accidental Activist, Candace Gingrich-Jones attempts to push her brother from this position of tepid tolerance and ignorant incomprehension to genuine respect and acceptance. The play dramatizes her coming out, not only as a lesbian but as a political actor. “I started seeing it as my duty to speak up, to try to hold my brother accountable for some of the dumb stuff he was saying, presumably to pander to his new base,” she says in one the play’s periodic monologues. “Did he really think he could keep going on and on without having to answer for his lesbian sister?”
The play brings the action all the way up to Newt’s current bid for the presidency. Although Newt and Callista didn’t attend the wedding of Candace and Rebecca, they did send a present. And the foursome has begun to spend more time together. In an interview with the Huffington Post referenced in the play, Candace even comes to her brother’s defense after the national media dismissed his candidacy. “He doesn’t give up that easily,” she says. “Just because some staff members weren’t with his strategy isn’t going to make him quit. If anything, I can imagine that strengthening his desire and his resolve to do good.” Those words proved prophetic when Newt came from behind to win the South Carolina primary in January.
But perhaps the strongest sign of potential reconciliation is when Newt and Callista attend a matinee performance of Rebecca’s earlier play She Said, She Said about a child custody battle between two former lesbians. Still, Newt remains a fiercely conservative politician with ties to the tea party movement and the evangelical Right. Can the gulf be bridged? With the Republican nomination still up in the air and Newt vowing to stay in it until the end, brother and sister will meet again next month in the reading of Accidental Activist. No word yet whether Newt and Callista will be in the audience. But Candace will certainly be there, playing herself as the lead character. The performance will take place on Wednesday, March 14 from 7-9 p.m. Busboys and Poets is located at 5331 Baltimore Ave. There is a suggested donation of $10 at the door.
In addition to Rebecca Gingrich Jones’s Accidental Activist, The Beltway Drama Series will showcase full-length works by local playwrights Kitty Felde (A Patch of Earth) and Patricia Davis (Alternative Methods). It will also feature an evening of short works by Amanda Andrei, Patrick Bussink, Rich Espey, Mary Watters, and Sybil Williams.
The series, organized by local playwrights, is dedicated to cultivating and promoting DC-area talent.
– John Feffer is a local playwright and one of the organizers of the Beltway Drama Series.