Nestled under a busy freeway on Fifth Street is a quaint Victorian house holding one of Oakland’s best-kept secrets. The aptly named Oakland Secret serves as a queer community-building space, hosting underground events ranging from drag nights to puppet shows.
On Oct. 8, it was the site of the play “The F*ggots & Their Friends Between Revolutions,” an adaptation of Larry Mitchell’s cult 1977 fantasy novel of the same title by co-directors Mylo Cardona and Maxi Himpe, whose goal is to dispense queer wisdom as well as support the gay community.
The “theater” in Oakland Secret is a long and narrow room, with a small stage on each side. Audience members sat in rows each facing each other across a long aisle connecting the stages.
For “The F*ggots & Their Friends Between Revolutions,”” the room was transformed into a mystical land of queer whimsy.
“It was this alcove-like cave of queer people and you really were transported into their world,” said Himpe, a tall, lanky Londoner who came to the Bay to further his passion for theater.
“I’d never done something like this before; I wanted to build a community before a performance,” said HImpe, who made his directorial debut with this show, which earned high praise and will be staged again at Oakland Theater Project on Dec. 15-18.
The tight-knit crew on “F*gs & Friends,” as Himpe affectionately calls it, came from all walks of life.
Casting was done without auditions. “I tried to bring in friends, people new to the scene… I wanted a wide range of talents and to push people’s comfort zones,” said Himpe. One actor was even found on a Tinder date, he said.
The play takes place in the world of Ramrod, a dystopic, gray city of men ruled by a cruel, boring tyrant. The f*ggots and their friends live in their own secret world (Marshap,” named after queer revolutionary Marsha P. Johnson), cultivating community and engaging in raucous pleasure while stirring up revolution.
It was important to Himpe that the community he was building felt like an analog to the mythical Marshap, a safe space for queer people of backgrounds to care for and support each other.
Cardona, co-director and adaptor, echoed Himpe’s sentiments, calling “F*gs & Friends” a “a socialist guide to living in a capitalist society.”
“We created a small little community that keeps growing, more people want to be a part of the f*gs,” Himpe and Cardon said, laughing.
Cardona, who has been part of Oakland Secret for nearly a year, and Himpe are University of California, Berkeley students writing a thesis on making theater democratic and a tool for building popular power. “F*gs & Friends,” they said, was living proof of that ideal.
“There are so many things about the f*ggots that I’ve already had to incorporate in my life,” they said in a phone interview. “We have a group chat that is the most beautiful thing that has (come from) this show.”
Cardona described the community they helped create through the show as intimately supportive: “We are just always showing up for each other… (it) absolutely will last beyond the show.”
Now, as the cast and crew work to adapt the intimate show for a larger space, it’s a big shift.
Ana Cecilia Alvarez, who plays a main character called Loose Tomato, said of the upcoming version, “It’s definitely going to feel different.”
Alvarez, 31, who hadn’t acted in theater for more than decade, jumped at the chance and challenge when Himpe offered her a part in his production: “It was very meaningful for me, I think also especially because I’ve been specifically craving queer community,” she said.
Alvarez, Himpe and Cardona are fascinated when they consider how the show will change.
“The DIY aspect of it felt really true in spirit to… the play itself and the book ultimately,” said Alvarez. “I’m curious how that’s going to translate to being in a real theater.”
Yet the challenging task of bringing the magic of “F*gs & Friends” to a bigger stage hasn’t deterred its performers and creators.
“All of us have so much more confidence in the show and our ability to put it on,” said Cardona. “We really from the skin of our teeth just threw a show together and it required so much heart and soul and passion and love.”
“The F*ggots & Their Friends: Between Revolutions” runs at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 15-17 and 3 p.m. Dec. 18 at Oakland Theater Project at Flax Art & Design, 1501 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Oakland. Tickets are $13.55 to $60.65; visit oaklandtheatreproject.org.