Review: THE PRIDE OF LIONS at Theatre Rhino

On stage through April 21st, 2024.

By: Apr. 01, 2024
Review: THE PRIDE OF LIONS at Theatre Rhino
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The trans community is saying “enough is enough.” They will not be the sacrificial lambs to hatred, bigotry, and discrimination. Roger Q. Mason’s The Pride of Lions is a story of taking action against oppression and standing up to ignorance. That it’s set in 1928 makes it even more prescient to today’s movement. It opens with a man-on-man sex scene, beautifully staged behind a sheer curtain with careful lighting – a revolutionary and highly illegal act in 1928.

Review: THE PRIDE OF LIONS at Theatre Rhino
Nic Moore (Sgt. Hammer) and Brendan Looney (Gracie).

Based on the true story of Mae West’ ill-fated production The Drag, which included female impersonators and a critique of New York City’s draconian obscenity laws, The Pride of Lions introduces five characters auditioning for a chance to be seen on the Broadway stage. Initially, the five: Marla (Patrick Chico), Gracie (Brendan Looney), Shasta (Frances Domingo), Madam Red Hook (Michael DeMartini) and Molasses (Sean Prescott), are combative and catty. They each come from differing circumstances – broken homes, bullying, and prison. One’s a drag king, another a straight crossdresser, one a grand dame of drag. One is sleeping with a policeman (the couple from the opening scene) who wants her to leave her drag lifestyle for a ‘normal’ hetero life.

Review: THE PRIDE OF LIONS at Theatre Rhino
L-R Patrick Chico, Berendan Looney, Michael DeMartini, Sean Prescott and Francdes Domingos.

Putting aside their differences, the group bonds and forms a community united against a common enemy - the police who raid the show and arrest them. The focus of the play and its emotional content shifts dramatically to the jail cell, where the sadistically evil Lt. Gray (Kim Larsen) shows them what hell is like. The prisoners are robbed of their identities, strip searched and dehumanized, which only makes their bonds stronger.

Lt. Gray's harassment of the group goes a tad too far and his seeming interest in their stories a bit unbelievable. There’s a tug of war going on here that doesn’t seem realistic, but it does provide the prisoners a chance to tell some heartfelt, authentic stories. Sargeant Hammer (Nic Moore), Gracie’s lover, is the sole voice of reason on the establishment side and turns out to be a hero here. Each actor gets a moment to shine, at other times, a shade under histrionic.

Review: THE PRIDE OF LIONS at Theatre Rhino
Early photo of a drag queen arrest on which The Pride of Lions is based.

The Pride of Lions is our history and should not be de-emphasized or ignored. It portends the future atrocities of WWII where masses of people could be extinguished, the McCarthy era of blacklists, the Civil Rights movement, to the current struggle for LGTBQI+ equality. Kudos to John Fisher and Theatre Rhino for staying alive. Based now in a small space in the Castro, they're forced on staging and lighting within the confines of this extremefully intimate venue. As the longest running LGBTQ theatre in the world, it seems like they deserve better.

The Pride of Lions continues through April 21st at Theatre Rhino. For tickets, contact

Photos by Seth Dorcey.