Three men stand in front of a microphone. The men on the left and right are in evening wear. The man in the center is shirtless, wearing strands of pearls and beads.
Sons of Hollywood at Windy City Playhouse Credit: Michael Brosilow

The stars in this play spend one act gleaming, another act fading away. For a brief window of time in the 1930s, Hollywood was a place of permissiveness toward the homosexuality of its leading men, with the movies’ first Ben-Hur, Ramon Novarro (Trey DeLuna) and the dashing MGM icon Billy Haines (Adam Jennings) throwing champagne parties on the lot and worshipping studio ingenue Lucille Le Sueur, better known as Joan Crawford (Abby Lee). The censorship regime that came under the Hays Code usurped everyone’s fun, turning the titans of their day into persecuted has-beens overnight. Punctuated with songs from the era, playwrights Barry Ball and Carl Menninger’s show (directed for Windy City Playhouse by David H. Bell) is a dazzling ode to keeping the flame alive even as the times conspire to put it out.

Sons of Hollywood
Through 4/16: Wed-Thu 7:30 PM, Fri-Sat 8 PM, Sun 2 PM, Windy City Playhouse, 3014 W. Irving Park, 773-891-8985,, $65-$75.

The most touching arc in the story is Novarro’s, whose career found neither the latter-day brilliance of Crawford’s nor Haines’s pivot into a workable second act. Frustrated and alone, Novarro went to seed; he earns a brief renewal in one touching scene, where the pre-Code triumvirate do an honorary promenade on the red carpet for lifetime achievement, Novarro bowing to the flashbulbs as the Ben-Hur before Ben-Hur was Ben-Hur. Later, he prowls scenic designer Lauren Nigri’s opulent set in his shabby robe, a one-person museum to a forgotten world, and falls too trustingly into malicious hands. The glimmer in DeLuna’s eye through it all is that of a sad dreamer, one whose world couldn’t change fast enough to survive.