June is Pride Month, a 30-day celebration of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community that this year also heralds the Philadelphia Gay & Lesbian Theatre Festival's sixth season. The two-week festival, which begins tomorrow night, is marking this anniversary with a half-dozen shows, called, inevitably, " 'Six' in the City."

Soon after they met seven years ago, personal and professional partners Matthew Cloran, 47, and Bill Esher, 50, decided the time was ripe for the festival's creation.

"We knew in the beginning we wouldn't have the resources," Cloran recalls, "but our hearts were in the right place." Fortunately, the pair also knew something about producing theater. Cloran heads the drama department at the Haverford School, and Esher is drama coordinator at its sister school, Agnes Irwin.

The festival has steadily gained a reputation for quality work, and Cloran says its mailing list grows by 1,000 names annually. As the pair's resources catch up to their ambitions, Cloran and Esher continue their efforts to bring what Cloran says is "great theater that tells our story" to Philadelphia.

The festival's first offering, starting a two-night run tomorrow at Plays & Players Theatre, is

The Big Voice: God or Merman?,

a musical written and performed by two real-life partners, Jim Brochu and Steve Schalchlin, about their 20-odd-year relationship. And odd they are, an Arkansas Baptist and a Brooklyn Catholic, recounting a comic life together with dueling pianos.

Starting Tuesday at Mum Puppettheatre is Carol Lynn Pearson's

Facing East

, which opened Off-Broadway in 2007. Pearson, a Mormon, is perhaps best known for her memoir

Goodbye, I Love You

, which chronicled her relationship with her gay Mormon husband (the father of their four children) and his death from AIDS. In

Facing East

, she again examines her church's attitude toward homosexuality, as a Mormon couple are forced to confront the suicide of their gay son and the presence of his longtime partner.

Next up, opening Wednesday at the Walnut Street Theatre's Studio 5, is Dan Martin and Michael Biello's reprise of their successful 2002 Fringe Festival production,


. This musical revue spans the couple's quarter-century of musical and personal collaboration with 14 original songs and a cast of five, including "transgoddess" Tipsy.

The festival's middle weekend, June 20 through 22, will feature David Sisco's


, a frantic two-hander that takes place at a "Gay Bait" speed-dating event. (Speed dating, for those who have never experienced its particular torments, requires one to chat for several minutes with a total stranger until a bell rings and one moves on to the next stranger and more chat. At evening's end, an organizer collects surveys filled out by the participants. If someone you've ranked highly also admires you, a match is made; if not, all that suffering was in vain . . . unless, of course, you can make a comedy out of it.)


, to be presented at Mum Puppettheatre, also requires some speed acting, as its performers take on more than a dozen roles. The show won big at the 2006 National Gay and Lesbian Theatre Festival, with prizes for best comedy, best in festival, and audience favorite.

Keith Bunin's drama

The Busy World Is Hushed

- at the Arden June 20 through 27 - premiered in 2006 at New York's Playwrights Horizons. In that production, Jill Clayburgh starred as Hannah, a widowed Episcopal minister who has a distant relationship with her gay son. While working on a book, Hannah hires a ghostwriter whose presence creates an emotionally charged family triangle.

Susan Miller's

My Left Breast

is a 1994 Obie winner about a self-described "one-breasted, menopausal, bisexual lesbian mom." Deborah Seif directs 30-year People's Light & Theatre player Marcia Saunders in this comedy, opening June 22 at Mum Puppettheatre, that looks at relationships, parenthood, cancer and identity with an arched eyebrow and triumphant spirit.

As a one-time-only festival bonus event this Sunday, a staged reading of Minnesota playwright Matthew Everett's

But Not for Love

will be given at the Walnut Street Theatre's fourth-floor rehearsal hall. Everett uses

As You Like It

's double wedding as the jumping-off point for this play about a gay brother, his straight sister, and their effort to marry the men they love while protesters, paparazzi and police all attempt to intrude on the proceedings.

Gay & Lesbian Theatre Festival

The festival runs tomorrow through June 28 at four Philadelphia venues: the Arden Theatre, 40 N. 2d St.; Mum Puppettheatre, 115 Arch St.; Plays & Players Theatre, 1714 Delancey St., and the Walnut Street Theatre, 825 Walnut St.

Tickets: $17.50-$25. Information: 215-922-1122.

The Big Voice: God or Merman?

8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Plays & Players Theatre.

Facing East

8 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, June 24 and 26 at Mum Puppettheatre.


8 p.m. Wednesday- June 21; 7 p.m. June 22; 8 p.m. June 24-28 at Walnut Street Theatre's Studio 5.


8 p.m.

June 20 and 21, 2 p.m. June 22 at Mum Puppettheatre.

The Busy World Is Hushed

8 p.m. June 20 and 21; 7 p.m. June 22; 8 p.m. June 24-28 at the Arden Theatre.

My Left Breast

7 p.m. June 22; 8 p.m. June 25 and 27; 2 p.m. June 28 at Mum Puppettheatre.

Staged reading of

But Not for Love

7 p.m. Sunday

at Walnut Street Theatre.