Monday, December 3, 2007

Recent Backstage Reviews

Black Nativity

December 03, 2007

By Christopher Murray

The Classical Theatre of Harlem's new adaptation of Langston Hughes' 1961 gospel version of the birth of Jesus Christ imagines what it would be like if Mary gave birth in the middle of Times Square in the sordid days of the early 1970s. And that's a pretty good conceit. But a better one is, What if the adult Jesus Christ had the strut and flash and twinkle of Broadway's veteran showman André De Shields? Now there's a theological question worth pondering.

Decked out in a blood-red suit with black-and-white calfskin high-heeled pointy-toed shoes, DeShields as the Narrator/Pastor locks the audience in his mesmeric gaze and doesn't let go for the 90-minute breakneck revue of songs that follows. He's a crowing rooster delightfully full of both himself and the spirit of the Lord as he plays pater familias in this exciting and often moving holiday presentation.

That's not to say that the ensemble isn't rocking as well — they are. There is ample showcasing of some wonderful young vocal talent, including in particular the angel-faced and -voiced Melvin Bell III and a dulcet Nikki Stephenson. The tiny members of Nairobi's Shangilla Youth Choir make up in cute for what they forgivably lack in pitch.

The production is a feast for the eyes as well as the ears; costume designer Kimberly Glennon must be the hardest-working member of her profession this season, decking out the ensemble in a cornucopia of fantastically colorful '70s outfits made of what the three wise men probably would have brought in 1973: upholstery, spandex, and polyester. The wigs and platform shoes deserve to be credited as full members of the cast.

But ultimately it's De Shields' world; the Heavenly Host is just allowed to share it with him. After playing Caligula and Lear for CTH, De Shields cements his fruitful collaboration with the company, sharing with it a muscular, intelligent, and fearsomely entertaining sensibility.

Presented by the New 42nd Street at the Duke on 42nd Street, 229 W. 42nd St., NYC.Nov 30-Dec.30. Tue.-Fri., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 2 and 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 1 and 6 p.m.(646) 223-3010 or

A Christmas Carol

December 03, 2007

By Christopher Murray

Vortex Theater Company rounds out its ambitious 2007 season having explored the ghost of musicals past (H.M.S. Pinafore), musicals present (Kiss of the Spider Woman), and now a vision of the kind of musicals yet to come with director Kris Thor and composer Joel Bravo's intense and satisfying new version of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

Set in North Carolina during a holiday heat wave, this collaboratively created Carol re-imagines Scrooge as an ethically challenged environmental entrepreneur of the Bill Gates ilk. As played by downtown music-scene icon Jason Trachtenburg, Scrooge is an über-nerd cipher, his flat delivery and ironic sangfroid enough to bring a chill to the humid Southern air.

Richly layered scenic elements, including Super 8 home movies screened by the ghost of Christmas past (here called the Archivist and played by a cheery Kelly Eubanks), surround the audience, as does the cast before the show starts. The hipster vibe sometimes verges on preciousness when the company seems a wee bit full of in jokes and uncommunicated backstory.

The gist of the updating, however, is that Scrooge lost his love, Belle (Tracy Weller), to his mentor Jacob Marley (Joe Ornstein) and now returns home on the occasion of the mysterious sickness of the Carolina ash tree he planted in memory of his mother.

"People don't change; they tend to stay the same. That's just the way we work," states one of the lyrics to the haunting and catchy guitar-based songs. The music subtly captures the thematic concern of the piece: If we rush through life consumed with ambition and work, do we forget to have regrets?

Trachtenburg leads an intelligent and charming company of actors and musicians working in true ensemble fashion in a complex and thought-provoking show that harnesses some of the philosophical wistfulness many find in the holiday season.

Presented by Vortex Theater Company at the Sanford Meisner Theater, 164 11th Ave., NYC.Nov. 29-Dec. 22. Thu.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m. (No performances Sat., Dec. 8, and Sun., Dec. 9; additional performance Mon., Dec. 17, 8 p.m.)(212) 352-3101 or (866) 811-4111 or

The Sordid Perils of Actual Existence

December 03, 2007

By Christopher Murray

"I'm finally ready to take the next step," declares the young man. Marriage? Nope, bigger: real estate. David (co-playwright Andy Reynolds) is looking for a little emotional support from his real estate agent, Carla (Crystal Field, Theater for the New City's founder and doyenne). She's happy to oblige, dispensing grimaces and advice in equal measure in this slight new comedy.

David, who works in the accounting department of Unabible (a company looking to translate the Bible into every existing language), had thought he was dying of a brain disease, but, oops, he's not. So now he wants to get busy with living, buy a co-op, and settle down with his caustic girlfriend, Daphne (Laura Wickens, who also plays Carla's amanuensis, Polish immigrant Zoya). But Carla has other ideas.

You see, Carla does have a fatal disease: twinkle-eyed, zany, oddball wisdom. This sort of illness used to be epidemic in plays like Herb Gardner's A Thousand Clowns and many of the comedies of Neil Simon. Carla's a loveable meddling yenta who knows from whence she speaks with her injunctions to carpe the diem: She lost her beloved husband several years ago — never mind that his slightly bemused ghost (Dick Morrill) keeps popping out of closets for conversation and cuddles.

The Sordid Perils of Actual Existence does have some serious fish to fry in questioning stock beliefs such as religious faith or cynicism that people hold on to in order to anchor themselves even at the cost of their own happiness. But this is an uneven, overly speech-laden, sentimental play in an uneven if well-intentioned production directed by co-playwright Tom Gladwell.

Presented by and at Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave., NYC. Nov. 23-Dec. 2. Thu.-Sun., 8 p.m. (212) 254-1109 or

Home James

November 19, 2007

By Christopher Murray

The Secret Theatre opened in September in the Long Island City Art Center as a new center of operations for the Queens Players. Until then, the formerly peripatetic company relied on a series of restaurant event rooms for performance space. The plucky little group's second production, a picaresque comedy called Home James, was directed and adapted by Artistic Director Richard Mazda from the original British production in which he acted, as he does here.

The play follows young Jamie (the deadpan and droll Robbie Rescigno) as he comes to New York from Poughkeepsie to stay with his kooky cousin Crystal (the likeable Christina Shipp) following the death of his beloved father from bowel cancer. He meets a number of eccentric types in a series of vignettes that switch locale from New York to Tijuana and back.

The play is rescued from cliché by a very charming and game group of comedic actors in multiple roles. Each character seems to have a brilliantly individual laugh, from a bark or a chortle to a giggle or a scream. It's kind of delightful.

BarbaraAnne Smilko is amusing as a subway poet-panhandler but really nails a caricature of a bored phone receptionist imitating a voice mail message. Robin Cannon, Ali Silva, and Yarida Mendez also bring idiosyncratic zest to their parts. Richard Mazda, wearing all his various hats (including a really shocking canary green and yellow sombrero at one point), wisely keeps the production values simple and the pace muy rapido.

Robbie Rescigno brings more than a dash of Buster Keaton to bear as he gloomily observes all the mayhem around him. But his fey portrait of a young man's grief drawing him towards adulthood is alternately moving and quite funny. He's somewhat miscast in this role, but an actor to watch.

Presented by the Queens Players at the Secret Theatre, 44-02 23rd St., Long Island City, NYC.Nov 14-Dec. 1. Thu.-Sat., 8 p.m.(212) 352-3101 or (866) 811-4111 or

Gay Psychic Interview

Dishing Out 'Tuff Love'

With psychic Hank Hivnor, it's all good, so put away the garlic.

If you are terminally hip and need some advice on whether to move forward on that kooky installation project you've been planning or just give in and become a corporate drone, maybe you should take a break one Wednesday night and head out to Williamsburg's Sugarland where Thain Torres hosts the weekly Tuff Love party. There you can slurp up some Pabst Blue Ribbon for cheap, ogle the go-go boys, and consult with the event's resident psychic, Hank Hivnor.
Thirty-nine years old but still with the enthusiasm and spunkiness of a recent art school transplant to the city, Hivnor, who actually grew up here, offers advice and insight based on his being "in tune with the infinite" as Professor Marvel told Dorothy Gale. Hivnor is also the creative force and writer behind "Emerald Crest," a serial performance event in the mold of Jeff Weiss' "Hot Keys." Originally performed at the Art Land Bar and Dixon Place, the soap opera is in development for its next series of episodes.
CHRISTOPHER MURRAY: So what does the resident psychic at Tuff Love actually do?
HANK HIVNOR: I read auras, energy. People always ask me where are the cards - no cards here! I just read people, It's so much fun doing readings at parties because it feels like a party when I'm giving readings, it's a happy affair. I help people to focus on their passions and find clarity, so that's my intention. Aside from that, I can look at your former lives, and make predictions. I'm also a medium, I can talk to the folks upstairs!
CM: How did you realize you were psychic and how is your track record?
HH: You know what? I didn't realize I was psychic, I realized how to control the energy, because I just thought I was hyper-sensitive and crazy. I luckily met some great mentors who taught me how to ground my energy and make my gifts available to myself and others. My track record is good because people come back and say, "It did happen like you said and, oh yes, my grandmother did have three red dogs that were always with her," and lots of details like that.
CM: Is a gay psychic different from a straight one?
HH: I think that many gay people are more psychic than straight people, you have to be. I grew up in a pretty straight world and it's not just about finding action, like with gaydar, it's often about survival and recognizing danger. But regardless of your sexual orientation, the process is the same, and the spirits wouldn't judge, they are just loving energies that provide information.
CM: What's the one thing that gay hipsters want most to hear a psychic say to them?
HH: I don't tell people what they want to hear, I answer their questions, and that's usually better. I will tell you what the majority of people are concerned about - love and career - and my intention is matched with a very loving universal energy that desires that they completely succeed and have the best of everything.
CM: What's the scene like at Tuff Love? Is it tawdry and louche?
HH: Hold on, my mom gave me a dictionary for my birthday. Louche? Maybe when it gets cold enough we can do some louching off the roof deck. Tuff Love is a really fun scene, it reminds me of the East Village of the '90s - fun, wild, and weird - a place you can be yourself in. It's not boring, and you know New York has gotten a little boring!
CM: Do people drink beer while they are being "read," and isn't that dangerous, like they could get possessed or something?
HH: No, no, only possessed with the desire to dance naked on the bar! It's all good. I create a sacred space and uphold that energy. Bars can be ghost magnets but I've never felt anything strange at Sugarland, and who has the time? We're there to have fun! Sometimes people project what they think a psychic is supposed to be at me and freak out when they find out I'm just me. Look! It's me Hank, and I have these abilities and this is a cool resource for you, so put away your garlic and relax!
CM: What's up with the soap opera and when is it coming back?
HH: "Emerald Crest?" It's in the shop but it's going to start again soon. That's kind of you to mention that. Yes folks, I also write comedy!
CM: You come from a Salinger-esque family here in New York. Your dad was a code breaker for the Brits during World War II and then a playwright and there were snakes and raccoons running around the house when you were a kid. Then you grew up and marched in the Mermaid Parade last summer as a giant jellyfish. Now you are a Williamsburg gay psychic and comic auteur. So are you a complete creature or a just down-home kinda guy?
HH: I'm kinda all over the place, I'm happiest when I'm involved in a creative project with other loonies, but at the end of the day it's really nice to snuggle on the couch with a movie and a buddy. I'm really pretty normal, but I had thought of being a cactus or sea anemone for Halloween!
You can consult Psychic Hank at the Tuff Love Performance Salon and Party on Wednesdays from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. at Sugarland at 221 North Ninth Street between Driggs and Roebling Streets, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. For more information, go to

©GayCityNews 2007

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Crime and Punishment review

Crime and Punishment

November 07, 2007

By Christopher Murray

Chicago's Writers' Theatre brings its rightfully celebrated 2003 production of Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment to 59E59 Theaters as part of the GoChicago! Festival. Distilling a 718-page Russian novel into a 90-minute theatre piece for three actors is quite a coup de théâtre in and of itself — the taut and vibrant adaptation is by Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus — but that it makes for moving storytelling and bravura acting is something special.

Raskolnikov (Scott Parkinson), the intense and idealistic student who has taken his ideas about progress and potential to destructive extremes, enters through the same door as does the audience, signaling the relevance of this pre-revolution tale to our own time. The production plays out on Eugene Lee's simple plywood set of doors under the averted gaze of a life-size statue of Christ on the cross — signaling the transforming power of redemption — and the harsh downward flood of Keith Parham's six large lighting instruments that create the impression of a mechanized high noon. Theresa Squire's simple costume elements — a cap, a fringed shawl — economically signal shifts between characters.

The small-boned, blond-haired, red-bearded Parkinson is all tortured tics, wringing dirty hands, and wet, red-rimmed eyes. The actor was nominated for a Jefferson Award back home for his portrayal and well he should have been. In a tour de force performance in which he never leaves the stage, Parkinson powerfully conveys both the arrogance and enormous compassion of Raskolnikov. John Judd and Susan Bennett bring specificity and depth of feeling to their embodiment of several roles, including Raskolnikov's wily interrogator and Sonia, the poor daughter forced into prostitution. Bennett's wary, uncomprehending stare is particularly memorable.
Michael Halberstam's fine direction movingly calls the audience's attention to the hands of the actors as they reach out to each other for understanding and forgiveness.

Presented by Writers' Theatre as part of the GoChicago! Festival at 59E59 Theaters, 59 E. 59th St., NYC. Nov 7-Dec. 2. Tue.-Fri., 8:15 p.m.; Sat., 2:15 and 8:15 p.m.; Sun., 3:15 and 7:15 p.m. (212) 279-4200 or www.ticketcentralcom.

Friday, November 16, 2007

William Finn Interview

Exposing Oneself for Musicals

Off-B’way revue celebrates lyricist/composer William Finn
Friday, November 16, 2007

William Finn, known for his richly emotional and idiosyncratic musicals, is a master at evoking both shocked guffaws and choked-up sobs from audiences. A new revue of songs by the composer/lyricist of the beloved “Falsettos” trilogy—about a gay male couple facing intimacy and AIDS—was presented two summers ago in Hartford, Conn., by Finn’s frequent director Rob Ruggiero, and the revue, titled “Make Me a Song,” is now at New World Stages. Five cast members make their way through more than 20 of Finn’s quirky, insightful songs.
Finn, 55, splits his time between the Upper West Side and a place in his home state of Massachusetts with his partner of over a quarter of a century, Arthur Salvadore. He’s riding high from the ongoing success of his latest Broadway show, the lighthearted “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” while plans are still murky concerning “The Royal Family of Broadway” a collaboration between Finn, playwright Richard Greenberg and director Jerry Zaks. He spoke about the new revue and the way in which his identity as a gay man shapes the stories he tells.
How did “Make Me a Song” come about?
[Director] Rob Ruggiero asked if I wanted a revue and I said, “Absolutely not!” Since he’s a dog with bone, he just did it. I saw it, and I loved it.Why do people respond so viscerally and emotionally to your work? I try to write from a place that demands a certain response. I can’t predict what that will be, but it’s a place I find interesting.

You’ve defined your writer’s voice as that of a “New York gay Jewish man.” How is your sexual orientation reflected in your work now, as opposed to when you were—what? 23—and wrote “In Trousers,” the first part of the “Falsettos” trilogy?
In order to find a voice, I used to read four or five poems of [gay New York School poet] Frank O’Hara. I liked his slangy, hip chatter. Then I’d forget that and find something in my voice. It’s a weird thing, finding a voice.

O’Hara was big on the idea that poetry should have the immediacy of an emergency midnight phone call between intimates. Your writing has that charge. Do you see your work in a gay literary tradition?
It starts for me with Walt Whitman. I used to musicalize him all the time. I welcome being included in that tradition. I always thought that theater music lyrics were very conservative and a little classical. They rarely referred to oneself; they rarely were about the writer. There was all this confessional poetry going on at that time—O’Hara and Robert Lowell, all these guys, exposing themselves. I thought it was time that started happening in the theater.

Much of your work has had grief and loss as a major part of its subject.
I don’t think most of my stuff is predicated on grief and loss. It’s predicated on what happens in life. Of course, with AIDS and as a gay man, that’s all I saw back then. The question was how could I find something life affirming? How can I write about this and not be Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm but also not say, “This is the end of our world”? That sort of nihilism doesn’t appeal to me.

Does it frustrate you that some people view you as a writer solely about grief?
It makes me a little crazy. It’s not how I see myself at all. It’s convenient for people to think of me that way, but it’s also a way to dismiss my work.

Which songwriters do you admire?
Apart from some of my wonderful students? I teach down at N.Y.U. and it’s funny, some classes are like gay bars, others are straight, straight, straight. Both have a lot to recommend them. I always liked Randy Newman and Paul Simon as songwriters. The Wainwright guy, that Rufus, I enjoy listening to him, too, but not because he’s gay, particularly, but because he has an open heart.

Do you ever blanch at the overlap between the intimate and the artistic?
I remember when I wrote “Whizzer Going Down,” a song about a guy giving a blowjob. Andre Bishop [artistic director of Lincoln Center Theater] thought it was about a guy going down to Florida. I thought, “This is the end of your non-existent career. How could you possible write this?” But I also thought. “Have a little balls.” Apart from the fact that a lot of people didn’t know it was about a blowjob, which makes it okay, I was looked at a little differently by some.

You’ve been with your partner more than 27 years. Do you find that unique in the gay male world?
Not at all. Lots of people have been together ridiculously long times.

Does it inform your work?
It must somehow. I don’t know how.

What’s one of your favorite things about the nexus of homosexuality and musical theater?
Just the fact that it exists.
“Make Me a Song,” at New World Stages, 340 W, 50th St, for more info and tickets, visit

Thursday, November 8, 2007

New York Blade article featuring Rainbow Heights Club

NYC Gays Twice as Depressed
For first time, city plan looks at LGBT mental health
By Dustin Fitzharris

Rates of depression among New York City’s LGBT community are nearly double that of its straight population, according to the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOH). The findings were noted in the DOH’s 2008 Local Government Plan for Mental Health Services, released Oct. 22. Although the information confirms what LGBT mental health experts have known for years, this marks the first time that the city health department included the LGBT population in its plan.
“Before last year, the words ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ never appeared at all in [the Government Plan for Mental Health Services],” said Christian Huygen, Ph.D., executive director for Rainbow Heights Club in Brooklyn, the only government-funded support and advocacy program that caters to the mental-health issues of LGBT patients.
Past DOH plans focused on the mental hygiene of the elderly and children as well as on various sub-categories, such as mental retardation, developmental disabilities and substance abuse. Upon evaluating its own Community Health Survey—a random telephone survey of 10,000 adult residents of New York City conducted in 2006—the DOH confirmed the rates of depression in LGBT individuals was nearly double the rate of depression compared to non-LGBT individuals. LGBT people were also more likely to benefit from mental health care. “It’s very difficult to live as a second-class citizen,” Huygen said in response to the data. “We are in a minority that is still OK [for others] to bash on many different levels. There is also the fact that we can’t marry the person of our own choosing. So it’s not surprising that would take a toll on our mental and emotional health.”
Christopher Murray, a counselor at The LGBT Community Center in the West Village, agrees. “LGBT people are at a greater risk for negative health outcomes,” said Murray who was worked at The LGBT Center’s mental health program for the past four years. “There are different factors that lead to that—homophobia, being at risk for HIV, being kicked out of your community, and being a target for different kinds of violence—all of these things swirled together can lead to folks being a greater risk.” A 2006 report titled “Living on the Edge: Gay Men, Depression and Risk Taking” by the Medius Institute, a gay men’s health group in New York City, found that 17 percent of participants had active symptoms of depression—twice the general population. In addition, that report noted that depressed gay men were at increased risk of having unsafe sex and using drugs.
The DOH also acknowledged last month that gay patients face daunting challenges in getting proper care. The Local Government Plan stated: “Recent studies indicate that many mental heath providers’ attitudes toward LGBT consumers are not always constructive or positive. The result is that many LGBT consumers, having entered treatment, leave prematurely.”
“Often, even today, therapists and psychiatrists think of LGBT persons as a traumatized or underdeveloped version of a heterosexual person,” Huygen said. “When clients go to their care providers and talk about LGBT issues, the care provider assumes being LGBT is what the client wants changed.”Disclosure can also cause a problem with LGBT individuals who seek treatment. Murray explains: “If a person isn’t comfortable; then he or she won’t disclose. If a physician is not comfortable with gay people, he or she won’t ask.”
With the recent acknowledgement, the DOH will make more treatment options available. The Rainbow Heights Club, with a grant from the New York Community Trust, has developed P.R.I.D.E. training (Promote Respect for Individual Differences through Education). The program offers a range of training programs with the goal of working collaboratively to help other organizations—health professionals, human resource departments, administrators—to create a safe and welcoming environment for LGBT patients and staff. “One of our major goals with our P.R.I.D.E. training,” Huygen said, “is to make sure people get that competent care, which the Local Government Plan now said is so important for them to get, within mainstream psychiatric centers and hospitals.”
Huygen says nearly everyone who comes to Rainbow Heights Club has at one time been hospitalized. Every year, the Rainbow Heights keeps 90 percent of those individuals out of the hospital and, in return, saves New York taxpayers a lot of money.“It’s unfortunate that aspects of our identity that we celebrate actually come with challenges that put us at greater risk,” Murray said. “We have to admit it and make sure there are services to help support people.”
Getting those services to the community takes funding. In the past, this was a burden that threatened to take away the very programs that were in place for treatment. “The Rainbow Heights Club almost shut its doors a couple years ago because of a funding crisis,” Murray said. “So, having the Department of Heath say, ‘Yes there are these disparities’ is going to be directly related to having a successful program like Rainbow Heights staying in existence and continuing to help people.”
For information on Rainbow Heights Club and The LGBT Center, visit and

Harlan Pruden Interview

(Harlan beading with the best of them.)

Two Spirits Better Than One


Native American activist Harlan Pruden can move instantly from a furious passion to heartfelt tears as he discusses the challenges of trying to educate people about the needs and struggles of members of his community who identify as two-spirit, or queer. He can spout off facts and figures about the risks for falling into alcoholism or drug addiction, a subject he can talk about from personal experience, having been sober for more than two decades and worked at the LGBT community Center to develop innovative programs for people in recovery.
But he can also discuss the history of treaty law and how Papal Bulls from hundreds of years ago are still invoked to encroach on native rights today.

As co-founder of the NorthEast Two-Spirit Society (NE2SS) here in New York City and a board member of the homo-friendly American Indian Community House, Pruden, 40, has made it his mission to sound the call of alarm for the dangers of crystal meth addiction for two-spirit Indians and the Native American population across the country.
CHRISTOPHER MURRAY: Please explain what two-spirit means to Native Americans.
HARLAN PRUDEN: Two-Spirit is a contemporary term that connects today's experience with the traditions from within our cultures. Certain individuals were considered to have a specific blessing through their diversity, which was manifested in many cultural responsibilities. The modern connection with LGBT Indians is that traditionally these people often had sex with members of what the Western world considers the same gender. Of course, each tradition that prescribed to it had its own word in their language. In my Cree language, I'd be known as an aayahkwew - this should not be mistaken as a sexual orientation but rather a separate and distinct gender not necessarily related tosexuality or sexual genitals.

CM: What role have two-spirit folk traditionally played in native communities?
HP: In many traditions, two-spirit people served their community as mediators, social workers, craftspeople, name-givers, shamans and/or medicine-givers. These roles were something that only a two-spirit person could fulfill - that's why they were viewed as another gender.I find it very interesting that this tradition came into being for a number of reasons. It is an obvious manifestation of native peoples' practice of preserving and considering diversity sacred. For many [native] nations there was always room at the table for everyone - it was the belief that differences were a strength and were needed for the community to thrive. The other major distinction for today's world was indigenous people viewed everyone as equal. Therefore, it was not a threat or unusual for a male to act like a female or a female to act like a male or in any manner on a broad spectrum.

CM: Is that still the case now?
HP: I wish I could say that it was that way today! One of first things the colonizers did when they got to this land was to attack and kill the people that didn't conform to their rigid two-gender system. There is a famous lithograph in the New York City public library depicting two-spirit people being ripped apart by the conquistador, Vasco Nunez de Balboa's dogs - all done of course in the name of Christianity.
CM: What's the big event on November 15?
HP: November is National Native American Heritage Month, and NE2SS is hosting a community forum to increase the visibility of the Native American community that will examine the topics of gender, sexuality, and our elders. Heavy on the elder stuff - 'cause we are all going to be old one day! We Native Americans have a well-defined and working elder system. At the forum we are going to share some of the inner workings of that system, for we believe that the LGBT community has much to learn about the treatment of older people.

CM: What don't most gay people realize about two-spirit people?
HP: The name itself is somewhat misleading and confusing. Two-Spirit was agreed upon when the movement was revitalized in the early 1990s. Even then it was considered imperfect but we were searching for something that connected us to our cultural tradition, while still acknowledging the contemporary differences as a result of being LGBT peoples. The importance to today is not so much the idea of two spirits within one person - I think we all have that to some extent - but rather that there is a diversity amongst community members, that that diversity is a valuable and respected thing.

CM: When you look at issues like HIV/AIDS or crystal meth addiction in the native community, and compare the need to address them to other issues, like drug and alcohol abuse or native rights, reparations or possible genocide, how can you possibly prioritize advocacy and community organizing projects?
HP: You don't. That's why the idea of constant vigilance and self-discipline is critical in serving your community. You are responsible. You would never hear a native person following tradition say, "Oh, that's not my job." I hear that all the time here in New York and go kind of crazy. Of course it's your job. It's everybody's job. That being said though, it goes back to that respect for diversity. Each of us has a special gift. The community will help you discover that gift and then those are the issues or responsibilities that one pursues.For example, my interests are focused around community organizing and building alliances. So, with NE2SS, that's what I do. Other members aren't even interested in the more political aspects of our work. But they are interested in music or art or theater and that is considered as important as anything else. Diversity, diversity, diversity. It all boils down to that. Nonetheless, our work does suffer from an absence of resources and pure numbers of people facing some of the most overwhelming issues. We are the poorest people in North America and many of our reservations have the same statistics today on poverty and marginalization that existed in the townships of apartheid South Africa. We receive only about .003 percent of philanthropic grants for community work. Because of the sheer magnitude of the genocide committed by Euro-Americans against our people, it is easier to pretend we don't exist than to actually examine the issue.

CM: How do you think being Canadian Indian and a gay man has shaped your perspective and your relationships in the gay community?
HP: Being Cree and gay - while growing up was at times very difficult - has proven to be one of the best gifts bestowed upon me. For at my core I have always felt like an outsider. Being an outsider has its benefits for critiquing and challenging preconceived notions of the dominant society. I think that in the LGBT fight for equality, many LGBT, non-native people forget to ask critical question of "Equal to what?" If we are fighting to be a white-male dominated oppressive movement where money talks and we are all straight-acting and we want to get married - you can keep that equality - for that system has not been kind to my people for the past 515 years!

CM: What does the two-spirit community need from the greater LGBT community?
HP: First of all, an acknowledgment that we exist - and not for just one week or one month a year. According to the US Census, New York City is home of the largest population urban Indians in the country, if we were a reservation we'd be the third largest in the country.Next, we need to always be at the table. You need to learn about our differences and respect them. Last month, a very important survey on LGBT issues was being distributed by a well-known community program with whom we have worked for many years. Nonetheless, they left out any reference to "two-spirit" or "Native American" in the little boxes you check in those things. It's kind of astounding.But I think the most important thing that any community or movement can learn from us is to respect the diversity - again! We don't always see that even in the LGBT and/or other people of color movements and it is critical to our survival. We know all about assimilation. White people have been trying to assimilate us since the 19th century. "Kill the Indian, save the man" was a popular phrase amongst 19th century progressives. Melting pots and assimilation are not good. We want the greater LGBT community to recognize and respect that is not only what we believe but also how we will act.

CM: Are all gay Indians as sexy as you?
HP: Because we are so diverse; we are all very sexy!

"Gender, Sexuality and the Role of Elders" will take place Thursday, November 15 from 6-8 p.m. at the LGBT Community Center, 208 West 13th Street. For more information, go to .

©GayCityNews 2007

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Turn of the Screw
November 05, 2007
By Christopher Murray
"I'm rather easily carried away, I fear," says the nameless governess in the Wake Up, Marconi! production of Turn of the Screw, Henry James' classic ghost story, here in a clever two-actor adaptation by Jeffrey Hatcher originally presented by Portland Stage. Both actors — the attentive, prim, and expectant Melissa Pinsly as the governess and the cadaverous and chameleonlike Steve Cook in a host of roles — are disciplined and intelligent in their portrayals but, alas, don't ever really get carried away themselves.
And Don K. Williams' fine-tuned direction in conjunction with Mark Delancy's sparse raked-platform set and Karl Chmielewski's elegant and economical lighting can't do by themselves what is the sine qua non of a ghost story: raise hackles on the back of your neck.
The story of a governess, barely more than a child herself, sent to a lonely estate to take care of two precocious children is well-known for it's exploration of innocence betrayed by craven carnality. Who is actually corrupted in the tale is part of the theme as James explores the trauma of moving into the haunting knowledge of adulthood with all its potential for depravity.
There have been plenty of adaptations, including the 1954 Benjamin Britten-Myfanwy Piper opera and the 1961 Truman Capote-William Archibald-John Mortimer screenplay for director Jack Clayton's The Innocents starring Deborah Kerr. Hatcher's relies heavily on the audience's ability to empathize with the terror of the governess and her intense drive to protect her charges from supernatural enmity.
It also requires the actor playing all the other roles — a housemaid; the little boy, Miles; the uncle; and the narrator — to switch characters instantaneously and recognizably, which Cook does well.But, ultimately, the precision of this production leaves little room for the inexplicable and, as the governess says — and it applies to audiences as well — "What children want is a mystery."

Presented by Wake Up, Marconi! at Bank Street Theatre, 55 Bank St., NYC. Nov. 3-17. Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (Additional performance Sat., Nov. 17, 2 p.m.) (212) 352-3101 or (866) 811-4111 or

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Drum of the Waves of Horikawa

October 27, 2007

By Christopher Murray

There's a real feast for the senses going on at Here, where the Theatre of a Two-headed Calf is presenting its punk Kabuki version of Monzaemon Chikamatsu's 17th-century revenge play Drum of the Waves of Horikawa. A 12-feet-by-12-feet mat defines the central playing space (designed by Peter Ksander), cordoned off by plungers acting as stanchions and hung with decapitated brooms. On either side are two drum sets; there are also a DJ booth and a keyboard for composer Brendan Connelly, who spends a lot of time whacking a horseshoe with a spike and acts as an ironic and laid-back master of ceremonies. "The next break will be more of a party. Is my mother back?" he asks the audience as he announces the end of one of the short intermissions.

Winsome touches define the visual elements of director Brooke O'Harra's production, including the wonderful blend of traditional Japanese apparel and makeup with the leather, boots, and more-is-better war paint of 1970s punk (costume design by Emily Rebholz) and a great variety of practical and scenic lighting instruments (designed by Justin Townsend with assistance from Christopher Kuhl).

It's unfortunate, though, that while the eyes are delighted, the ears are beat into senselessness by the crashing eponymous noise generated, oddly enough, by two Ph.D. candidates (Ian Antonio and Russell Greenberg on drums). Maybe it's my 40-year-old ears that don't have tolerance for the conceit of using punk mannerisms to tell an old tale of the dishonor of infidelity. It's not that I don't get the idea that punk thrashing and shouting could be just as stylized and ritualized as the grimaces and contortions of traditional Kabuki performance. It's more that I couldn't connect to a story whose emotional core was buried under layers of pretentiousness posing as intellectual theatricality.

Presented by the Theatre of the Two-headed Calf and Here Arts Center
at Here Arts Center, 145 Sixth Ave., NYC.

Oct. 27-Nov. 17. Thu.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.(212) 352-3101 or (866) 811-4111 or or

Gay in the Age of Paranoia

Celebrated gay author Christopher Bram's critically acclaimed last novel "Exiles in America" comes out in paperback November 13, quite an achievement for a literary-quality, queer-themed book.
Bram, who lives in the West Village with his long-time partner, the filmmaker Draper Shreeve, is no stranger to success. His first novel, the coming out story "Surprising Myself" (1987) wowed critics and his novel "Father of Frankenstein" (1995) was made into the film "Gods and Monsters," starring Ian MacKellen, Brendan Fraser, and Lynn Redgrave and for which director Bill Condon won the Oscar for best adapted screenplay.
Bram tells compelling stories about complicated queer lives with rare intelligence, wit, and compassion. "Exiles in America" explores the relationship of a gay male couple, a college art professor and a psychiatrist, whose lives are turned on end by their blooming friendship with a charismatic Iranian painter and his wife. The story, in part, explores post-9/11 paranoia, justified and not, and is as well a critical examination of the suitability and meaning of the marriage paradigm in the context of a gay relationship.Bram sat down recently to discuss the book and how queer stories are catching up with cultural and political events.
CHRISTOPHER MURRAY: How did the story evolve for you? What compelled you to write it?

CHRISTOPHER BRAM: Initially I just wanted to write a novel about a gay couple in a long-term relationship. It's surprising how few novels there are about gay marriages. Most gay fiction is about first love or doomed love, not domestic love.Early on I decided to give my couple an open marriage, in part because nobody writes about that either, but also because it would guarantee some kind of drama. Then I added another couple, an Iranian family with children. They too have an open marriage, necessitated by the fact that the husband, Abbas, a painter, is primarily gay.And I set it the eve of the Iraq War, which was when I wrote the book. I knew something would happen in the Middle East, but didn't know exactly what. After that I just let my characters loose, all the while looking over my shoulder at current events.
CM: Why did you choose to write about a cross-sexuality, cross-cultural love quadrangle?
CB: I always enjoy mixing things up. I've done it in all my books. Whether bisexuality really exists or not -- and I think it does - it's a gift for a novelist. It complicates things wonderfully. Homosexuality is a gift for fiction, too. It brings together different classes, nationalities, religions. The cross-cultural mix here enabled me to explore Islam, which intrigued me long before 9/11 made it important to more Americans. And since Abbas is married, I was given a major female character to develop, his wife Elena. One frustrating thing about gay male stories is the limited number of roles for women. But bisexuality changes that. Elena was the character I most enjoyed writing. She's more aware than the other protagonists, the one in the trickiest position. And she will say almost anything; she is fearless.
CM: Do you get hot and bothered writing sex scenes like the ones in "Exiles in America"?
CB: Not really, strange to say. I enjoy writing sex scenes. I'm certainly not afraid of them. I hope readers get hot and bothered. But for me sex in fiction is always about emotion, even if it's just friendliness. Something personal is being expressed, otherwise I'd skip a line and say, "Afterwards they smoked cigarettes."Daniel and Abbas begin as fuck buddies but the relationship becomes more emotionally complicated. So I had to make clear how important sex was to both men without giving a full catalog of their encounters. And I needed to find fresh metaphors and ways of describing sex, which is difficult after nine novels. I don't like to repeat myself. But I enjoy the challenge.
CM: What was the original reception to the book like?
CB: Pretty good, for the most part. It won this year's Ferro-Grumley Prize. Gay men in couples certainly appreciated it. As one friend put it, "My god, a gay novel where the couple argues and it doesn't mean they're doomed?" And many reviewers understood the mix of sex and politics and why it was there. But I also got some of the strangest reviews I've ever had. A couple of critics, presumably single, couldn't understand why Zack and Daniel were still together.Yes, they share a house and a dog and endless conversations, but they don't share a bed anymore after 20-plus years, so they must not be a real couple. More troubling were the reviewers who couldn't understand why the police and politics suddenly appear in the story. They blamed me, as if it were something I did just to juice things up. I don't know if they don't follow the news or if they wanted to hear only about boyfriend problems, but they resented the story for acknowledging that people's liberties are at risk in this country.I thought readers would be impressed that here was a novel about gay open marriage and the Homeland Security Act.
CM: I hear you and your partner the filmmaker Draper Shreeve are working on screenplays together too. What's up with that?
CB: Ever since we met we've talked about movies -- it's one of our great bonds. We even made a couple of short films. He would direct and photograph and edit. I would write and act and even serve as script girl.Then we started writing feature screenplays together, which can be tricky but not as dangerous as you might think. We learned how we work best together. And it's a great thing to share. Some couples raise children together, others renovate houses. We write screenplays. None have been filmed yet, but one was optioned and a new one was commissioned, so we sometimes make money from it.
CM: What are you working on now?
CB: Draper and I finished a new draft of a script about Tallulah Bankhead, which is being developed for Patricia Clarkson. There's also a kinky romantic comedy we're working on together. Meanwhile I've made a solid start on a new novel set in the 1880s, all about a theater troupe that comes to a factory town in Pennsylvania and becomes involved with the family of the Presbyterian minister. It's like a Victorian companion piece to my New York theater novel, "Lives of the Circus Animals."
CM: How do you avoid the trap of being pigeonholed as a "gay" writer for a limited audience?
CB: I don't. I can't. The culture we live in, book culture in particular, is so nervously heterosexist that the presence of a major gay character will almost always peg your book as gay. The fact that I try to mix things up more than Edmund White or Andrew Holleran, say, doesn't mean I don't get lumped with them. David Leavitt and Michael Cunningham both recently published novels with no sexually active gay men, but their books are still seen as gay novels. Which wouldn't be bad if it didn't mean we were treated as completely "other" and of interest only to a limited audience.I don't know what we can do about it. It's frustrating that 38 years after Stonewall we're still seen as exotic. Which might be one of the reasons for the strange reviews of "Exiles." "Hey, this is a gay novel. Why is he bringing in the war in Iraq?" As if we're too exotic to care about the important issues that trouble everyone else.
CM: What's one of the best things about being a gay writer?
CB: I'm tempted to be sarcastic and say, "The millions and millions of gay dollars." But the best thing about being a gay writer is gay readers, who are often very smart and very committed. I wish there were more of them. But they're a kind of compensation for being pigeonholed or ignored by straight readers. Real gay readers read steadily and hungrily, and not just the bestsellers or the big name books. They are very curious, and always looking for something new.
CM: How are the stories we are telling about gay lives changing these days?
CB: We don't have to do Homosexuality 101 anymore, so we are free to tell any kind of story we want. The writers, editors, and readers all want something new. Despite my complaints about the state of gay fiction -- and I complain as much as anyone -- there is always a new book that surprises me with news I haven't heard before.For example, last year there was a very fine novel by Aaron Hamburger, "Faith for Beginners," about a mother and her gay son visiting Israel on the eve of the Second Intifada. It had everything: family, politics, religion, sex with a Palestinian. There was also a terrific novel by John Weir, "What I Did Wrong," a sort of weekend-in-the-life account of a gay English teacher in Queens; it deserves to be compared with the best of Saul Bellow. This year there was a wonderful novel by Brian Malloy, "Brendan Wolf," about a gay man who becomes involved in the scamming of an anti-abortion rally in Minneapolis. It starts as a noirish story, but opens up into something bigger and richer.That's only three books, but should make clear that our best work is now all over the map, which is very exciting.
CM: If you could have sex with one famous writer of the past, who would it be and why?
CB: This week I would have to say Leo Tolstoy. I'm re-reading "Anna Karenina" and have fallen in love with the author all over again. Tolstoy was basically straight, of course, although he admits in his diaries to having warm feelings for men but not knowing what to do with those feelings. It'd be interesting to share a bed with him, especially in his late 30s, around the time he was writing "War and Peace." I don't know if we'd actually have sex. But it'd be fun to see him in a nightshirt -- I understand he had great legs -- and we could have good long conversations about religion and history and harvesting wheat, although he'd probably do most of the talking.

©GayCityNews 2007

Saturday, October 27, 2007

She does Channing, Garland, Merman, and LuPone, but remarkably Maggie Graham is no drag queen.

Ain't No Drag

Starring Maggie Graham
The Triad158 W. 72nd St.
Sat. 9 p.m.
Through year-end
$25 plus two drinks
212-868-4444 or
As I was leaving Maggie Graham's entertaining cabaret "Carol Channeling," an elderly audience member turned to her companion and asked, "Was she a drag queen?"
Well, no, she's actually a beautiful and talented young woman with a powerful set of pipes who in her 70- minute act impersonates Carol Channing channeling various living and deceased divas of the Great White Way from Garland through LuPone to Chenowith and Menzel. But she could learn a trick or two from a good drag queen.
Graham has a super voice and can bang out a brassy number with the best of them. Wearing her frowzy ash blond Channing wig and a red sequin drop hem dress with fringe, she plants her legs like fresh saplings on the stage and leans slightly forward in the best ex-chorus gal turned Broadway belter style.
The ridiculous and unnecessary conceit of the show, something about Carol going to the dentist for a loose tooth and suddenly becoming a kind of radio receiver for her musical theater colleagues, is just an excuse for Graham's homage to the ladies who munch scenery and dine out on catchy melodies and zippy lyrics. She obviously loves all these gals and she sings some of their biggest hits straight, with no embellishments or topically changed lyrics. Her voice is all throaty gravel when she does Channing's signature "Diamonds Are a Girls Best Friend" and brilliantly captures LuPone's nasal electric syrup tones for "You're the Top." Less effective , or recognizable actually, is her Doris Day doing "I Have a Secret Love" or Angela Lansbury singing "If He Walked Into My Life" from "Mame."

But where the drag queen tutoring could help Graham is in recognizing that impersonation is based on significant and comedic exaggeration, a rule she follows only intermittently. Still, the trio version she does of LuPone (really her most dead-on imitation), Bernadette Peters, and the Merm doing "Rose's Turn" is worth the 25-buck cover and two-drink minimum.
"Carol Channeling" is a really fun evening and Graham has the zest and verve to pull it off, especially in the caring hands of her cutie pie musical director and pianist Aaron Beck. While the framing device and inane patter should just be scraped, what's great about Graham is her real stage presence that shines through the impersonation. I mean it as a compliment that the act made me crazy curious to hear how she would sing, just her, not through the lens of anyone else's style. I'll bet it would be something to see and hear.

©GayCityNews 2007

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Backstage review of Kosher Harry at NY Deaf Theatre

Kosher Harry
October 16, 2007
By Christopher Murray
British writer Nick Grosso's absurdist Kosher Harry is more a collection of bilious racist rants than a play. As such, it would seem an odd choice for the ultra-liberal Nicu's Spoon or the disability- and difference-savvy NY Deaf Theatre. But it turns out that ambition is the calling card of these two collaborating companies. They have much method to their madness in giving this play its U.S. premiere.
Kosher Harry's is the name of a deli catering to the often wealthy, often Jewish residents of swanky nabe St. John's Wood in London. The normal harmonies of regulars chatting up the waitresses while sipping tea or munching cheese knish are sent into discord by the arrival of a genially provocative young man played, as are all four of the play's characters, by two actors, one speaking and one using American Sign Language in a fascinating stereophonic style (Andrew Hutchinson speaking, Kimberly Mecane signing in this case).
It only takes a minute to adjust to the double casting, and one quickly merges the two simultaneous performances, much like the two images in a pair of binoculars meld into one. That the actors occasionally comment on or interact with their doppelgangers is more than just a practical stage device for an audience composed partially of the deaf or hearing-impaired. It becomes a perfect cracking open of the wrenching thematic content about how we split ourselves in two when we indulge in fostering divisions between our experience and that of those we label "other."
A kooky waitress with tortoise-shell glasses and dangling lemon-and-lime-colored earrings (S. Barton-Farcas speaking, Jennifer Giroux signing) starts out flirting with the young man but quickly begins a screed against her unseen fellow server, who emigrated from the former Soviet Union. "All they do is gossip about you," she says hypocritically. "Sowing the seeds of conflict."
But the waitress' sexual jealousies and blatant xenophobia only set the stage for similarly casual arias of attack by a cabbie (Alvaro Sena speaking, Michael DiMartino signing) and his charge, a widowed grand dame supposedly half deaf herself and confined to a wheelchair (Wynne Anders speaking, Shira Grabelsky signing).
The speaking actors appear to have more stage training than their signing counterparts. Anders' old woman is exceedingly touching in her wistful bemusement, and Sena's cabbie makes a kind of ballet out of his foul-mouthed leering and swagger. And while the staging (Barton-Farcas and Aaron Kubey share directing duties) is mostly stagnant, the two-hour barrage of vitriol becomes overwhelming.

The lesson of Kosher Harry is exceedingly timely and apt: hatred is most dangerous when embedded and normalized into the daily rituals and conversations of our lives.
Presented by Nicu's Spoon in association with NY Deaf Theatre at Nicu's Spoon, 38 W. 38th St., 5th floor, NYC. Oct. 12-28. Wed.-Sun., 8 p.m. (212) 352-3103 or

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Two recent reviews for Backstage

October 11, 2007
By Christopher Murray
This past summer, enterprising Stagefarm commissioned 10-minute plays on the theme of vengeance from five talented playwrights as a response to "the heightened climate of retribution in this country and the world today," according to a program note from Artistic Director Alex Kilgore, who also directed the first and last entries, with Ari Edelson taking on the other three.
The quickly written results, which might have benefited from a little additional time to ripen, are nevertheless provocative and impassioned and highly energized by a talented cast of five young actors.
Gina Gionfriddo's Squalor starts the evening with a duo whose job it is to lure supposed pedophiles from chat rooms into law enforcement snares. Marnie (Carrie Shaltz) is all venom and certainty in carrying out her mission, her back arched like a cobra's as she commands her underling, Pete (David Wilson Barnes), to read out the chat room conversations: "You be the perv; I'll be the prey." Pete expresses empathy toward a lonely man (the creepily endearing David Ross) primed for entrapment and in doing so reveals his own isolation and the difficulty inherent in maintaining moral superiority without giving way to viciousness.
In Julian Sheppard's Skin & Bones, Jesse (Lisa Joyce), intent on revenging the murder of her parents, has joined some sort of paramilitary vigilantes, but a crisis of faith in the brutal mechanisms of vengeance leads her to a betrayal of her green-gloved and blood-splattered partner, Alex (Michael Mosley), even as he hacks up the offal of her latest dismembered victims.
Giftbox by Francine Volpe concerns two sisters whose lives have taken markedly different directions, with slacker chick C (Shaltz) coming in crisis to ask for support and money from her as yet unwed and pregnant sister A (Joyce), who has renegotiated many of her goals and dreams.
Ron Fitzgerald's Rats has Ray (Ross) being held hostage by a bathrobe-wearing, pistol-toting dropout of an ad copywriter, Tom (Mosley), who wants him to explain the solicitation letter he wrote for a "Save the Children" campaign.
The last piece, Neena Beber's Specter, imagines the final conversation between weirdo music producer Phil Spector (an inspired Barnes, all stooped and twitchy) and his doomed paramour, Lana Clarkson (Joyce).
Each of the plays exhibits the use of exciting and quirky language to pose engrossing questions about the corrosive cost to the soul of retaliatory rage. Each of the actors shows great facility and charisma in alternating between flat, throwaway affect and high-octane buffo caricature. Barnes and Joyce stand out, however, for the range and depth of their characterizations.
Presented by Stagefarm at the Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce St., NYC.Oct. 6-20. Tue.-Sat., 8 p.m.(212) 868-4444 or by Calleri Casting.
The Revenge of the Space Pandas or Binky Rudich and the Two-Speed Clock
October 08, 2007
By Christopher Murray
David Mamet's charming children's theatre piece is making a reappearance as part of the Atlantic Theater Company's Atlantic for Kids program. The show concerns three friends: 12-year-old budding scientist Binky Rudich (Chris Wendelken), his enthusiastic pal Vivian Mooster (Nicole Pacent), and their slightly stuffy 1920s-golf-outfit-wearing friend Bob the Sheep (Michael Piazza).
A boring lunchtime avoiding Mom's calls to casserole is transformed when Binky's project, a two-speed clock, hurls them 50 light years away from Weekhawken, Ill. The friends must figure out how to get back home while at the same time avoiding the space panda security force of King George Topax (Dave Toomey), who has the ditzy ruler thing down pat. His Royal Retainer (Hannah Miller) calls him "your righteous indignation" and attempts to capture Bob the Sheep so the king can get wool for the letter sweater he wants more than anything else in the world. Sounds stupid? It is. The plot is the loosest of pretexts for puns, high jinks, and reinforcement of the message that friendship and loyalty are as valuable as excitement and adventure.
Among the student actors, Wendelken and Piazza have developed the most comedic confidence to throw lines away and so don't wind up laboring their bits as much as everyone else. But the esprit de corps among the actors is palpable, and because they are having such a good time with Mamet's wonderfully kooky lines — such as "When I grow up, all I want to be is flexible" — so does the audience, kids both little and big.
Presented by Atlantic for Kids
at the Atlantic Theater Company,
336 W. 20th St., NYC.Sept. 29-Oct. 14. Sat. and Sun., 10:30 a.m.
(646) 216-1190 or

The second of two articles on The Ritz on Broadway

(Kevin Chamberlin, starring in The Ritz and William Ivey Long, five time Tony award-winning costume design, inset)
A Cartoon from the '70s

The theater is very gay, they say, but it just doesn't get any gayer than the Broadway revival of Terrence McNally's farce The Ritz opening October 11 at Studio 54. The playwright, the director, the costume designer, the musical director, the lead actor, and much of the cast are all at the top of their field and they are all gayer than geese.
Originally produced in 1975, the play was embraced by straight audiences and became a hit on Broadway. It was subsequently filmed as a movie with its stars Rita Moreno, Jack Warden, and Jerry Stiller, successfully making the leap from the stage to celluloid. The play has languished since then, as its depiction of pre- AIDS sexual hijinks in a fictional Manhattan bathhouse was deemed in poor taste with HIV ravaging the gay community."
It's a celebration of pre-AIDS sexuality," said McNally. "I think we can enjoy that now without minimizing what has been suffered though the AIDS epidemic."
Joe Mantello, Broadway's current hottest director - he helmed the musical "Wicked" which remains the Great White Way's highest grossing show, as well as "Three Days of Rain" with Julia Roberts and "The Odd Couple" with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick - always wanted to bring "The Ritz" back. He suggested the idea to McNally who had worked with actress Rosie Perez on a revival of his play "Frankie and Johnny."

They thought she'd be perfect for the role of Googie Gomez, the bathhouse'sin-house chanteuse who has more ambition than singing talent."She's tremendously hardworking as an actress," said the play's star, out actor Kevin Chamberlin. "
This is the most strenuous play I've ever been in, just physically. With farce, you need to be at the top of your game and Rosie is just terrific."Chamberlin received kudos for his role as Horton the Elephant in "Seussical The Musical" and playing Mae West in drag in "Dirty Blond." "I've been nominated for two Tonys in plays where the fat balding guy gets to be the romantic lead, can you believe it?"
The handsome Chamberlin is highly regarded by his peers for his acting chops and is starring with Lily Taylor in the Lifetime series "State of Mind" that debuted this year. In "The Ritz," he plays a straight, Midwestern schmo who married into a Mafia family and hides in the bathhouse to escape the homicidal wrath of his brother-in-law. "It's really a wonderful ride," Chamberlin said. "Sometimes you do plays and the mood in the cast set by the lead actors is a not so good, but Rosie andI knew we wanted this to be fun and the entire cast is a joy to work with."
That cast is made up of some top talent, including Broadway musical maven Seth Rudetsky, who was a writer for the Rosie O'Donnell show and masterminded the popular Broadway Backwards fundraisers for the LGBTCommunity Center. He has a hilarious moment as one of the bathhouse clientele who enters an amateur talent show and sings "Magic to Do" from the '70s musical "Pippin." Rudetsky pulls double duty as the revival's musical director and put together Googie's '70s montage musical number that brings the house down. The comic actor Brooks Ashmanskas, last seen stealing scenes from Martin Shortin "Fame Become Me," plays the bathhouse's most flamboyant denizen wearing a flowing purple kimono into the steamroom. Eighties porn legend Ryan Idol is also in the cast, adding a big helping of daddy flavor to the group of mostly young actors who make up the mosteye-catching of the bathhouse's patrons.
All the this plays out on the stage of the notorious Studio 54, another survivor from the '70s, on a set that is like a Chinese box of doors, perfect for a farce that is all about entrances and exits. The costumes are designed by William Ivey Long, who has created the outfits for more than 60 Broadway shows and won five Tony awards. Long cites the '70s gay magazine After Dark as a prime source of inspiration for the sidepanel underwear, tight pants, and polyester quiana shirts.
Long recently reminisced about moving to New York in 1975 and living in the Chelsea Hotel at the time that he snuck into the second act of the original production of "The Ritz."Asked how gay men's presentation of self through clothes has changed since then, he said, "Gay men's bodies have changed. They are much more muscular now.The director was very careful with his casting of the patrons of "The Ritz" to not have men be too built up. I was able to use a lot of vintage clothes inthe show, so what you are seeing is straight from the '70s, including that purple kimono that Brooks wears!"
The representation of gay life from that period is very much skin deep in what Chamberlin called the "cartoon" vision presented in a farce like "The Ritz." But both McNally and Ivey, who both lived the New York gay life back at that time,are quick to point out that the piece has evolved into a comic homage to a time more innocent and certainly one full of wonderful sexual celebration for gay men.

©GayCityNews 2007

First of Two Preview Pieces on The Ritz on Broadway

Paean to the Tubs

Kevin Chamberlin, star of the revival of Terrence McNally's "The Ritz," seen with Matthew Montelongo, in chaps, in rehearsal.

Studio 54254 W. 54th St.
Tue.-Sat. at 8 p.m.,Wed., Sat., Sun. at 2 p.m.
In previews, opens Oct. 11 Through Dec. 9 $30-$95; or 212-719-1300

Playwright Terrence McNally sat down in his Village apartment recently to discuss the revival of his play "The Ritz" about a straight garbage company owner hiding from his homicidal Mafia brother-in-law in a notorious gay bathhouse. The farce was a hit when it first appeared and the film version with Jack Weston and Rita Moreno is a cult favorite.With the hottest director on Broadway, Joe Mantello, at the helm, and Rosie Perez and Kevin Chamberlin taking the lead roles, hopes are high for the Roundabout Theatre's production at Studio 54, now in previews and set to open October 11. But is the time right to mount a pre-AIDS play that revels in a spirit of sexual hedonism or have we lost our sense of humor about ourselves in the 32 years since the play first appeared?

CHRISTOPHER MURRAY: How did the revival come about?
TERRENCE MCNALLY: Joe Mantello has wanted to do it with Rosie Perez for several years ever since she did my play "Frankie and Johnny." We agreed she'd be wonderful for it. It's taken several years for all of us to be available at the same time and for it to make sense for the Roundabout Theatre to produce. I'm really glad we are doing it at Studio 54. I think it's a great space for it because you are going into a notorious place from the '70s to see a play about a notorious place from the '70s. Then Kevin Chamberlin came along to join us and the time finally seemed right.

CM: How is the time right in terms of our culture?
TM: A good comedy is always welcome and if the play works at all it's as a sex farce and a funny one. You don't need a time in your culture to enjoy a good comedy, but I think it's the right time now to look back at that whole period of liberation that was the story of the '70s. It's very much a pre-AIDS play. At the height of the plague certainly the play couldn't be done, but I think we can look back now and celebrate what was wonderful about the sexual liberation and revolution. We had to wait this long to do it again.

CM: Were there any changes that you made?
TM: No, if people don't get all the references, well, I saw "King Lear" at BAM the other night and I didn't get all the references Shakespeare included but you get the sense of it. The year the play was written New York had like ten competing bathhouses, the Everard, Man's Country, etc., and my fictitious Ritz. But we didn't update any of that since there aren't ten big bathhouses operating in New York any more so that would be inaccurate.

CM: There were a couple little changes made to language that could be interpreted as references to AIDS?
TM: There was a line about wearing slippers because of not wanting to get athlete's foot, and someone says you'd be lucky if that's all you caught. We removed that because it would just make the audience uncomfortable or think of AIDS. I wasn't even thinking of AIDS when I wrote it of course, I was thinking of syphilis or gonorrhea. But that's all we've done.The play was written at the height of "this is great, this is fun" and heterosexuals were doing the same thing. Plato's Retreat was going strong. So it wasn't just a gay phenomenon. A lot was happening in New York in that period and I think it's nice to look back at and celebrate it.

CM: Did you think about how the play might reflect on our new repressive era, like for example the whole dust-up about poor Senator Craig and his toe-tapping in the men's room?
TM: The play is about homophobia and its defeat at the hands of liberation, so that's there, but I didn't rewrite anything to reflect current times, there's not a new line in the play.

CM: Do you think audiences will be thinking about current events like the Senator Craig thing when they see the play now?
TM: Well, there is an entrapment in the play, but it's so comic. There's the dumb, straight arrow detective and the violent homophobe Mafia guy wanting to come up with grounds to kill his brother-in-law but they are such figures of absurdity, which I guess you could say the senator is, too. Those identifications are parallels an audience may make, but I've not done anything to make them. The self-loathing homosexual, like the senator I assume is, is really not addressed in the play. It's about homosexuals who are really happy and comfortable being who they are, including being chubbychasers and all sorts of other things. There's no one in the bathhouse who doesn't want to be, let's put it that way.

CM: In the play, everyone at the Ritz is celebrating their homosexuality in a way that we don't so much now. People in bathhouses and sex venues these days are engaging in very serious performances of their persona now.
TM: To my knowledge there's nothing like the clubs of the '70s now.

CM: I was hoping you would tell me that the whole cast of "The Ritz" had gone on a field trip to a bathhouse during rehearsals.
TM: Maybe they did! That's their business! I don't even know the sexual proclivities of all the cast members. It's a big cast, as many as we had originally. The trick was finding enough bodies that didn't look too perfect as so many gay men today seem to project such physical perfection with abs and all. That wasn't true in those days. It was more the drugs and the sideburns and the Afro you were proud of.Mark Spitz was a body ideal at the time of this play. There was this famous poster of him that everybody owned even if it was inside a closet door. You look at it now and it's this skinny little guy with long hair and he was a sexual fantasy, it shows how much we've changed.

CM: How do you think that the stories that we as gay men need and want to be told have changed since the '70s?
TM: It's nice to be reminded of a time before AIDS. The younger generation doesn't know of that time. It's a celebratory play, not a cautionary play. I think a healthy society can look at itself at any period in its evolution. Some are less enjoyable than others.To pretend AIDS didn't happen would be as irresponsible as pretending the sexual revolution didn't happen and the early days of Stonewall. The play is very much in the same time as Stonewall. I mean Bette Midler sang at the baths with Barry Manilow as her accompanist and she sang after the first Gay Pride Parade in Washington Square.

CM: Where you there?
TM: Yes, it was amazing. She sang "Friends" to thousands just a couple blocks from here. I saw her at the baths, too! Those kinds of performances are where the idea for the Googie Gomez character that Rosie Perez is playing now came from. The entertainment was just at a much higher level than Googie is! I was even at the Continental Baths the notorious night when Eleanor Steber gave an opera recital and Leonard Bernstein and his wife were there! It was the era of radical chic, a crazy time of drugs and a lot of sex and a lot of laughter. People didn't stay home, they went out every night. I went out every night, but that was 30 years ago!

CM: You once called "The Ritz" a subversive play.
TM: I said it was subversive and I was surprised it was on Broadway. I was surprised it ran for a year and that straight audiences would come and enjoy this sex farce. It just says gays can make as much fools of themselves trying to get laid as straight people can.

©GayCityNews 2007

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Recent Backstage Reviews

September 20, 2007
By Christopher Murray

The talented team of composer Derek Gregor and book writer-lyricist Sam Carner has followed the musical unities in Unlock'd, a loose adaptation of Alexander Pope's early-18th-century mock-heroic poem "The Rape of the Lock." Much as Pope exploited the heroic ode to ridicule social convention, Gregor and Carner adroitly utilize the building blocks of the musical form to tell a satiric tale of petty squabbling among young British aristocrats. In doing so, Unlock'd makes for a gentle and often pleasing entertainment.

Beautiful Belinda (a pixyish Sarah Jane Everman) is envied by her step-sister Clarissa (an intense Jackie Burns), who plots to take her down a peg by inducing a playboy baron (the rich baritone Jim Weitzer) to collect a lock of her hair as a fetishized trophy of amorous conquest. The interventions of the baron's bookish brother (Christopher Gunn) and a sextet of virgin sylphs (Alison Cimmet, Maria Couch, Mary Catherine McDonald) and plodding gnomes (Darryl Winslow, Christopher Totten, William Thomas Evans) ensure plenty of intrigue and comic mayhem just perfect for singing about with whimsy: "Hair, hair, elegant hair/Without it my head would be bare."
The songs, expertly orchestrated and played, are enjoyable if not memorable, one of several exceptions being "Off to the East," a charming and wistful duet fantasy of escape to exotic, faraway places. Under Igor Goldin's direction, lovely costumes and an elegant, simple, and well-manipulated set add to the overall effect.

The uniformly fine cast makes every effort to imbue the material with passion and lighthearted joie de vivre, but their professionalism and zest can't overcome what is essentially a highly polished confection that has neither quite enough wit nor heart to rise to the level of an Into the Woods or Candide. But for what it is, an admirably executed example of an adaptation from classical material, Unlock'd is undeniably charming, unpretentious, and lovingly created.

Presented by La Vie Productions as part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival at TBG Theater, 312 W. 36th St., 3rd floor, NYC.September 17-30. Remaining performances: Fri., Sept. 21, 4:30 and 7 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 22, 1 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 23, 8 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 29, 1 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 30, 1 p.m.(212) 352-3101 or (866) 811-4111 or by Stephen DeAngelis.

A Global Dionysus in Napoli
September 21, 2007
By Christopher Murray

La MaMa E.T.C., the stalwart Off-Off-Broadway performance venue, is known as a home away from home for international theatre artists looking to present their works in the United States. The OPS Project has arrived for two weeks to present its 2004 performance piece A Global Dionysus in Napoli.

The modern Dionysus in question is Marcello Colasurdo, a former factory worker from Pomigliano in Southern Italy near Naples whose folk songs helped organize worker protests in the 1970s. Colasurdo, a waltzing bear of a man with full cheeks and many necklaces, bangs and flutters his fingers on his traditional tambourine as he sings his lugubrious a cappella laments. One can imagine the power of traditional music to focus the outrage and stiffen the resolve of farmers-turned-activists whose employment in cities, initiated under grandiose economic development plans, had all but sputtered out.

The current piece, conceived by a trio of theatre artists who were just being born in the mid-'70s, is a performance-arty lionization of Colasurdo, proposing him as the ultimate folk artist of impeccable ethical and artistic credentials who has managed to have a global impact without selling out. With a hip-hop DJ (Marco Messina) spinning on stage to provide contemporary street cred, a Londoner (Vernon Douglas) acts as narrator while Colasurdo slumps in a padded chair waiting for his cue to lift his hefty frame and promenade Zorba-like around the stage.

In between Colasurdo's songs, a series of projections -- think updated civics-class educational slide shows -- provide background on the impact of globalization on the Naples region, from Mussolini's obsessive factory openings in 1938 through today's "medialized numbness."

While it's interesting to try to understand the impact of national economic forces on local citizenry across the globe, the presentation of Colasurdo as a sort of singing savior of the people wears thin even within the swift 50 minutes of this piece.

Presented by and at La MaMa E.T.C.,74A E. Fourth St., NYC.Sept. 21-30. Fri. and Sat., 10 p.m.; Sun., 5:30 p.m.(212) 475-7710 or

Gemini the Musical
September 24, 2007
By Christopher Murray

Playwright Albert Innaurato has transformed his successful 1977 Broadway roman à clef into a high-spirited musical about a young Harvard student returning for the summer to his South Philly neighborhood, with Charles Gilbert, Innaurato's colleague at Philadelphia's University of the Arts, providing music and lyrics. Filled with kooky, outsized characters and a generous if often salty live-and-let-live spirit, Gemini the Musical, like its lead character, has a lot of heart but is still struggling to find its voice.

Fran (a smooth and affable Joel Blum), the Italian-American pater familias, starts things off by crooning out "One Big Family," which makes clear that in this neighborhood "we kiss, we cuss, we kick up a fuss." However, both the story and the score, while bouncy, tend to lurch a little. Gilbert relies to a surfeit on monosyllabic rhymes, and the majority of the songs are solo numbers, odd in a piece that is all about family and interreliance. Still, Linda Hart (from Broadway's Hairspray) kicks up a delightful self-dramatizing fuss as Bunny, the aging harlot next door, and her second-act showpiece "I'm Gonna Jump!" is the high point of the show, sung from high atop a street pole.

Innaurato's love for his idiosyncratic characters remains strong even 30 years after their initial introduction to the stage, but revising his main character Francis' (recent Boston Conservatory graduate Dan Micciche) struggles to come out as gay to conform to contemporary sensibilities may not have been the right decision for this musicalization.

What's clear is that the game actors performing the piece are still struggling to make their characters more than cardboard cutouts under Mark Robinson's somewhat slapdash direction. As much as Dana Kenn's two-dimensional flats accurately convey the brick-faced row houses of South Philly, the creative team needs to continue working toward showing the three-dimensional lives of the characters who inhabit Innaurato's world.

Presented by the University of the Arts as part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival at the Acorn Theater, 410 W. 42nd St., NYC.Sept. 18-Oct. 1. Remaining performances: Tue., Sept. 25, 8 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 29, 4:30 p.m.; Mon., Oct. 1, 8 p.m.(212) 352-3101 or (866) 811-4111 or or by Stuart Howard Associates.

September 24, 2007
By Christopher Murray

Avenue Q's Stephanie D'Abruzzo plays Sam, the stable, stage-managing center of the storm in Austentatious, a new backstage musical farce. "Guys," she implores with pencil stuck into her hair, "we have a play to rehearse; this is not the time for drama."

But, of course, it is the perfect time for the fragile egos involved in the Central Riverdale Amateur Players updated production of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice to let loose all their insecurities and mad grabs for power and applause. Emily (Stacey Sargeant) wrote the extremely loose adaptation and insists on adding interpretive dance sequences, including a movement duel with clogs bizarrely set among windmills in Amsterdam. She's also been cast as the star because she's romantically involved with Dom (Stephen Bel Davies), the abstracted and grandiose director with the obligatory scarf tossed around his neck.

Much of Austentatious treads ground familiar from shows like Noises Off and A Chorus Line, but this crowd pleaser makes the satire of community theatre winningly fresh again by dint of superb and drum-tight direction by Mary Catherine Burke and a wonderful cast, each member fully invested in the delightful peculiarities of his or her character.

The jazzy music and witty lyrics by Matt Board and Joe Slabe focus mostly on the private thoughts of the players as they struggle toward opening night while demonstrating that "somehow the Austen got lost in translation." My other favorite rhyme matched "hunky dory" to "purgatory."

The book is credited to the songwriters and three other collaborators (Jane Caplow, Kate Galvin, and Luisa Hinchliff), but too many cooks prove just right for the Feydeau farcical elements of Austentatious. Sometimes, however, the manic silliness overtakes the emotional core of the piece and the sung inner monologues of people struggling for acceptance and validation. Regardless, Austentatious is a charming and winningly presented highlight of the New York Musical Theatre Festival.

Presented by From the Top Productions as part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival at the Julia Miles Theater, 424 W. 55th St., NYC.Sept. 18-29. Remaining performances: Tue., Sept. 25, 4:30 p.m.; Fri., Sept. 28, at 11 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 29, 4:30 p.m.(212) 352-3101 or (866) 811-4111 or or