Beyond Gay

Film, Theater 2 Comments »

Just for the record, as someone who has been a long-standing, proudly goldstar stamp-bearing, laminated card-carrying member of the homo brigade, gay life isn’t all about getting laid at every lamppost (or on a king-size bed with 300 thread-count Frette sheets for some of us).  You’d never think otherwise, though, given the continuous mass media attention, bordering on sensationalism, on the sexual aspects of being gay– from the highly-eroticized, fetishistic male pairings in Lady Gaga’s Madonna rehash of a video, “Alejandro”, to the crackling, butch-loving intensity between vampire Bill and werewolf Sam in that Arkansas hotel room in the season opener of True Blood, to the flurry of blog twitters about Inception breakout star (and Goodman Theater headliner) Tom Hardy’s admission about his “fluid” sexual history – for example, here’s The Huffington Post’s headline:  “Inception Star Tom Hardy:  I’m An Actor, Of Course I’ve Had Gay Sex.”  Classy.   I am very ambivalent about all this so-called “mainstream acceptance” – all of this was almost unthinkable ten years ago (Will and Grace was pretty neutered, as many have observed), so I’m glad we’ve shown some progress in portraying and disseminating gay-themed material, but there is so much more to being gay than having sex.  Gay people, just like, uhmmm, straight people, struggle with relationships, face disappointments and failures, secondguess ourselves, aspire to create and nurture families as best as we can.  This whole dichotomy was pretty apparent in my previous weekend’s arts and culture activities:  one night, I was at Bailiwick Chicago’s F**king Men, a contemporary, all-male version of Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde, written by recent Tony winner (for Memphis) Joe Di Pietro; the next day I saw the exquisitely honest Lisa Cholodenko-helmed film The Kids Are All Right, possibly the best film I’ve seen so far this year.  F**king Men, despite a solid staging, sadly reinforces gay sexual stereotypes;  The Kids Are All Right goes beyond the gay sex (there is hardly any in it too, which is refreshing) and beautifully paints truthful, compelling 21st century lives.

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Perplexing the Audience

Theater No Comments »

With all my theatergoing, inevitably, I will come across that play, where, because of the sheer lack of anything interesting going onstage, my mind wanders to more adrenalin-pumping thoughts (such as the latest hypnotically vulgar episode of Kathy Griffin:  My Life on the D-List-her videotaped public pap smear, anyone?- or the flood of wacky #shakespalin quotes on Twitter).  Joel Drake Johnson’s new play, A Guide For The Perplexed, now in a world premiere production at Victory Gardens Theater, is one such play.  The show’s marketing trumpets Kevin Anderson’s return to the theater he received his Actor’s Equity card from, a very similar angle to the one used for William Peterson’s headlining of Blackbird last summer, but Perplexed is not at all comparable to David Harrower’s masterful work – it is underdeveloped, inconsistently written, at times dispirited, and frankly, unengaging, despite a trio of powerful male performances.  A Guide for the Perplexed is an apt title for the audience experience – who thought that this play would be interesting enough for a paying audience to watch?

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Agents Provocateur

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You never know what you’re going to get with a Martin McDonagh or a Bruce Norris play, which is a significant part of the pleasure of going to them.  You may leave the theater aghast with the revelation of what the itch is in Norris’ funny, searing The Pain and the Itch.  You may be repulsed by the tortuous stories in McDonagh’s The Pillowman, certainly one of the best, most provocative plays of the past ten years in my opinion.  You’ll feel unsettled and goaded by writing that doesn’t hesitate to critically expose your fallibilities, or ragingly question your belief systems, but you’ll also feel exhilarated, entertained, and to be honest, enlightened to an extent.  I’m a big fan of both writers, so, of course, in the past couple of weeks I took the opportunity to see productions of their works – in Los Angeles a couple of weekends ago, I caught the Center Theatre Group production and LA premiere of McDonagh’s The Lieutenant of Inishmore, starring Star Trek hunk Chris Pine and staged by its original Broadway director Wilson Milam.  Last weekend I was at Steppenwolf Theater’s world premiere production of Norris’ latest work, A Parallelogram, directed by Tony winner Anna D. Shapiro.  I’m not a big fan of the McDonagh work;  although provocative, I’m not sure I’ll place the Norris work at the top of this favorite playwright’s oeuvre.

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Princess Diary

Theater 5 Comments »

How time flies.  I remember going to the newly-renovated Cadillac Palace way back in 1999 to see the pre-Broadway premiere of Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aida, directed by Goodman Artistic Director Robert Falls. I took away two things from that viewing experience- despite the mega-millions thrown onstage, there was an unfortunately high level of cheesiness in the show (including a heinous fashion runaway scene…yeah, in ancient Egypt); but there was also the wondrous, dazzling, breakthrough performance of Heather Headley as Aida, who, a year later, deservedly won a Tony.  In the newly-revitalized Bailiwick Chicago’s minimalist version of this excess-prone theatrical relic of the go-go 90s, there are still moments that feel like they came packaged from those curd stands lining the highways of Wisconsin, but there’s also a lot more heartfelt emotion, a little bit more urban edge (thanks to impressively muscular choreography from the Artistic Directors of Deeply Rooted Dance Theater), and best of all, a similarly wondrous, scintillating, blow-the-rooftop-off-this building performance from Rashada Dawan as the titular Nubian princess. 

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War Horses

Theater 2 Comments »

It has been an unusually busy season for theatergoing in Chicago (in past years, the highlights of the summer theater season have only been Steppenwolf’s season-closer and the remounts at Theater on the Lake) so I’ve been madly dashing from one theater to another over the past couple of weekends, a frenzy that’s been aggravated by my weekly bounce-arounds between New York City and Phoenix for my day job.  Last weekend, I caught Strange Tree Group’s Shakespeare’s King Phycus and Redtwist Theatre’s Equus. Playwright Tom Willmorth breathes life into Shakespearian war horses by devising a world premiere play that mixes together the best and not-so-best elements of Macbeth, Hamlet, King Lear, Romeo and Juliet, and Richard III into one clever, energetic, eccentric, at times laugh-out-loud funny brew which, with its questionable length, ultimately wears the audience down.  Horses figure literally and metaphorically in Peter Shaffer’s Equus which, despite an impressively atmospheric staging from Redtwist Theatre, really cannot overcome the fact that it is a tired, dated, quite pretentious piece of 1970s-era writing, although often perplexingly revived (a version with Alec Baldwin as the doctor is now playing in the Hamptons in New York, right on the heels of the Daniel Radcliffe-led revival on Broadway last season).

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