On the Townsend: Republican National Convention Edition
Aug. 23, 8 PM
Ordway Center for the Performing Arts
345 Washington St., St. Paul
When you think of the Ordway, you probably envision majestic productions of big musicals. But it’s stepping out of line with the comedy extravaganza Laughing Liberally, which got raves in Boston. What a great way to gear up for the Republican National Convention, even if the politics aren’t in step with that party line!
This evening of comedians includes out comic Julie Goldman, who warns, “I’ll probably be talking about something lezbo—probably gay marriage—and I may be singing my song ‘Commitment Ceremony.’ I love doing social-commentary kind of stuff. It feels great to be able to talk about what’s going on in the world—how it relates to my life, and how it may relate to other people’s lives.”
Minneapolis College of Art and Design
2501 Stevens Ave. S., Mpls.
Greg Yolen, curator of MUFF 2008, the first annual Minneapolis Underground Film Festival, is recommending two in particular for adventurous queer film-goers and their discreet neoconservative “friends”: “Unspeakable is one of my favorites, because it just captures the raw power of creativity, and is unapologetic in its depiction of the use of the human body in art. Marta’s Sex Tape has been a favorite of GLBT audiences everywhere, because of its humorous look at the exposure of modern sexuality; it’s a great date movie.”
Unspeakable: The Life and Art of Reverend Steven Johnson Lebya is a graphic look at the intimate life of a legally ordained Priest in the Church of Satan. Dubbed “The Father of Sexpressionism,” he is known for the use of body fluids and his Native American heritage in his art. Though you’d expect the film to have met with universal disgust, critics actually have been fascinated by it. If you recall, gay HIV-positive Ron Athey’s body fluids-driven performance art rocked the National Endowment for the Arts in the 1990s. Director Mark Rokoff will speak after the screening.
Marta’s Sex Tape, a film about self-exposure, was shot in Los Angeles, Albuquerque, and Mexico City. It uses broad strokes of blue, purple, pink, black, white, and gold to enhance its pop-art concept. It was the winner of Best Foreign Film at the Miami Underground Film Festival. Director Anthony Rivero Stabley will speak after the screening.
In addition, Paul Von Stoetzel’s terrifying yet understated SNUFF is a documentary about killing on camera. You won’t see scenes of limitless gore, but you’ll learn that the fall of Communism didn’t necessarily work out as well as Rush Limbaugh would have liked you to believe—especially if you were a targeted poor child in the New Russia. But then, isn’t Republican President Ronald Reagan said to have won the Cold War?
Aug. 30, 5 PM-Aug. 31, 5 PM (Nonstop)
Nicollet Mall & 11th St., Mpls.
Some feel that the larger community has been excluded in the planning of the Republican National Convention, but Scott Mayer, who began the Ivey Awards, is in “Big Picture” mode again by organizing spark24, which he describes as a “24-hour, round-the-clock party designed to showcase our great arts and entertainment assets to the 15,000 media, 35,000 protesters, 5,000 delegates, and 15,000 local people.”
Mayer is always queer-inclusive, so look for ARENAdances, Jody Briskey, Jimmy Martin, and One Voice Mixed Chorus. Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus (TCGMC) will perform pieces from its Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing Concert, including the Oscar-winning “Secret Love” and a reportedly beautiful arrangement of “The Way You Look Tonight.”
TCGMC Director Stan Hill notes, “As is tradition, we will close our set with our signature song ‘Walk Hand in Hand,’ by Johnny Cowell.”
Revolutionary Love 2: I Am Your Best Fantasy
MInnesota State Capitol
75 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.,
Inspired by the pre-Stonewall style and the spirit of the New York Christopher Street Liberation Day (the first Gay Pride) for queer folk, New Yorker Sharon Hayes is directing an epic public performance featuring 100 speakers from Minnesota’s queer community. This team effort of Walker Art Center, The UnConvention, and Creative Time will perform Revolutionary Love 1: I Am Your Best Fantasy in Denver near the Democratic National Convention. Hence, Part 2 near the Republican National Convention in St. Paul. Of course, the Republicans are known for capitalizing on fear of same-sex marriage to scare Americans into backing their military policies, as well as record borrowing and spending. Here’s a nice counterpoint.
Speaker Jeffry Lusiak explains, the performance is about “the desire to stir our social consciousness, and remind us of the early days of the Queer Liberation Movement—a time when the discussion revolved more around the politics of love and desire than ‘look, we are just like you.’”
Speaker Esmé Rodríguez shares, “As a drag queen and gender studies instructor, I frequently search for multiple intersections between academic gender theory and drag as representative of a high art. And by allying myself with other queer artists, I represent a voice from the trans/gender queer communities, with which I aim to produce, reconfigure, and share knowledge that encourages social justice and responsibility as a creative and fair society.”
Through Aug. 30
Open Eye Figure Theater, 506 E. 24th St., Mpls.
Jim Bovino, who was named Lavender’s Best Actor last year, is directing a collaboration drawn from work by absurdist master playwright Samuel Beckett. Expect a cross-disciplinary with input from the edgy female dance duo HIJACK (Kristin Van Loon and Arwen Wilder) and International Novelty Gamelan. Given its performance dates around RNC time, you can bet it will have political undercurrents. And these artists have the credentials to swim those undercurrents.
Saturday, Sept. 6 at 7pm & 10pm
Bryant Lake Bowl, 810 W. Lake St., Mpls.
Comedian Taylor Negron hits Minneapolis before he plays New York with this acclaimed spoken word fusion of comedy he’s written himself and music by Logan Heftel. Negron’s true life tales look at the Los Angeles riots, comedy class with Lucille Ball, New York street life, and time spent with Benazir Bhutto, the former Pakistani Prime Minister whose death only last December shocked the world. Heftel, a former Twin Cities music student, met Negron at a Starbucks in L.A. A collaboration born of java.
Voices of Guantanamo
Sept. 5-6 at 8pm
Patrick’s Cabaret, 3010 Minnehaha Ave. So., Mpls.
Patrick Scully has long curated and produced controversial work. In the ’90s at the height of the so-called Culture Wars, he was a thorn in the side of boorish Senator Jesse Helms and various other moralistic policemen and church ladies. In those days, it was gender and sexuality that rubbed the right wing wrong. Nowadays, those things still irritate the righties royally certainly, but it’s conservatives themselves who have actually been the authors themselves of perhaps the most decadent, depraved, and debauched policies ever enacted by Uncle Sam: George W. Bush’s government sanctioned neoconservative policy of torture. Flip-flopped on by John McCain. (And you always thought it was ‘them liberals’ that were decadent, depraved, and debauched.) Director Sally Dixon has conceptualized an evening of stories about Guantanamo Bay at Patrick’s Cabaret interpreted by a range of performers from Kairos Dance to Reggie Prim to Mary Ellen Childs, among others. I doubt this will be protested by right wingers. But if it is, just remind the righties that it’s their policy!
Scully shares “Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib will be remembered as the evil prisons of our era. Giving voice to the victims of our government in these institutions is a tiny step toward trying to redress the crime against humanity committed there in our names. I hope everyone at the show will laugh, cry, and be inspired to dream and work toward a better world.”
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
Through Aug. 30
Theater Garage, 711 W. Franklin Ave., Mpls
Torch Theater, known for fine productions of contemporary classics, including homo fare such as Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and trans work like Looking For Normal (with Artisphere) is having a benefit for their troupe. Hence, they’re waxing camp and cross-gender with a new staged spoof of the juicy Bette Davis-Joan Crawford film, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? The gorgeous Stacia Rice actually looks appropriately unattractive in this particular turn as Baby Jane Hudson. Starring opposite her is the handsome Craig Johnson as Blanche. He tells us “this is going to be such a crazy ride. I’m not sure if I’m playing the character Blanche, or playing Joan Crawford playing Blanche and making one final, desperate pitch for a comeback, or if I’m playing a blissed out drag queen doing homage to her most beloved screen diva. I think I’m playing all three at once.”
Director Peter Rothstein adds “in many ways we are playing it ‘straight’. We are grounding the characters in real situations, however silly, tragic, horrific or absurd they may be. And then turning up the dial, pushing it just over the top. I think that’s camp.”
The Wide Stance
Aug. 29 – 31, 7:30pm
Playwrights’ Center, 2301 Franklin Ave. E.,
You probably know that the Twin Cities is a mecca for performing arts. Not just regionally, but nationally and internationally. That means our pool of performers is world-class. And if you want a taste of some of the creme de la creme of that pool, then check out this interactive political theater comedy collective. From pundits to product placement to speed-dating, it’s sure to be a riot of a show. Performers in this absurdist audience-interactive fun-fest include Warren Bowles, Michael Dixon, Liz Engleman, Beth Gilleland, Sarah Gioia, Craig Johnson, Tom Poole, Joseph Scrimshaw and one of our most internationally successful playwrights, Jeffery Hatcher.
Summer 2008 in Review
Summer 2008 in the Twin Cities has been a time of re-aligning and re-booting, if you will, broader public access to queer issues, beyond June’s highly successful Pride Festival.
For instance the National Conference for Media Reform’s National Conference at the Minneapolis Convention Center in early June included some engaging queer issues speakers. Walker Art Center’s Queer Takes Film Series, which occurred later that month during Pride Week showcased some great new titles and overviewed gay films being that have undergone restoration. For instance, Parting Glances, whose wonderful star Richard Ganoung was a special guest speaker at the Heights Theater, (and who is looking fabulous).
In August, Minnesota Fringe Festival’s increased attendance numbers and served up stellar offerings on gender and sexuality. A great improvement over last year, when the 35W Bridge Collapse swerved patrons and thousands of dollars away from attendance, given the proximity of Fringe venues to the collapse’s disaster site.
Summer’s end and fall’s beginning are also brimming with queer and other off-the-beaten-track events that may be preparing us psychologically for a shift in the collective consciousness this fall, come election time.
NCMR addresses queer issues in Minneapolis
The National Conference for Media Reform which convened at the Minneapolis Convention Center, June 5-8, addressed media coverage of queer issues aggressively in various panel discussions that featured such heavyweights as Rashad Robinson, Senior Media Director of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and the man closeted Republicans fear most, Mike Rogers of PageOneQ.com. Rogers and Brandon Benavides of KSTP discussed outing coverage. Tania Unzueta of Chicago’s Radio Arte shared experiences of Spanish language queer youth outreach, stressing the plight of undocumented queer youth. KFAI Executive Director Janis Lane-Ewart noted the power of GLBT radio programming. Screenings of Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats & Rhymes and Further Off the Straight & Narrow: New Gay and Lesbian Visibility on Television enhanced the discourse. The conference closed with a stirring speech by Green For All founder, Van Jones in which he stressed the tragedy of queer teen suicide.
Minnesota Fringe Festival
The Minnesota Fringe Festival which hit its stride in early August was, as usual, very queer-aware and drew bigger boxoffice this year than the year before. California’s out comic actor Les Kurkendaal and Minnesota’s popular lesbian spoken word artist Allegra Lingo had artistic growth spurts in ’08 with some of their best work yet. Both have matured and have built large audiences. In fact, Lingo’s delightful solo show, Tipping the Bucket, earned a coveted Fringe Encore presentation. She has a distinct way of connecting the ambience of a geographical place with identity.
Kurkendaal’s solo piece, The Attack of the Big Angry Booty was a brilliantly observed and original take on weight loss. He probed the self-esteem issues of the women he came into contact with at a weight loss center with caring compassion and wit. He also reflected body-beautiful obsession of gay men.
Live Action Set’s ensemble-driven, Deviants, was rigorously physical in ways that could be interpreted on levels erotic and pyschological. A man bathed himself in milk and seems to really relish it. A woman worked out a sadistic fantasy on a banana. Perhaps, she’s reliving a traumatic experience or exploring her capacity for violence in a ‘safe setting’? Whatever, it was a fascinating example of stage as inquiry. Fringegoers were beguiled by aggressive, unleashed physicality by each and every actor. Tarps were imaginatively used to obscure what we’re thrown to think of as naughty or indecent actions. Evocative music selections enhanced a haunting effect. Audience becomes pruriently voyeuristic.
My final sense was that director Robert Rosen’s brave actors tapped into moments in childhood, not necessarily traumatic ones either, where we have a thought or make an observation that ignites a tendency toward a certain fetish. Boys naturally playing around like puppies or kittens do with one another takes on a homoerotic qualityin adulthood. Depictions of bathing in milk and being suspended upside down in the adult world register as kinky. But perhaps they come out of childhood innocence and have a healing component we should try to understand them. Who decides that something is to be judged as prurient?
Playwright Trista Baldwin did it again with the astonishing American Sexy, my personal favorite along with You’re No Fun at Fringe ’08. Baldwin is a thinker about sexuality to be reckoned with. She comes at it from what feels like a heterosexual angle, but she’s not shy about bringing forth the lesbianic in her plays, though never gratuitously or phobically. Her stunning Patty Red Pants and her intriguing, if flawed, DOE are cases in point. American Sexy, shows Baldwin in top, sharp form, without being the least bit puritanical or reactionary. She reveals how too casual an approach to sex is destructive to the human spirit. Queer audiences watching American Sexy might have thought about how lesbianism can be reduced to just a kinky thing. In our rush to sexual and gender freedom, we risk being trivialized as sex objects by our own zestful pursuit to break free of constraints.
Baldwin warns us to not trivialize old-fashioned younger straight white guys. In-your-face approaches to sexual freedom can backfire and denigrate not only the one approached but the one doing the approaching.
That said, queer folk are always wise to look closely, and nonjudgementally, at how straight men are also boxed categorically (something Baldwin understands) and You’re No Fun homed right in on that with its anarchist-styled hobo as romantic leading man in a song & dance musical. Not the kind of ‘ideal man’ stereotype musicals are known for. After all, men are preyed upon to be handsome and buff just as women are preyed upon to be slim and exquisite. (Reverberations of Les Kurkendaal.) There’s profit to be made from beauty myths. The steroids and creatine crises of recent years come to mind for men. Eating disorders affect both genders. Manipulative advertising targets women and men, girls and boys.
However, though You’re No Fun’s leading man hobo is played by the handsome Luc Parker, he’s played appropriately crude and tacky and very sweet. This in turn, makes the leading woman, played with mischievous flair by Kat Wodtke, all the more unlikable when she expects him to be someone he isn’t. To heal herself, she then takes on his persona and propels the whole cast to switch their individual gender presentations. It’s ingenious. And let’s be honest, bisexuals of both genders, straight women, and gay men, can be notoriously picky and invasive when it comes to pushing their emotionally shut down men to be someone they aren’t. (I’ve been guilty of this myself.) He is who he is folks. Be with it. And love him. And guess what, you might then find what a miraculous guy he really is. And not just your fantasy. You’re No Fun offers that insight.
Feminism was seriously misapplied in Ophelia. If you’re going to show Shakespeare’s character of Hamlet as an overbearing sexist and Ophelia as the oppressed female, which she indisputably is, then you HAVE to look at the social hierarchies that both youths, and I stress ‘youths’, are constrained by.
Ophelia has a dangerous insinuation that Hamlet’s murder of Ophelia’s father, Polonious, was not to some degree egged on by the old fascist son of a bitch that he was. We actually sense from this production that Polonius is to be pitied for his fate as a surveilling politico who would use his own daughter as bait. The kind of attitude that says its okay for telecommunications companies to spy on their customers. But this play doesn’t take this into consideration. Hence, irony of ironies, this feminist deconstructive play, gives the old macho thugs a pass. Hamlet is scapegoated in this Studio Zero collaboration and the wickedness of the older patriarchs who set the evil in motion is projected onto Hamlet! Trouble is the Studio Zero collaborators are unconsicous of this.
The older major male players in the Shakespeare are essentially the puppeteers of youngsters Hamlet, Ophelia, and Laertes. These older major males are the most embedded and despicably patriarchal of forces: older established men of means and political power.
Hamlet’s uncle, the assassin King Claudius who killed his father and Polonius, Ophelia’s enabling father, have metaphorically castrated young Hamlet as a political force. To put Hamlet on a par with these two creeps is like putting some idealistic, poetic young antiwar protester (which Hamlet would surely be if he were born into current day) on the same level with Karl Rove and Dick Cheney!
Is Hamlet’s behavior bad? Of course. But, where does it come from and out of? Questions I guarantee you, old guard patriarchs don’t want you to ask. How ironic then, that feminists wouldn’t want you too either. Moreover, the show’s first scene wherein the two young lovers relax in a bathtub is enchanting but it’s a gimmick to seduce you into the play’s unexamined thesis. Also, the timidity around possible nudity in this section drew self-conscious attention to itself. You became too aware of how they’re trying to keep their bodies covered from the audience.
In responsibly feminist contrast, Dipped in Love by Martha Johnson, was served by a lovely production that vivified cultural differences between contemporary heterosexual marriages: Japanese, Indian, New England. You can argue that men’s absence as characters means they were not being fairly portrayed. However, Johnson, by virtue of how she has set up the play, opens the door for that inquiry. An inquiry which could be fascinating given what a deep and nuanced observer she is of cross-cultural relationships.
From a feminist overview, Johnson is also in swing with where we’re at now: like it or not, it’s a global world we live in. There’s much awkwardness in American feminism and progressivism in addressing non-Western cultures’ sexism and homophobia. You’re not supposed to do that! Even if women and queers are being marginalized. That’s just their culture, right? But if that’s the case, that means we can never discuss any of these urgent gender and sexuality problems at all. And for this writer, examining, inquiring, and deconstructing such concerns is crucial if our species is to survive. Johnson gets that ball rolling.
A show where male negativity was disturbingly and damningly portrayed was writer-director Allen Hamilton’s Antigone: …A Riff on Sophocles in a stunning performance by Danial Brewer as King Creon. His deadly clash with niece Antigone (Maggie D’Ambrose) is played out as an activist homage to various rebels, male and female. Placards were displayed of Cindy Sheehan, Rosa Parkes, and. Sophie Scholl. Like Ophelia, this adaptation was drawn from one of the West’s primary texts but unlike Ophelia, it spirited forth a contemporary reverberation in concert with the original. Shakespeare was brushed aside but Sophocles was honored. Hamilton scrupulously created a macho surveillance-driven world that destroys the realm of female.
Youth Performance Company scored a triumph with a young male cast in The BoyShow with some great tunes by Todd Price. Like Dipped in Love, this revue attuned to the next phase re. gender that society-at-large needs to enter into: the way boys are raised, programmed, and belittled into rigid gender roles. Frank and funny depictions of the anguish adolescent boys go through about body image, erections, homophobia, and expectations of masculine presentation were hilariously realized,
A mostly teen cast also scored a triumph as well with Frank Wedekind’s classic 1891 nonmusical play, Spring Awakening (now adapted into a Tony-winning musical). Director Grant Sorenson’s superb cast mined issues of sexual guilt: the irony of an abortion that springs from deliberate sexual disinformation unconscionably fueled by puritanical adults; the cowardly way in which excessively conservative adults obstinantly refuse to give their children vital information about sex; the literally deadly obsession with grades (painfully relevant in our age of the destructive neocon policy of No Child Left Behind); and innocently sweet expression of homoromantic feelings. This show would have been neocon moral policewoman Katherine Kersten’s worst nightmare. Add to that, the youngsters who birthed this beautiful production were not from the sinful inner city, but from (gasp!) the western suburbs!
Whatever Wedekind’s sexual orientation, he sure had sensitivity to gayness. Someone who follows in his spirit, whether he knows it or not, is Dan Bernitt, Only in his early 20s, but already a LAMBDA Theatrical finalist, his solo piece, Phi Alpha Gamma moved, surprised, and even shocked some Fringegoers Its harsh portrayal on homophobia and its emotional residue in a college fraternity understands the tragic psychology of homophobia. Hence, it’s rendered with anguish, not vindictiveness. Indeed, the gaybasher character, when imprisoned, is raped systematically but its not written with a mean spirit. It’s the logical, real-life, ironic outcome.
Morover, Bernitt seems to hint at something Gore Vidal has touched on in recent years and which the current military torture scandals seem to reveal: rape is an unpoken point of US penal system policy. The so-called prison/industrial complex capitalizes on it. My only quibble is that as Bernitt’s gaybasher endures his rapes in order to avoid more extensive gang rapes, he might come to some deeper realization about the pain he has caused before incarceration. Indeed, Bernitt does have us feel compassion toward the criminal’s plight but I want him to probe deeper. He’s an exciting young writer-performer.
Prison was also central to the hilariously terrifying Fool For a Client written and performed by D.C. comedian Mark Whitney. It became a Fringe Encore presentation as well.
Drawing from the trauma and drama around his actual conviction for bank fraud, this riveting solo comedy piece hits hard in this time of government bailouts of big business and of private citizens being illegally surveilled and ruined. Whitney is also ballsy because, though a white heterosexual man, he dares to use the n-word and the term ‘cocksucker’. Not to shock or irritate, but to portray legitimately the reality of the gritty world he reflects and the insidious justice system he exposes.
He’s rightly hard on Bush and the GOP but the Clinton administration and the Democrats don’t get off the hook either.
For those who know classic contemporary gay playwrights, you will recall the significance of Robert Patrick, a major figure well before Tony Kushner and Terrence McNally who came to dominate that category. There are still gay playwrights who, whether they realize it or not, build on the tradition of light, highly sexed comedies that Patrick wrote so well. Such writing can be dismissed as inconsequential but those dismissing are mistaken. The Patrick tradition for all its lightheartedness can be amazingly revelatory about the volatile nature of erotic and romantic desire.
I see playwright Matthew A. Everett as an evolution of the Patrick aesthetic. His
marvelous The Bronze Bitch Flies at Dawn was a definite crowdpleaser at Fringe because it showed us something we typically don’t see in plays or films: a richly drawn depiction of the conflation of erotic desire and business transaction. The negotiation portrayed between a nerd type and a narcissistic stud as to what terms they will come to before they get down and dirty was fascinating, unpredictable, and brutally frank. The pursued stud, played perfectly by Sasha Andreev, ultimately seems to be more ambiguous in his desire than the defined straight edge he presents to the gay guy, played darlingly by Buddy Haardt. Everett may have committed a cardinal sin in the eyes of those gay guys who insist you’re either gay or straight, because the possibility of sexual ambiguity is definitely at play here. Of course, such guys will probably insist the stud is ‘denying his sexuality’.
Gay’s the total thing, though, in Dog Tag, presented with Bronze Bitch and which Everett wrote with the gifted Anne Bertram. This gem of comedy looks at the breakup of a male couple through the eyes of their dog. Vestiges of A.R. Gurney’s canine comedy Sylvia, obviously, but the gay slant makes it unique, endearing, and universal, all at the same time. Joe Bombard exuded darling puppy energy.
Longstanding, albeit embittered, friendship between a gay man and a straight man
in a time of grieving, was rendered vividly in Lex Ham Community Arts’ Hue and Cry. (Full disclosure: I am on LHCA’s board). Deirdre Kinehan’s script is overly vague in specifics about past events that shaped the friendship. Too much seems too inside. Nonetheless, Robin Johnson directed two strong performances by Grant Henderson and Nicholas Leeman. It culminated in a wonderfully ritualistic and humorous stripping off of clothing.
Another playwright who needs to flesh out what could still become a very good play ultimately, is Timothy J. Meyer whose adjective bravely examined transgressive love between a teen and her teacher. Director Megan Dowd’s cast was crisp and unafraid of the subject matter, which is so very important, when dealing with controversial topics. They also found lots of humor inherent in Meyer’s script. However, there seemed to be missing a sense of danger. Brandon Sommers who played the teacher, Dowd, and Meyer might develop this further. What’s going on with a man who is so deep in denial that what he’s doing is so out of line? And it seems that Meyer does indeed feel this is out of line.
Same with the girl played appealingly and humorously by Madison Rubenstein. At risk of sounding cliche, abuse is afoot in these sorts of things typically and Meyer needs to probe that too. Hopefully, this group will develop this piece further. After all, that’s another reason people do experimental work at the Fringe.
Obviously, the gay-oriented Great American Horror Movie Musical was popular because it was one of the Fringe Encore presentations. Unfortunately I missed it. It looked at those victimized by antigay and antifeminist terrorist Eric Rudolph who was also responsible for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombings. He was a member of the Christian Identity movement and is currently in prison.