Tuesday, November 29, 2005

In Need Of Queer Eye for the Straight Musical

The Drowsy Chaperone. The Ahmanson Theatre. 11/27/05.

The LA Times loved it. Personally, I'd have to say that The Drowsy Chaperone was startlingly deficient on gay people. Apparently, for some that's a good thing, as the Times review asserts ""Director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw (of Broadway's "Spamalot") gives all the performers a long leash when it comes to chewing scenery and winking at the audience, but he rarely allows them to descend into camp." For me, a good sense of camp was exactly what this musical was lacking.

For me, the biggest problem was Bob Martin as the Man in Chair. He played his role well, but far too heterosexually. The role was just a little too painful and pathetic, talking too much about how he was in the closet. This was the abject gay man at its most depressing, played by a very clearly straight man who doesn't actually understand or love the character. This should be a man who celebrates musicals as an expression of his queerness, whether he is open about that queerness or not. There needs to be more love. I'd love to see Nathan Lane go for it, over the top and campy, with passion and love. Martin is one of the creators of the musical, so one could argue that his is the most 'authentic' performance possible. The role was, after all, written for him. And one can assume that yes, he does love the show. But he needs to love and understand the character more so that it's not an uncomfortable travesty of a gay man.

Similarly, I thought Beth Leavel as the Drowsy Chaperone was a little too serious and not quite enough aging diva. It's an astounding role, and it could be wonderful, but it wasn't quite there yet. She should be doing Bette Davis in All About Eve, a little past her prime and severely threatened by the young ingenue. While she had her moments, for the most part she was forgettable. This might have to do more with the part than the peformance, though.

The most fabulous performances for me, personally, were Edward Hibbert (who I saw as Oscar Wilde in Gross Indecency) as Underling, the butler. He was beautifully dry (and all wet) and just the right combination of campy and straight man. I wonder what he would do with the role of Man in Chair? Also, Dannny Burstein as Adolpho the Latin Lover was hilarious and huge and campy and that was wonderful. Eddie Korbich as George, the best friend, was great as well. His dancing was excellent and his character animated. I would have loved to see more of him in this show.

Sutton Foster as Jane, the leading lady, was good. She did her one big show-stopping number excellently, and the most interesting thing about her performance is the intertextuality it creates with her role as Millie in Thoroughly Modern Millie, the kind of role that this musical was spoofing. She's a quirky and interesting performer, and I'm not sure exactly how I feel about her, but I am fascinated.

The other major flaw in this production, I thought, was in Troy Britton Johnson as Robert, the leading man. He couldn't really dance, he was too stiff, and in general completely uncompelling. Which could be read as a commentary on the vacuity of the leading men in some of these shows, but I would rather have seen a good spoof of Fred Astaire than his muddled stiffness.

Right now, this musical rather reminds me of a show that I worked on in high school, a musical spoof of Agatha Christie mysteries called Something's Afoot. That, like this, was a good, fun show but not quite Broadway-quality. I think it could be revised into something Broadway-ready, but I'm not sure it's quite there yet. I'd put it though another round of revisions or give the cast some leeway to rework it a bit. Don't be afraid of being campy; in musicals, that's a good thing.

A lesbian musical?!?

When I hear that there's something out billing itself "The Lesbian Musical," many things go through my head. One of them is certainly, "This I've got to see!" But apparently it's true, and here in LA. So yes, I will be going to see The Breakup Notebook: The Lesbian Musical.

I'm already dubious about the tag line "...because everyone deserves a love song." Ugh. Also, one of the cast members actually made the first line of her bio ""___ is not a lesbian but is thrilled to be playing one onstage." Anyone that weirdly compelled to assert her heterosexuality is pretty lame in my book. But there are some good omens, too. The Musical Director apparently worked on Reefer Madness when it was here in LA and I saw it in a little NoHo theater.

But anyway, I must see it. Previews start Dec. 2 and it opens Dec. 10 for a "limited engagement" of unspecified length. I don't know when, but it's definitely on the agenda.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Ditch the comparisons

Ditch. Akbar. 11/19/05.

Local performance artist Kristina Wong performed numbers from her show, Miss Saigon with the Wind, at DITCH on Saturday. I've long meant to see Wong perform, and I'm glad I had this opportunity, although it's no substitute for an actual show. This particular space creates the strangest performance dynamic ever, because it's a bar, not a stage. There's no platform or real stage space to perform on, so the audience is packed in close around the performer on the dance floor. It's hard to see, and hot and crowded and often loud. Which made Wong's performance of the opening scene of Miss Saigon, in which she played all of the prostitutes (and soldiers) in the Saigon bar, incredibly strange and personal. While it's certainly not an ideal venue, it creates a fascinating performer/audience relationship. Wong's screetchy rendition of the (fairly vile) love ballad from Miss Saigon was hilarious as she switched between a saccharine female voice and an exaggeratedly deep masculine voice. I'm going to have to see more of Wong's performance before I can render judgement, but I must admit I'm curious and will try to get out to see a real show of hers soon.

DITCH at Akbar was superfun; the difference in events between DITCH at Zen Sushi and Ditch at AKBAR is huge. At Zen Sushi, there's a decent stage space and we can actually see and hear the performers and actually pay attention. At Zen Sushi, I've been able to carry on conversations better. But at Akbar, there's something to be said about the crushing crowd and loud music - I danced for hours and had an amazing time! Both times I've been to DITCH at Akbar (actually the first time more than the second), I've been with a smoker, so part of the event becomes going outside for fresh air and a cigarette, where there's more conversation and more meeting people and just standing on the street corner talking and taking a break from the heat and the noise, which is important with these events I think. It's one of the times I'm kind of glad to know people who smoke. The whole secondhand smoke thing makes me feel comfortable, it reminds me of friends of mine from college, pubs in London, and all sorts of other good associations with a bad smell. While they're very different experiences, both DITCH venues are amazing and wonderful in their own ways.

Something to be Thankful for

Trans/giving. 11/19/2005. Plummer Park, West Hollywood. 11/20/2005. UCLA.

This Trans/giving was, I believe, even better than those I have previously attended. Trans/giving was celebrating its second birthday and in doing so, they gathered a pretty great lineup of talent. I love the mix of local talent show and professional artists, but this group seemed especially well put-together Of course, it certainly doesn't hurt that one of the performers was Turner Schofield, my personal favorite performance artist.

Spoken word artist Ami Mattison came from Detroit to perform at this event, and her performance was incredibly powerful. She has a beautiful, powerful speaking style that can really electrify a room. Her pieces are wonderfully political and appropriately angry. They are brilliant pieces of writing delivered compellingly. Personally, I was distracted and maybe the tiniest bit obsessed with her hands, which she used well in general, but often held just in front of her pelvis, drawing attention to her crotch. I spent a lot of time during the performance thinking about what that symbolized, but also not wanting to think about anything but what she was saying, which was great. She has a voice and a style that I would gladly listen to all day long. She was selling her CD, but as far as I can tell she doesn't seem to have an up-to-date website of her own for me to recommend. But if you have a chance to see her, check her out.

Turner Schofield remains the up-and-coming performance artist that everyone must see. He's got all of the skill and talent of the perfomers of a previous generation that I love so much, Holly Hughes or Tim Miller or Peggy Shaw, and he's sweet and committed and accessible. On Saturday night, he performed a piece of Debutante Balls, which I have seen at least 3 times now and I never get sick of it. It is completely compelling and feels fresh every time. He's open and honest with an amazing storytelling quality. His comic timing is perfect, his inflections are beautiful, and he can win over almost any audience. Write your local college or performance space and encourage them to book him immediately.

On Sunday, Turner perfomed a piece fromUnderground Transit, which I had never seen before. This piece felt more like poetry and less like storytelling, and I just wanted to drown in the words sometimes. This piece felt younger somehow, less mature. It was fascinating and extremely well done, but somehow didn't blow me away the way Debutante Balls does every time. In the space of 15 minutes or so, he did 3 full costume changes, sang two songs, and talked about what seemed like a million different things. It was a crazy, brilliant, beautiful rainbow whirlwind. It felt like he was bursting with things that had to be talked about and they came out in no particular order exploding in every direction, so sometimes it was hard for his audience to follow. There were some moments I loved, but they seemed fragmented, too short, out of context. I love his Joe Androgynous, frat boy look with yellow pants and matching visor (do frat boys ever really match?) where he asks "Does this boy look like he's got a feminist consciousness?" and implicitly asks "Is this what I might have become?" It's a wonderful moment, but I'm not sure why or how we got from the suit to the frat boy look. I think my problem is that I didn't get the framing story; however tenuous or stream of consciousness it might be, I needed something more to bring these selections and personas together. What do these ideas have in common? What does the subway metaphor have to do with it all? Who was the woman in the red dress? It definitely made me want to see the whole show and find out.

The other highlight of this Trans/giving was Stephan Pennington on banjo (with Phil Gentry as backup guitarist). They performed a fabulous set that spanned genres from bluegrass to lesbian folk music to rock and roll. Stephan's vocals on "Wabash Cannonball" and the Elvis and George Michael songs were especially provokative and nearly inspired girls to swoon in the aisles. Their set was quite sexy and incredibly enjoyable to watch.

On Sunday, ryka aoli de la cruz performed an intricate and incredibly intense piece of poetry. It was an absolutely beautiful performance reaching over the gap from poetry to performance art. In this piece, cruz shared some things that were so incredibly personal that I as an audience member felt vulnerable for her.

It was an amazing set of performers at this Trans/giving and I am very much grateful that such an event exists, frequently bringing in amazingly talented out of town guest performers. This particular edition of the event was especially powerful and I very much appreciate everyone's hard work and dedication to making it happen.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Fiction and Technology

A thought on the frequent difficulty of accomodating contemporary technology into mainstream fiction. I'm not talking about SciFi here, I'm talking about the everyday stories, the classic plots, adapting to the availabilty of technology.

In many ways, Sarah Schulman was brilliantly presceint in saying, "Everything was getting computerized by the summer of '84, and it was happening so fast, a social critic could hardly keep up with it. Lila was having a hard time building a plot around a WANG word processor" (Schulman 250).

On the plane from Toronto, I was so mentally fried that I succombed to the temptation to watch the in-flight movie, Must Love Dogs. I love Diane Lane and I love John Cussak, so this movie did have some things going for it. But awareness of technology was not one of them. It was an entire movie about internet dating, and yet none of the characters seemed to own a cell phone. Not once or even twice but several times the plot revolved entirely around people showing up at other people's houses without calling first; who does that? It seems unbearably rude to me. The people writing, directing, and performing in these movies must know that this technology exists, why can't they figure out how to use it properly? Get around the awkwardness and the tired old plot devices and think about the way we live now!

Lesbians do Keroac

Schulman, Sarah. Girls, Visions, and Everything. In Triangle Classics: The Sophie Horowitz Story; Girls, Visions and Everything; After Dolores. New York: Quality Paperback Book Club, 1997.

"Lila Futuransky always knew she was an outlaw, but she could never figure out which one."

This is a book I picked up cheap because someone told me I should know about Sarah Schulman's dyke noir phase. In reading it, I am consistently amazed at Schulman's intelligence and prescience. While I would generally be dubious about anyone discussing 'the lesbian experience' in the '80s, I have to love Schulman's class and race politics. I find this rumination on Jack Keroac's On the Road set in the lesbian performance art community in New York fascinating. Her fictionalized Kitch-Inn seems like the best depiction of the WOW Cafe that I've ever read, complete with a hilariously successful 'Worst Performance Festival' and a crazy over night trash aesthetic. Helen Hayes and Mike Miller, poorly disguised representations of downtown queer performance luminaries, are fabulously reflective of the figures I've come to know through my work. While I don't know the scene well enough to tell if more of the characters are directly correlated to some of my favorite performance artists, the similarities and representations are wonderful.

Of course, that's not entirely what the book is about, though I kind of wish it were. It is about Lila Futuransky wandering through the East Village as Keroac wandered across America, doing things and meeting people and reflecting brilliantly. Lila, however, goes on a personal journey in which she falls in love and seems to sort of settle down, a plot line of which I am highly suspicious as a representation of lesbian adventures and trajectories. While my general lack of appreciation for On the Road arises from its excessive masculinity, I might criticize Girls, Visions, and Everything for being a bit too "lesbian" or a bit too bitter in the beginning and sweet at the end, but in general I love it.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Cool Queer Events this Weekend

I was trying not too drool over all the cool things happening this weekend, because I'll be out of town and thus I cannot go to them all, but I am sad. It's a great weekend for queer film because Outfest is putting on their people of color film festival, Fusion, on Saturday and Sunday. Also, there is a bunch of independent queer film at the Arclight's AFI Film Festival this weekend. I have a friend who's going to see Breakfast on Pluto, in which Cillian Murphy plays a transgendered woman in a '60s nightclub. And together, the two film festivals give you 3, yes 3, chances to see Margaret Cho in Bam Bam and Celeste (although one of them is last Tuesday and you already missed it. sigh.

In terms of performance, the most exciting thing to me is that the Butchlalis de Panochtitlan will be performing on Saturday (Nov. 12) at the Fusion festival at 6PM at Barnsdall Art Park. They're a super-fun group of performers, if sometimes a bit overly theoretical in tone, and totally cute, and I would definitely go see them if I were in town.

Next Top Lesbian

For some reason, I'm not quite sure why because I missed most of this week's episode (I prefer the replay on Tuesdays), Kim from America's Next Top Model, was doing a guest spot on Veronica Mars. My general appreciation of Kim as a vaguely butch face on TV inspired me to allow myself to fall victim to their crossover ploy. It actually worked fairly well - Veronica Mars was pretty good, and I was convinced to watch the whole episode. Kim's acting debut was a little rough- she was servicable but a bit awkward in a minor role as a rental car lackey, but I still believe that she needs to have a career beyond reality TV that will allow me to watch her more often.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

What's so great about Nov. 19?

The date of Nov. 19th wants to kill me. I was originally supposed to go to a USC football game, but I cancelled that when I realized that it conflicted with Turner Schofield performing at Transgiving, which of course I absolutely must see. If you ever have a chance, I highly, highly recommend that you see Turner's show. This tragically conflicts with DITCH at Akbar that night, which will probably also be awesome. Technically Transgiving ends at 9:30 and DITCH starts at 9, but the last time I was at Transgiving it was absolutely epic, starting an hour late and dragging until everyone was kicked out of the space. Akbar was the location of the first DITCH, and I had more fun that night than I had in a long time. It was an excellent evening and I suspect returning to the scene of the crime will be equally awesome. Also, Kristina Wong is performing at DITCH, an artist that Turner himself has frequently told me I must see. Saturday the 19th is also the UCLA leg of the conference formerly known as QGrad, the Queerscapes conference cohosted by USC and UCLA, but that should be over before the queer performance action really starts.

If you happen to be in San Francisco, Nov. 19th is also the date of the Miss Trannyshack 2005 Pageant, which will I'm sure be an absolutely amazing drag event.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Double booked!

At UCLA on Thursday (Nov. 3), 2 exciting queer scholars will be presenting papers at almost exactly the same time. Bad scheduling makes my life difficult!

Karen Tongson from USC will be presenting "From Weissnichtwo to Kalihi: The accent in Queer Provincial Imaginaries" at 4pm in 164 Royce Hall.

Sue-Ellen Case will be presenting ideas from her new book in the Distinguished Lecture Series for the department of Musicology in Shoenberg hall at 5pm.