Saturday, February 25, 2006

The Politics of the Closet on Broadway

In this preview of shows opening on Broadway this spring, Charles Isherwood fails to mention that three of the four shows he discusses star lesbians. There's Cynthia Nixon* in Rabbit Hole, Lisa Kron of The Five Lesbian Brothers in her own show, The Well, and Cherry Jones in Faith Healer. Now, their lesbianism is not particularly relevant to any of these shows, all of which seem to mostly be about family and the fact that life sucks, so perhaps it's best that Isherwood doesn't sensationalize by mentioning their personal lives. I'm sure there have been plenty of articles that mention lots of gay men on Broadway without talking about their sexuality, but the whole thing does raise the question of where the line between private and closet falls. Might there have been a reason to mention Kron's history with the Five Lesbian Brothers or the WOW Cafe? I, for one, am glad to see lesbian actresses getting work and I think that sexuality isn't a relevant issue in this particular article, but it did make me think about when you do and don't discuss an actor's sexuality.

*NOTE: The assertion of Nixon's queerness may not be entirely accurate; she seems to have refused to confirm or deny the fact (and she is known to have had boyfriends previously), so she can't really be considered an out lesbian actress.

Orton on Broadway

I'm a huge Joe Orton fan. He's funny and dirty and fabulous. So I was thrilled to hear that The Roundabout Theatre is reviving Entertaining Mr. Sloane. I know Sloane backwards and forewards, and yet I would absolutely love to see again. Ben Brantly's preview of perverse British plays opening this spring on Broadway has reminded me why people go to New York to see shows. I certainly wish I had the money to fly out and see shows periodically. As a matter of fact, I would love to see the Roundabout's whole season (how great would Alan Cumming be in Threepenny Opera translated by Wallace Shawn?)

Are Russian Vampires Better?

Nightwatch. (Nochnoi Dozor). Nuart Theatre. 2/25/06.

I really enjoyed Nightwatch. It's a Russian movie adapted from a the first in a trilogy of novels about vampires, an impending apocolypse, and battles between Good and Evil. Its sequel, Daywatch, is apparently already in theaters in Russia. It kind of reminded me of what Constantine should have been if it had been done right.

Overall, I'd say that the movie was extremely well done. It was dark and intense in a creepy, grimy way. It was like The Lord of the Rings or The Matrix in epic action storytelling, but much less visually crisp and clean. Very Russian, I suspect. The plot was complicated, and not always entirely clear, but less confusing than just giving the impression that there was a lot below the surface that may or may not be revealed. While it wasn't precisely morally ambiguous (it's very clear who are the good guys and bad guys), it was complex, with a rather flawed hero. There was plenty of blood, and the violence wasn't pleasurable and satisfying the way it would be in a summer action movie.

Oddly enough, this particlar film is getting recognition for its subtitles, which are a little more artistic than the standard boring white subtitles across the bottom of the screen, but not unusual enough to be irritating. The editing of the film is also notable, though it's sometimes great and sometimes distracting. It moves very fast, which is mostly a good thing that serves to keep the audience engaged but can occasionally be disruptive, especially in the final sequence.

The movie itself has a pretty strong visual sense and moments of brilliance, including an adorable moment when one of the characters watches Buffy the Vampire Slayer and a beautifully creepy animal-to-human transformation. Some of the fights were hard to follow, but mostly disorienting in a fascinating way.

The New Yorker review of this film is fascinating. I'm not sure the reviewer actually understood the film particuarly well, but he managed to be quite snarky anyway, putting the emphasis more on his own cleverness than the film. So I'd say don't believe him, although I love the line:

The battle between good and evil, in its messy desperation, feels not like a comic-strip confection, as in “X-Men,” but like the foul-tasting hangover of something true.
If Russian vampire action is your kinda thing, go check it out. I'm totally engrosed and will be seeing Daywatch whenever it makes it over.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

A mental break

I'm in the middle of some serious work, but I took a little break to read blogs, and what did I come across? This. Now, normally I wouldn't be looking at the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue to save my life, but I'm fascinated by the retro pinup style of these photos. It makes me happy when 40s and 50s glamour appears in contemporary culture.

(via kinky bitch.)

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Whores are great!

Sex Workers Art Show. Northwest Campus Auditorium. UCLA. 2/14/06.

It's a bad sign when you arrive to see the artists leaving the venue ten minutes after the performance should have started. When I got to the show late (traffic), I was hoping it hadn't begun, but I wasn't expecting to find the audience locked out. The show started half an hour late due to extreme technical difficulties, and while I was initially annoyed, the show was more than worth the wait, and they did a great job of rolling with the punches as the sound cut out spontaneously, microphones only sometimes worked, and technology proved generally unreliable. They went on with the show despite everything, and did an excellent job. Each of the individual performers was excellent, and I will try to talk about all of them, though I will sadly be brief about it. This altogether, despite technical difficulties, was an absolutely wonderful, sexy, brilliant, well-organized show and I encourage everyone who can to get out and see it. The schedule is here.

Annie Oakley organized the show and introduced the performers, but I would have liked to have heard more from her about the project, the artists, herself, anything. I want to listen to what this woman has to say.

Once the show finally started, it began with a beautiful dance piece by Julie Atlas Muz. Muz opened and closed the show, with her first piece involving bondange and stripping, and her closing piece entitled "Bloodbath." Both were short, simple, and stunning. She has a beautiful body and she uses it with wonderful skill and expression. She had a rough time with an audience that wasn't warmed up and didn't know what to expect, but that's no indictment of her skill. It was just strange to be cheering loudly for a naked women, whose performance was so clearly beautiful and artistic, especially with a modest audience of mostly queers, feminists, and other people particularly sensitive to exploitation. It took a little encouragement to convince us to be vocal, but once the crowd warmed up, we really did love the performers.

Tralala Farsi Sentiamo really broke in the audience by reading a fun, not entirely erotic piece about sex work. She encouraged us to laugh and cheer, and got a really great atmosphere going.

Scarlot Harlot, "one of the foremothers of the sex workers' rights movement," performed a great Dworkin/McKinnon spoof, then stripped to her fabulous unrepentant whore self and performed a song about her weight. Her performance was fierce and fun and fabulous, and she's really a force of nature.

Michelle Tea was really the one I was there to see. I've read several of her books, and I think Rent Girl is the greatest thing ever and I would recommend it to anyone. But, despite my adoration, I had never seen Michelle Tea perform. I had seen her in person, at several of Katastrophe's shows and once just on the streets of San Francisco, but I'd never heard her read. It turns out she's an amazing performer as well as an amazingly talented writer; she chose a great, hilarious selection from Rent Girl and she read it perfectly with wonderful clarity and expression and animation. She's another one I would just love to listen to her talk for as long as she was willing to do so. I can't wait for Rose of No Man's Land and I hope she does a book tour!

Simone de la Getto of Harlem Shake Burlesque performed a fun burlesque strip number, and then sang a song, for which the music cut out in the middle and she continued fabulously. She is quite a performer, and although there were scary moments as she gave audience members lap dances, in general she had a great connection to the audience and a great performance in general.

The adorable Bridget Irish perfomed a wacky reverse strip tease in which she emerged onstage naked and in secret agent fashion she had to find articles of her clothing stashed all over the theater. Despite the stripping of other performers, there was something much more disconcerting about a naked lady running through the theater. It felt like a real triumph and a relief when she managed to find and put on her bra!

Juba Kalamka of The Deep Dick Collective performed a fascinating song/performance piece entitled something like (I may be wrong about this) "Requiem for a Nigga Ass 'Ho." It was an intense, serious piece displaying his musical range and skill.

All of these performers were selling merchandise, and I wanted it all. I bought a Sluts Unite T-shirt for the sheer audacious fabulousness of it (I'm not sure if/when I'll wear it). But I kind of also wanted a Sex Workers' Art Show t-shirt (the one with the mud flap girl); if I weren't quite so broke, I totally would have bought that, too. And I came home later and realized I should have also purchased Rough Tongues: Femmes Write Porn as a V-day present to myself, so I ordered it from Amazon. I will probably also break down and purchase Scarlot Harlot's book, Unrepentant Whore as well; I bet it's great. Overall, for a free show it cost me $21, but these women deserve my money; they were pretty darn awesome. If anyone outside of LA reads this, and the show's coming to your town, by all means get your ass there and bring plenty of cash. You'll be glad.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Transitional Violence

Imani Henry. B4T. Highways Performance Space. 2/9/06.

I'm glad Imani Henry is telling his story. B4T is an interesting and valuable look at the pains and difficulties of three "Black, masculine, female-bodied people." These are stories that need to be told, and I am very much glad that I heard them. Henry is a talented performer, doing a fairly good job at establishing separation between 3 similar characters and doing an excellent job at keeping the audience engaged throughout. He talks skillfully at the intersections of race, class, gender and sexuality, and those positions and perspectives are important.

What bothered me about this piece, however, was its conceptualization of transition. B4T didn't seem particularly intended to educate the viewer about transition in any way, which is fine, but it consistently depicted testosterone or medical transition as a violent rupture in the speakers' lives, and I'm not entirely comfortable with that. For LaShawnda, the most visibly female-bodied of the three characters, the decision to transition was configured to suggest suicide. For Keith, who seems to be post-transition but reminiscing, he discusses how he could never go back, couldn't or wouldn't go to a high school reunion or see the friends who knew him to be a girl however much he was one of the guys. For Imani, the violence is in his inability to explain an impending transition to his dying grandmother, the enforced silence that comes from a not entirely accepting family.

The other thing that bothered me about the piece was its profound rejection of the term 'lesbian.' While it's perfectly understandable that these characters who don't consider themselves women might have problems with being labeled 'lesbian,' the revulsion for the term wasn't carefully teased out in this piece. Keith's absent interviewer, placed in a strange position of authority by her absence and seemingly elevated posiiton, was apparently a lesbian and Keith asked her 'why can't you tell your own stories,' creating and exacerbating a distance between himself as subject and the interveiwer as academic, lesbian, and seeminly priviledged. There was an extremely difficult moment, almost unexplored, in which Keith said that his girlfriend of 10 years was a lesbian, and it was profoundly unclear about whether that meant that she still identifies as lesbian or just that she did when they met. And either way, how does he feel about that? How does she feel about that? These absent female partners were pushed into an extemely awkward erasure throughout the piece in that both Kieth and Imani acknowledged girlfriends, but failed to represent them or even talk about them coherently Similarly, the butch and FTM person of color slide show that bridged the gap of a costume change featured several photos in which the subjects were kissing girlfriends, but those girlfriends were similarly unrecognized.

The success of B4T is in performing 3 different characters telling their stories in relationship to race, gender, and identity. The failure was in showing why and how these were three different characters. Why and how weren't they 3 aspects of Imani telling his own story? Would it have been more powerful speaking from a place of explicit identity rather than semi-autobiographical fiction? I would have liked to see more about where and why these characters divereged and conflicted. Why and how were each of them before T? I found myself wondering how long Henry had been performing this piece. How distant is the moment before T? How has this piece changed as his body has changed? Why not tell a story after T? B4T is a step in the right direction in terms of making more explorations of identity available and raising issues related to gender and sexuality. There are a lot more steps out there, and I'm excited to see them all.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

I think I've got a V-day plan!

It appears that The Sex Workers' Art Show is going to be in LA on Valentine's Day. First of all, the universe is clearly trying to kill me; I'm far too busy for ANOTHER show that I must see. Second of all, why did I not know about this? Third of all, I must go. How could I miss Michelle Tea and Scarlot Harlot?

Here's some copy from the show's website:

The show is a critically-acclaimed eye-popping evening of visual and performance art created by people who work in the sex industry to dispel the myth that they are anything short of artists, innovators, and geniuses!

The wildly-successful cabaret-stlye show is hitting the road again to bring audiences a blend of burlesque, spoken workd, music, and multimedia performance art as well as a visual art display that travels with the show. Intelligent and hot, disturbing and hilarious, the performances offer a wide range of perspectives on sex work, from celebration of prostitution and sex-positivity to views from the darker sides of the industry.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The '50s were sooo kinky!

Monroe, Marilyn. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. 1953.

Wow, this movie was strange and different and even kind of hot. I totally loved it. Monroe called her boyfriend 'Daddy' throughout the movie, which sounds so weird to contemporary ears. You certainly don't hear things like that now. Also, there were strange situations involving a young (pre-adolescent) boy actually admitting he had a sex drive and kind of ridiculously hitting on Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell. You might sometimes see that today, but it's something that freaks us out much more these days.

The thing that really got me was the bondage chandelier. In the "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend" dance number, there were, for no apparent reason, several girls dressed in strips of black fabric or leather and chains holding up candelabras. It seemed very kinky and completely unnecessary. Is this the evolution or a mimickry of a Bugsby Berkeley dance number?

The movie in general was delightful, but odd. Though it rather scandalized me, this demonstrated that the '50s, at least in this manifestation, were better about being open (and not guilty) about sex than movies are now. Richard Dyer (Heavenly Bodies) argues that Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is the least appropriate of Monroe's movies for her personality, and I sort of understand that. Lorelei was an interesting character, but Monroe's breathy innocence seems inconguous with Lorelei's cynical greed. It makes her seem really creepy and manipulative, which is odd because you're sort of supposed to sympathize with her.

Anyway, I completley enjoyed this movie. It was fun and amazing, and the campy Jane Russell and the naked athletes scene featured in The Celluloid Closet was especially wonderful. I totally see why Monroe was seen, according to Dyer, as the embodiment of a pure and natural sexuality breaking away from conservative morality. I love it!

Seriously, though, despite all of the feminist film theory I've been reading, I was very much seduced by the spectacle and visual pleasure of this film. The costumes were lush and gorgeous, and Monroe and Russell were a striking and dynamic pair. And with Russell's height and sharp features, the two of them would make a lovely butch/femme couple. And of course, the utter, ridiculous, nonsensical, outrageousness of the whole plot and situation of the movie kept me broadly entertained.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Not sure I know what to say about this one

Pappa Tarahumara. Ship in a View UCLA Live. Royce Hall. 2/4/06.

I tend to be suspicious of anything where a synopsis or review claims that their work is "capturing the enduring wonder and indescribable beauty in all things", and I'm still rather suspicious after seeing this performance. Pappa Tarahumara is a Japanese modern dance troupe that is, I believe, vaguely butoh-inspired. I have nothing like the vocabulary and knowledge to provide an informed review of their performance, and I make no pretense to understanding it, but I will say that I felt fairly intellectually engaged. Pieces of it kind of reminded me of Merce Cunningham work I've seen (or at least the bicycle bit from Variations V). The LA Times Review provides a decent thrashing of the work. The production was cool and grey and the effect overall was rather mind-numbing, although I didn't know what was going on, so I was paying fairly close critical attention. There was some gesture toward a plot and setting, but it was unclear and poorly developed. Supposedly the production was a representation of a seaside town in the 60s, but I'm not sure how I was supposed to know that other than the fact that the program told me.

I did have a rather large problem with the piece in terms of gender, though. There were some interesting gender issues, including the fact that one (or possibly two) members of the ensemble were men wearing dresses, which was curious in a good way. The bad thing, however, was that the production seemed incredibly phallocentric. There was a giant pole in the middle of the stage, for goodness sake. And twice, men climbed the pole to perform, but women never did. There was also a man (not in a dress) who sat upstage center for almost the the entire performance in a clear position of patriarchal authority. I found him rather suspicious. And, most of all, there were two women who seemed to represent aspects of female sexuality, and whenever either of these two women, the one with the curly hair and the one with the bob, did anything suggestive or overly wild, they were punished with sexual violence. There were two moments in which the woman with the curly hair was roughly embraced by a man whenever she got close or flirtatious with him and she had to break away violently. The girl with the bobbed hair, at some point near the end of the show, spent a few minutes with her dress up showing the audience her underwear for no apparent reason. Immediately following that, she was practically nailed to some boards upstage. The gender and sexuality in this performance was profoundly disturbing to me.

The most frustrating thing about the performance was its false ending. There were several points where it felt like it was building to a climax and a conclusion that never came. At about an hour and 15 minutes into the production, they were in the middle of something that felt very much like the end. It was about my limit of endurance and the music seemed to be reaching an ending and I was all ready to start clapping and watch them take their bows, but NO, without giving the audience any kind of mental break they continued into a whole new section where everyone changed clothes and they did it all for no apparent reason. This new section seemed in no way dramatically different from any of the other work that came before.