Friday, May 28, 2010

Theater Review - Mother Tongue

By F.J. Harland
Directed by Margarett Perry
Gayfest 2010 - New Plays for Our Times, Abingdon Theater, NYC

I’ll be honest. As a straight woman, when I go to see a play that is targeted for gay audiences, I often feel a little nervous about it. Even in New York City where anything goes and often does, I can still feel that prickly sensation of “What am I doing here?”; and then I get the distinct feeling that all the other gay male audience members surrrounding me are wondering exactly the same thing. However, I enjoy Kevin Spirtas as an actor and try to catch his shows when he’s in New York. With Kevin’s last play, LOADED (performed at Theatre Row's Lion Theatre), my heterosexual qualms were not put to rest. With the attitude of the two characters often militantly opposed to any other gender or preference besides that of gay male, I was almost expecting an usher to drag me out of the theater just for having a pair of breasts.

Not so in the case of MOTHER TONGUE.

This dramedy was a delight, emotionally accessible for everyone of adult age. And the bonus? You still get to see Kevin Spirtas in the altogether. In fact, he was nude twice and for a much cheaper admission!

But seriously…although this play was part of the Gayfest Series, it was a more about dealing with the loss of a loved one more than anything else. Matt (Jake Paque), a young painter deals with the angst of two major influences in his life: his mother, the delightful Bertie (J.J Van Name) who has carved out for herself an entire stand-up comedy career out of bashing her unfaithful husband long after he had passed away, and his lover Cale (played by Kevin Spirtas), a sexy older man with haunted eyes ripped right out of the pages of Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca (“every gay man’s wet dream”) who is wrestling with his own grief over a lover who died tragically. A crazy rollercoaster ride veering from outrageous humor to bittersweet pathos, my attention never once wavered.

Playing in the June Havoc Theater as part of the Abingdon Theater complex, this play definitely supported the adage that “less is more”. The black box theater made the show much more intimate and therefore all that more emotionally powerful. I hope that this play continues to flourish with other venues.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Theater Review - Journeys

When you set out for Ithaka
ask that your way be long,
full of adventure, full of instruction.
The Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,
angry Poseidon - do not fear them:
such as these you will never find
as long as your thought is lofty, as long as a rare
emotion touch your spirit and your body.
The Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,
angry Poseidon - you will not meet them
unless you carry them in your soul,
unless your soul raise them up before you.

Ithaca, written by Constantine P. Cavafy


As quoted by Thaao Penghlis at the beginning and end of his presentation of JOURNEYS at Cape May Stage (Cape May, NJ), this poem captures the essence of why he has spent most of his life traveling the world. Not only has he roamed to exotic countries which many of us have not visited but dared to explore places where few of us are even allowed to go.

I have followed Thaao’s career for many years, enduring the crazy highs and lows of DAYS OF OUR LIVES, enjoying the remade 1980s series of MISSION IMPOSSIBLE and trying to catch the occasional television movie -- but this presentation revealed a new character: that of the steadfast explorer, determined to find spiritual enrichment through his adventures. This quotation from Thaao’s website illustrates his frame of mind: “It seems that all these journeys I have taken were places to hide, to forget, to escape, and eventually discover their meaning by going through them and the revelations that were waiting for me to embrace. It helped me weave the fabric that I would wear for the rest of my life, and in the end bring me closer to the God in me.”

The evening began with a promotional video montage of Thaao’s travels with a flair that evoked memories of MISSION IMPOSSIBLE. Believing that “luck is when opportunity meets commitment,” Thaao stated that he would not take no for an answer when it came to pursuing his quests. As he described several of his trips in chronological order, there was no doubt that the man meant what he said. From being caned four times for touching a sarcophagus when he was a young boy on a school field trip to traveling through Lebanon while members of Hezbollah were pointing rifles at him for hours, every consequence or setback seemed to only spur him on to the next adventure.

Primarily interested in history, art and archeology, Thaao revealed that he considered his acting career to be the job which financed his passion for travels around the globe. However, his talent as an experienced storyteller served to make this presentation work. Spiced with bravado and humor, his stories were consistently fascinating, even while he was throwing about historical references and dates with encyclopedic precision, teaching as well as entertaining.

As of this date, the next journey will be to the Himalayas where Thaao will study the “lost years” of Jesus, known by the Buddhist and Hindu holy men of ancient times as “Saint Issa“. See this article for more about this mysterious time of the past of Jesus.

At the end of the evening, Thaao announced that negotiations are in the works for a future reality TV show based upon his travels. I wish this series the best of luck in its creation. Since reality television seems to be all the rage now, it would be a relief to see a television show that actually has some intelligence involved and is not all about the teenage demographics and the lowest common denominator.

I wish Thaao the best of luck for his new series; and while he’s at it, I hope he finds other venues for this presentation as it is a pleasure.

May his next journey be a great one!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Theater Review - The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity

THE ELABORATE ENTRANCE OF CHAD DEITY performed by 2econdStageTheatre in NYC, written by Kristoffer Diaz and directed by Edward Torres; running until June 20th

My preconceived idea about this play is that I wouldn’t like it. Just the title of THE ELABORATE ENTRANCE OF CHAD DEITY accompanied by the heavily-testosteroned African American wrestler on the cover of the playbill made me feel like I was about to walk into one of those sports biopics along the lines of ROCKY; and while I actually enjoyed watching ROCKY, the thought of enduring such a rah-rah yay-for-everything-in-the-boxing-ring story from the second row of a theater was building up a bit of a dread factor.

However, the title and picture was misleading.

This play was more of a cynical and humorous look of the world of sports television behind the scenes. In fact, THE WRESTLING (title of the television show that this play is about) is more along the lines of one of those reality TV shows that in all actuality has very real reality involved.

Everything is larger than life in the arena of THE WRESTLING. Complete with strobe lights and flash and live on-camera action, the show provides plenty of eye candy, successfully invoking the tacky glamour of the sports world. But not all is as it would seem. Chad Deity (Terence Archie), the star wrestler of the show and parody of Muhummad Ali at the height of his fame, in truth sucks as a wrestler, having the charisma and the body but no real ability. Macedonio Guerra (Desmin Brooks), a regular on the show, gets paid to lose all the matches for a living in order to make the “stars” like Chad Deity look good. When Vigneshwar Paduar, an Indian basketball player from Brooklyn, gets a job on THE WRESTLING, all bets are off as the status quo gets shaken up.

Michael T. Weiss plays Everett K. Olson, the money-hungry producer of THE WRESTLING who will stoop to anything, including exploiting racial stereotypes and stirring up political aggression, to boost up ratings and make money. Weiss plays the role with bombastic humor. I always get a kick out of seeing him play one of the bad guys after so many years of watching his heroic roles such as Mike Horton of DAYS OF OUR LIVES and Jarod of THE PRETENDER. By the by, Michael has a role in the upcoming film, SEX AND THE CITY 2.

The rest of the cast was brought to NYC from Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago and reeked of macho energy as well as excellent comic timing.

An edgy comedy reflecting on the absurdity of the age we live in…