Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Everybody Into The Pool

Professor Harold Hill wasted no time in identifying River City's biggest problem:
"I say you've got trouble, my friends.
Right here in River City.
With a capital 'T'
And that rhymes with 'P'
And that stands for POOL!"
Professor Hill was, of course referring to the kind of pool played in a billiards parlor. He was not the least bit concerned with an office betting pool, a secretarial pool, a motor pool, a tide pool, a press pool, or a reflecting pool.

Although Roman emperors had swimming pools (and swimming pools became popular in Britain during the 1800s), there were probably few, if any swimming pools in Meredith Willson's fabled River City of 1912. In 1907, the White Star Line's steamship, RMS Adriatic, became the first oceangoing vessel to boast a swimming pool. The RMS Titanic (which sank on April 15, 1912) was the first ocean liner to have the luxurious combination of a swimming pool, gymnasium, and Turkish baths for its first class passengers.

From Billy Rose's Aquacade to MGM's aquamusicals starring Esther Williams, swimming pools have provided the setting for breathtaking stunts, competitive diving contests, and expressions of art in motion. When Adolf Hitler invited Leni Reifenstahl to film the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, her training as a dancer helped shape the footage taken during the diving competition. The following clip is taken from her 1938 film, Olympia, which made her a trendsetter in sports photography.

Compare that to the following footage of a contemporary underwater ballet:

For many years, one of the biggest attractions at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City was the diving horse show:

And who could ever forget the underwater performances by the mermaids at Florida's Weeki Wachee Springs?

Swimming pools are the setting for two new dramas. One involves a provocative reinterpretation of a Shakespearean classic. The other is a low-budget reminder of what once constituted gay romantic fiction.

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A new release from Ariztical, Pooltime features every gay cliché known to modern homosexuals. Written and directed by Mike Donahue, most of this film takes place around someone's back yard pool in Los AngelesPooltime won't win any awards for good writing, good acting, or great filming. But it will undoubtedly appeal to a segment of the gay video mail-order audience that craves G-rated "relationship" films.

It might be best to consider Pooltime as the gay male equivalent of a chick flick. The main characters are four circuit boys who spend most of their time in bathing suits:
  • David (Marcus Harwell) is the pool party's host. By now in his early 40s, David has never had a lasting relationship and claims not to be looking for one. Handsome hunky, healthy, and hospitable, he is surprisingly lonely.
  • Virgil (Jeffrey Patrick Olson) is David's best friend. Loyal to a fault, Virgil has been "saving himself" for the right man (which, considering Virgil's age and long presence in West Hollywood, is hardly credible).
  • Roger (Mark C. Hanson) is David's red-headed friend whose biggest concern is going to the White Party in Palm Springs.
  • Paolo (Junes B. Zahdi) is Roger's close friend. A realtor who sees all relationships in terms of contracts that have start and finish dates, Paolo is dark, dashing, and decidedly single.

Enter the plot thickeners:
  • Tad (Tom Tangen) is David's fat, nosy, and gushing straight neighbor who always wants to crash the party.
  • Zelda (Carla Laemmle) is David's slightly bitter, divorced sister, who needs to drop her teenage son off at David's house so she can attend a financial meeting with her ex-husband.
  • Dexter (Kieran Newton) is David's nephew who quickly excuses himself from the guys around the pool so he can watch straight porn on his gay uncle's computer. This, of course, leads to several poorly-written lectures on sexual responsibility and growing up from four narcissistic, immature gay men.
  • Mama Anna (Inge Jaklyn) is Virgil's meddlesome, judgmental mother. With a thick Scandinavian accent, she wastes no time lecturing David about the fact that Virgil could be much more than a good friend. She then wanders around the neighborhood, getting horticultural hints from one of David's neighbors and, to everyone's horror, hooking up with Tad.
  • Tommy (Matthew Sordello) is the pizza boy who not only delivers, but is reunited with Roger (who was once his Prince Charming back in Laguna Beach).
Curiously enough, watching the scene in which Tommy and Roger are reunited reminded me of a rather bizarre moment from my past. About 25 years ago, I had an assignment from Jerry Douglas (the editor of Stallion magazine) to interview one of his favorite porn stars, Sergeant Glenn Swann. Since I hadn't seen anything from his "oeuvre," a friend from the gym who had a huge collection of gay porn invited me over to watch some of his favorite titles.

Later that night, as we were watching The Pizza Boy, He Delivers, Steve asked how I liked the movie. I tried to explain that while the sex was sufficiently entertaining, I was having a peculiar problem which I was sure he would not understand. After walking in the door, the pizza boy had dutifully placed the pizza box on the kitchen counter, doffed his clothes, and proceeded to ignore the pizza for the rest of the film. As a dedicated pizza lover, I felt cheated. I wanted to see the pizza. I wanted to know what kind of pizza they ordered!

Thankfully, Pooltime not only shows the pizza and describes it in detail, Donahue's film includes a scene shot at the pizza parlor when the management discovers that cute little Tommy has gone "missing in action." Here's the trailer:

* * * * * * * * * *
Over at the Cutting Ball Theatre Company, artistic director Rob Melrose has re-envisioned one of William Shakespeare's comedies by setting The Tempest in a psychiatrist's office that sits at the bottom of a swimming pool. He's also whittled the play down to a two-hour presentation in which three actors portray 11 roles:

David Sinaiko tackles Prospero, Alonso, and Stephano:

Miranda (Caitlyn Louchard) listens to her father, Prospero
(David Sinaiko) in The Tempest (Photo by: Rob Melrose)

Caitlyn Louchard portrays MirandaArielGonzalo, Trinculo, and Sebastian:

Trinculo (Caitlyn Louchard), Stephano (David Sinaiko) and Caliban
(Donell Hill) hear some mysterious music. (Photo by: Rob Melrose)

Donell Hill embodies Caliban, Ferdinand, and Antonio:

Caliban (Donell Hill) is confronted by Prospero (David Sinaiko)
Photo by: Rob Melrose

Thanks to some very clever work by scenic designer Michael Locher (who has constructed a unit set that features an empty swimming pool surrounded by lots of aluminum ladders), lighting designer Heather Basarab, and costume designer Bessie Delucchi, Melrose has been able to pull off a high concept yet minimalist reinterpretation of The Tempest with surprisingly effective scene changes that challenge the audience to ask if these changes take place in real time or in their minds. And the damned thing works!

Sinaiko alternates between the sober psychiatrist Prospero and the drunk Stephano merely by dropping his pants and staggering about in bright red boxer shorts. When shirtless, Hill's taut physique and rolling biceps bring an animal magnetism to Caliban. As Ferdinand (the Prince of Naples and son of Alonso), he dons black, thick-rimmed glasses and preppy garb.

Ariel (Caitlyn Louchard) sings to Ferdinand (Donell Hill) as
Prospero (Donald Sinaiko) watches. (Photo by:  Rob Melrose)

Melrose and his creative team are a constant source of amazement with the spectacles they create in this tiny performance space (I have fond memories of their recent production of  Marcus Gardley's Southern epic, ..... and Jesus Moonwalks The Mississippi). Ultimately, what makes this staging of The Tempest so intensely vivid and theatrical is the work of composer, video, and sound designer Cliff Caruthers, who has created a brave new fantasy world in which the three-actor ensemble can stretch their dramatic muscles.

In those rare moments of confusion, it always helps to focus on Mr. Hill's bouncing biceps for clarity. The Tempest continues through November 28 at the Exit Theatre on Taylor. You can order tickets here.

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