Friday, June 3, 2016

Glitter and Be Gay, Gay, Gay!

Once upon a time, the biggest threat a heterosexual could imagine coming from a gay man would be that someone would break into his apartment and rearrange the furniture. Although plenty of artwork may have hinted at the threat of a gay agenda, it was a conservative Republican from Idaho (Senator Larry "wide stance" Craig) who was arrested in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport for playing footsie in a toilet stall.

Cover art for 1968's Senator Swish by Arron Thomas

In recent decades, the progress of the LGBT civil rights movement has been quite remarkable. Gay marriage is now the law of the land, President Obama has made a point of standing up for the rights of transgender students, and many same-sex couples are raising children. The changes in our society continue to amaze. With 2016 marking the 50th anniversary of the Compton's Cafeteria riot in San Francisco's Tenderloin District, it's interesting to see how much our cultural landscape has changed.

A historical marker commemorating the Compton Cafeteria Riot
of August 1966 (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

On June 26, 2015, when the United States Supreme Court handed down its decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, the Obama administration celebrated the LGBT community's victory by bathing the White House in the colors of the rainbow. Today's politicians often appear in LGBT Pride parades. Even Sam Wallace (a weather reporter for Auckland, New Zealand's TVNZ - TV One channel) couldn't resist having some fun during his newscast.

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The queering of popular culture is on full display in the Frameline Film Festival's Fun in Boys Shorts program. Among the short films being screened is Daniel Maggio's endearing Glory Hole, in which two gay men who been living together as a couple for 22 years describe about how they first met in an adult bookstore and had sex in one of its backroom booths. The Weigh-In (by The Perez Bros) does a hilarious job of shattering the machismo imagery of professional boxing.

Time Quest (John Dilley's droll black-and-white spoof of The Twilight Zone) shows what can go wrong when a horny gay man follows orders a bit too literally during a scientific experiment with time travel.

Set in a gay bathhouse and dripping with bloodlust, Tom Frederic's rowdy 20-minute short (Sauna of the Dead -- A Fairy Tale) -- which was shot at the former Chariots Shoreditch in southwest London's Vauxhall district -- will undoubtedly delight fans of the zombie genre. Here's the trailer:

While the above short films do a splendid job of riffing on popular genres, my hunger for a bit of wretched gay excess was sated with Daniel Moshel's bizarre MeTube 2: August Sings Carmina Burana

If you've ever wondered what goes into the making of a combination freak show and flash mob, here's your answer:

Finally, Aaron Kantor'sMask4Mask is a jaw-dropping promotional ad for a closing night party following the Folsom Street Fair.

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Many gay artists have a keen understanding of how to incorporate wretched excess into their work. Intent on sprinkling fairy dust all over a classic farce by the closeted playwright, Noel Coward, John Fisher (the Artistic Director of Theatre Rhinoceros) has risen to the challenge with a vengeance. In his program note, he makes no bones about his motivation.
“Noel Coward wrote Present Laughter in 1939, the year in which it was to have its premiere. But the war started in September and the production was cancelled. As much as Garry Essendine whines that his life is 'one long torment and nobody even remotely cares,' the Britain that emerged from conflict in 1945 would be a very different place from Coward's carefree world of Present Laughter. Today, Present Laughter feels very 'prewar.' These people seem devoid of worries, their dramas almost entirely emotional. It's almost sad that way.”
John Fisher stars as Garry Essendine in Noel Coward's
Present Laughter (Photo by: David Wilson)

A master craftsman when it comes to using wretched excess for short, near-ejaculatory bursts of humor onstage, Fisher has distilled the essential comic tics of Paul Lynde, Peter Griffin, The Three Stooges, a whinnying horse, and a rabid chimpanzee into a cocktail of frenzied shtick which delivers prime dividends throughout the evening. While some may regard Fisher's self indulgence as a form of toxic overkill, there's no denying his success at keeping Rhino's audience entertained.

John Fisher (Garry Essendine) and Adrienne Dolan (Adrienne
Dolan) in a scene from Noel Coward's Present Laughter
(Photo by: David Wilson)

Fisher stars as Garry Essendine, a renowned playwright whose narcissistic personality disorder has reached such ridiculous levels that it could make Donald Trump seem like a bashful wallflower. While the public may never be quite sure if Essendine is acting or being himself, his closest friends know better. Fiercely protected by his secretary, Monica Reed (Kathryn Wood); his housekeeper, Miss Erikson  (Adrienne Krug), his former wife, Liz Essendine (Tina D'Elia), and his valet, Fred (Ryan Engstrom), Garry is about to embark on a tour of Africa when all hell breaks loose.
  • As Garry was leaving a party, the star-struck Daphne Stillington (Adrienne Dolan) fed him a story about losing her key and begged him to let her spend the night at his place.
  • Garry's manager, Morris Dixon (Adam Simpson), is frantically awaiting the return of a married woman he's been having an affair with.
  • Garry's producer, Henry Lyppiatt (Carlos Barrera), is concerned about the whereabouts of his wife, who went to Paris for the weekend.
  • Joanna Lyppiat (Amanda Farbstein) is a sex-hungry woman intent on seducing Garry even as she remains married to her husband (Henry) while having an affair with Morris Dixon.
  • Lady Saltburn (Adrienne King) makes an unannounced appearance with her niece, Daphne, in tow.
  • An aspiring young playwright with manic tendencies named Roland Maule (Marvin Peterle Rocha) is desperately seeking Garry's approval.
Playwright Roland Maule (Marvin Peterle Rocha) tries to silence
Garry Essendine (John Fisher) in a scene from Present Laughter (Photo by: David Wilson)

Working on a handsome art deco set designed by Gilbert Johnson with costumes by David Draper, Fisher's added gay touches include:
  • Having Ryan Engstrom double as Essendine's valet and an ingratiating cockney who sings popular songs as he accompanies himself on a piano (before the performance and during scene changes).
  • Transforming Roland Maule into a fawning closet case who overcompensates for his repressed sexual desires.
  • Indicating that Henry and Morris have been having an affair of their own while Joanna was out on the prowl.
  • Having Joanna show sudden interest in Daphne when she learns that both women will be accompanying Garry on his trip to Africa.
  • Having Garry's secretary, housekeeper, and ex-wife all appear to be rather butch.
Garry's secretary, Monica Reed (Kathryn Wood) chats with his ex-wife,
Liz Essendine (Tina D'Elia) in a scene from Present Laughter
(Photo by: David Wilson)

Thanks to dialect coach Treacy Corrigan, the accents hold up throughout a rapidly accelerating farce. The multi-talented Ryan Engstrom is fleet of foot and tickles the ivories with knowing winks at the audience. The rest of the ensemble does a fine job of bedeviling Garry (the sun around whom their lives all revolve). Just when it seems like Fisher's shtick is about to land him on Pleasure Island with all the other naughty little boys who turned into braying donkeys in The Adventures of Pinocchio, he retains the power to surprise and amaze any cynics in the audience.

Joanna Lyppiat (amanda Farbstein) jokes with Garry Essendine
(John Fisher) in a scene from Noel Coward's Present Laughter
(Photo by: David Wilson)

Performances of Present Laughter continue at the Eureka Theatre through June 18 (click here for tickets).

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