Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Desperately Seeking Whatever

The polar opposite of the purpose-driven life would be the following quote taken from a recent personal ad on Craigslist: "I'm so bored I'll do...whatever." Many a piece has been written about people whose lives are adrift, who are drowning in ennui, or who simply can't make up their mind about what they would really like to do with themselves. Whether you choose to call such people slackers, dropouts, or undecideds, collectively they account for a significant segment of the population.
  • Some of these people are very clear in their understanding of how much energy they are willing to expend in the pursuit of happiness.  
  • Others simply can't handle rejection.
  • Some have a clear idea of their limits.
  • Others need to be told what to do.
  • Some like to manipulate people to see how much they can get out of them.
  • Others drive their friends and loved ones to distraction with their selfishness and indecision.
Several new dramas explore the phenomenon of people who don't value what they have, don't know what they're chasing, and probably wouldn't be happy if they got what they thought they wanted.

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Bay area audiences recently witnessed the world premieres of two new plays about life in San Francisco. While A.C.T.'s new musical, Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City, deals with the San Francisco of the 1970s, Stuart Bousel's new play, The Edenites, is very much devoted to the present. Presented by No Nude Men Productions and based largely on his own life (and some people he has known), The Edenites revolves around the following cast of characters:
  • Chester (Ryan Hebert) just sold his video rental business (Thank you, Netflix!) in Tucson and has arrived in the Bay area to visit some old friends while secretly stalking his ex-wife.
  • Imogen (Xanadu Bruggers) is a successful poet/novelist who has come to the Bay area for a series of book signings. For a long time she's been playing a cat and mouse game of "Can't live with him, can't live without him" with Chester, to whom she was married for 17 years. As part of her Bay area visit, she is eager to see her friend Jenny's new baby.
  • Jenny (Megan Briggs) is a new mother who confesses to hating her baby. Living in the East Bay has cut her off from many of her old friends. To make matters worse, she has gone off her medications.
  • Trent (Ben Kruer) is Jenny's husband, who agrees to let his wife go off her antidepressants if she will let him continue to smoke the weed he buys from Hugo.
Jenny (Megan Briggs) and Trent (Ben Kruer)

  • Lisa (Kirsten Broadbear) is a bisexual woman who hooks up with Hugo. Although her trust fund keeps her financially solvent, Lisa occasionally likes to take an office job and work to the point where she becomes indispensable to her employer before starting to fuck with people's minds. She and Jenny were best friends back in Tucson and she has a bone to pick.
  • Aurillio (John Caldon) is a handsome gay man who has been in a long-time open relationship with a much richer and older partner. Although he plans to leave town and try his luck in New York, he won't let his partner know until the last minute.
  • Hugo (Kai Morrison) was Chester's gay friend in Tucson who, after moving to San Francisco, became a popular slacker and dope dealer.  As the play opens, Hugo has just spent the night with Aurillio. Buoyed by the emotional security net provided by his trust fund and a devoted boyfriend, Hugo nevertheless obsesses about the lack of any meaning in his life
  • Xavier (Brian Martin) is Hugo's lover, a sci-fi geek whose finger is on the pulse of the latest trends.
  • Deva (Kira Shaw) is the kind of understanding roommate who is wise in the ways of love and derives a special satisfaction from knowing that the chips she likes to eat come in compostable bags (which allows her to simultaneously be a consumer and a conscientious recycler).
  • Hamish (Chris Struett) is a bitchy queen running an independent bookstore who has a habit of becoming infatuated with men who are emotionally unavailable.
Hugo (Kai Morrison) and Chester (Ryan Hebert)

Bousel describes The Edenites as:
"A comedy that crosses Gossip Girl with a Chekhov play mixed with quick arm punches of reality.  Chucking real life experiences on stage with a dose of fiction, it's a stab at understanding my own life in a snarky but deeply-felt love letter to the city that's been my home for a decade. It's drama as therapy, stylish theatrical fluff, a sincere expression of love for our fair city."
In directing The Edenites, Bousel chose to rearrange the seating in the Exit Stage Left theatre so that his actors were essentially performing in the round. Doing so exposed the weaknesses of the less experienced actors in the cast. It also created a strange acoustical problem in that the voices of actors facing away from an audience member were often diminished (or overwhelmed by laughter coming from members of the audience who were then facing the actor).

While Bousel has a talent for writing bitchy one-liners, the folks he has written about in The Edenites are not all that interesting to people who do not know them. Nor do they draw much emotional buy-in from the audience (a curious problem which also weakens Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City).

The Edenites is a very personal and extremely regional story, although Jim Lively's sound design does an excellent job of capturing the soundscape one hears while riding on BART.  Of the actors onstage, I was most impressed by Chris Struett, Kira Shaw, and Kirsten Broadbent.

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Yoav Inbar's short film, A Word, is being screened at Frameline's 35th San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival as part of its Worldly Affairs program. It very briefly shows how a series of Israelis deal with unreasonable expectations. Ron (Yuval Ruzman) is a handsome Israeli who can't remember the last time he told his boyfriend, Tal (Avi Kornick), that he loved him. Nor does he understand why people get so agitated about love.

After Tal leaves in a huff, Ron visits his sister, Shir, and loses patience with her constant obsessing over the boyfriend who left her. After a bitter argument, she kicks him out of her apartment.

Ron then heads for the beach, where he quickly attracts the attention of Erez, a gay man who uses the age-old come-on of asking him to spread some suntan lotion on his back. Erez has been in an open relationship for a long time and has a clear understanding of the difference between long-term love and momentary lust. Ron brings him back to the apartment.

Meanwhile, Tal (who dumped Ron earlier in the morning) has been sitting on a park bench, composing a love song on his guitar. When he heads back to Ron's apartment to serenade him from street level, he looks up at the window and sees Ron with his latest trick. Dejected, Tal realizes how quickly and easily he has been replaced.

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Written and directed by Magnus Mork, The Samaritan deals with the kind of clumsy personality who tries to reach out and, when rejected, takes vengeance. Mirza (Sharam Khalifeh) is a young illegal immigrant who is hit by Knut (Terje Tjøme Mossige) as he drives his car through a parking garage. Attempting to help the young man, Knut takes him to his office and bandages Mirza's bruises. When he learns that Mirza is essentially homeless, he insists that the young man spend the night at his apartment.

Knut's overwhelming loneliness makes his initial act of kindness snowball out of control. His attempts to reach out to Mirza meet with no reciprocity. When Knut suggests that they get married as a way for Mirza to gain Norwegian citizenship, Mirza (who is straight) doesn't rise to the challenge.

Eventually, Knut's control issues cause a problem and Mirza moves back in with some of his friends. Unable to cope with rejection, Knut reports Mirza's whereabouts to the authorities and the young man is arrested. The following clip from the 2010 IRIS TV awards show contains several scenes from The Samaritan.

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Co-producer Michael Billy doesn't hesitate to explain why the concept behind The One appealed to him:
"I came out when I was 13 years old. Since then, I have searched for films that had well-developed characters who happened to be gay -- rather then 'gay characters.' I've always wondered what might happen to the star athletes out there -- the most popular guys in school that just might have been a little gay, but were too afraid to embrace it. I think we've all been Tommy at some point in our lives (when our crushes cross the line to becoming manipulations). I certainly have. And we've all known a Daniel -- a man who has to choose between the safe life mapped out for him and the endless possibilities of an open closet door
Daniel's character helps us see how important it is to confront one's feelings. 
What turned me on about the script was that it wasn't full of the cliché stereotypes of gay people that we usually see in movies. It was important to me that the characters' sexuality was secondary to the story line. At its core, The One is about living an authentic and honest life -- a journey that both Daniel and Tommy need to take. It's that journey that I believe allows our sexuality to become more fluid, more open to the possibilities."

Tommy (Ian Novick) and Daniel (Jon Prescott) at the gym

Written and directed by Caytha Jentis, The One follows the increasingly dysfunctional relationships of the following Manhattanites:
  • Tommy (Ian Novick) is a gay lawyer with a history of chasing after men who are either straight or emotionally unavailable. As the movie begins, he is telling his close friend Stephen (Michael Billy) the dirt about the hot straight jock he landed in bed. In truth, the man was not a complete stranger. Not only did they attend the same college, Daniel took a philosophy class taught by Tommy's mother (Kelly Coffield Park). They both excelled in lacrosse and other sports at school, so it's not like Tommy is stalking Daniel. Well, maybe just a little bit....
  • Daniel (Jon Prescott) is a handsome, athletic investment banker from a family of WASPs in Scarsdale. Although he may be an ace at making financial decisions, Daniel doesn't really know what he wants from life. He's always managed to survive by trying to do what is expected of him.  But after being seduced by Tommy, he can't decide whether he's more turned on by men or women.
  • Jen (Margaret Anne Florence) is the attractive young lawyer who is Daniel's fiancée. Smart as a whip in the litigation department, her gaydar sucks. After she sets Tommy up on a date with her friend, Alex (Natalya Rudakova), Jen is stunned to learn that Tommy is gay and that he and Alex spent the night together.

Daniel (Jon Prescott) and Jen (Margaret Anne Florence)

If conservatives who worry that legalizing same-sex weddings will destroy the institution of marriage had a chance to watch The One, they might just learn a few things about closeted men who marry women with the hope that doing so will cure them of their homosexuality. In her production notes, Caytha Jentis explains that:

"Most scripts I've written have evolved over the course of a few months or years, through rewrites and plot revisions, until a final product arrives that is often very different from my first vision. The One was different. From the minute I started writing what I wanted to be an exploration of what it means to find one's better half, the words flowed. Though our final shooting script involved more than a few changes from my original, the gist of my story remained the same. It went from first draft to wrap in less than a year.
What inspired me was the whole idea of platonic love. As a happily married mother of two, I find a lot of my creative energy comes from friends, both female and male. My (non-romantic) relationships tend to be intense and, on some occasions, confusing in their intensity -- leaving me to wonder about the whole notion of a soul mate. Is it possible to find elements of a soul mate in more than one person?
I read Plato's Symposium in college and had always liked his take on the creation myth -- that humans originally came in three models – male, female and a one-of-each combo, and each version had four arms, four legs and two faces. But when the humans angered Zeus with their over-reaching, he slashed them apart with a lightning bolt, leaving the poor souls destined to be on a constant search for their other halves. From then on, mankind has been on the hunt for the 'One.'"

"This pursuit of one's missing half has usually focused on some elusive 'Other' out there. But I wanted to explore the notion that the search is not so much for that one missing puzzle piece that exists outside of ourselves, but rather for the chance to make ourselves whole again in whatever way works best.
Every day, every moment, someone's world is being rocked by love -- for better or for worse. And despite the ups and downs of true love, that longing for a soul mate is almost universal. Romantics believe that the perfect mate is out there and will be found, even if for a fleeting moment; cynics are convinced that it's useless to even try. But the image still lingers, of the one who will, to paraphrase Jerry McGuire, complete us. What neither camp usually expects is that our better halves might indeed come along, but not always in the singular package we plan for. For reasons of race, class, religion or gender, the 'One' sometimes arrives in different forms and at inopportune moments, precluding a rose-petal strewn waltz down the aisle into the sunset.
To tell the story, I began with a simple love triangle. A beautiful man has found a beautiful woman whom he figures is exactly the person everyone, from his parents to his friends and even he expects to marry. They come from the same background, like the same things, have great sex and, in the end, love each other. And everything's fine, until the 'One' comes along and shakes our hero to the core, sending him on an unanticipated journey of self- discovery.

More than a story of coming out, The One is really a story about coming of age. It's about a man growing up and learning to know and accept the part of himself that is his true missing half. Rather than trying to live up to what he thinks others expect of him, he has to wrestle with what he expects and wants of himself -- realizing that, until he does, it's impossible to fully love or be loved."
Tommy (Ian Novick) and Daniel (Jon Prescott) in bed

As with the Yoav Inbar's short, A Word, the ability to be honest about who one loves lies at the core of The One. Daniel's predicament gets even dicier after Jen becomes pregnant.

Jentis directs her small ensemble with great skill. Christopher Cass adds solid support as Daniel's father (who thinks a membership in his country club is the perfect wedding gift).

While there are times when Tommy can seem like a manipulative creep, The One is the kind of film in which each character's denial leads to deeper, long-lasting emotional wounds. Here's the trailer:


Tivash said...

Just once I want to see a film Directed by a woman which allows for the 2 men to end up togthor.. After watching Kiss the Bride with Ms Botoxed Tori Spelling...do the impossible with limited attributes convert the gay guy to a complete hetero. Only Saint Tori could do it...noone elses family has the money or the gall to place an inept actress in such a looney role. The One is similar in the female director cant allow a female to lose to the gay guy and uses the baby to do so. Please do not allow this woman to direct anything but Nicole Kidman commercials.

Tivash said...

as stated females should not direct gay films

Tivash said...

Wited so long for this film....only to be disappointed with the direction