Sunday, March 4, 2012

Queens For A Day

I often change buses at the intersection of San Francisco's Mission and 16th Streets, where five bus lines intersect, there is a steady stream of chartered tour buses to Reno, and BART trains can be heard whizzing back and forth underground. The outdoor BART plaza hosts a motley mixture of tired commuters, hungry hungry hipsters, raging drunks, late night poetry slams, bilingual Jesus freaks, suburban partygoers who have traveled from suburbia to go slumming along Valencia Street, and an occasional druggie urinating behind the food truck.

While I'm waiting for my bus to arrive I rarely think of Benito Mussolini. But the afternoon of March 3 was different.

Instead of the usual crowds of low-income Asian and Hispanic riders piling onto the 14, 14L and 49 buses, I witnessed the kind of public transit farce that confirms the SFMTA's inability to approach anything near the talent displayed by Italy's most famous fascist for making the trains run on time.

Having rerouted three bus lines in order to resurface and "beautify" Mission Street, a team of eager SFMTA workers was trying to explain the routing changes to people who could barely understand them. To make matters worse, their visuals and signage totally sucked.

SFMTA had printed out pages which had an aesthetically pleasing street map on one side and instructions in several languages on the other. Unfortunately, the map (which probably looked great on a computer screen) was too finely drawn to be easily understood. When taped to a bus shelter, it had been positioned so that no one could get close enough to examine it. In the bright afternoon light, the printed instructions leaked through from one side to the other, making the map impossible to read.

I suggested to one of SFMTA's workers that they could help the situation by simply posting a larger map with the locations of two bus stops very clearly circled and identified by arrows with words that said "YOU ARE HERE" and "YOU NEED TO GO THERE."  The concept went right over their heads.

* * * * * * * * *
Logic and efficiency are admirable goals for any public transit system. However, today's artists must depend on logic and efficiency in order to make the public aware of their work.

As more and more creative types supplement their grant-writing efforts with a combination of beer busts, garage sales, and fundraising appeals on Kickstarter, artists are becoming more proficient at the business of marketing and funding their work in order to achieve increasing levels of self-sufficiency.

The months of March, April, and May are much more than Springtime for Hitler. They're also the time of year when short plays take center stage in San Francisco. The Bay One Acts Festival runs from April 22-May 12 down at the Boxcar Theatre while the Best of Playground will be on display from May 3-27 at Thick House.

Poster art for Eat Our Shorts

I recently paid a visit to the GuyWriters Theatre Company, which is presenting seven short comedies under the umbrella title "Eat Our Shorts 4 -- Love And Other Disasters." In addition to applying for various arts grants, this group of talented Bay area playwrights seeks donations from friends and local businesses as well as holding a combination beer bust and raffle sale at The Edge bar in the Castro. According to their website:
"GuyWriters is a community network for gay writers in the San Francisco Bay area. Our purpose is to celebrate and support literary creativity in the gay male community. GuyWriters provides opportunities for writers to develop new writing, access publishing resources, and meet other people in the literary world. We accomplish this by presenting published writers who discuss their work and careers, hosting social gatherings that build community among gay writers, and facilitating writing groups for gay poets, prose writers, and playwrights."
Not only do the men of GuyWriters cast and direct their own plays, the organization moderates an online social network that links gay writers across the country, publishes an online literary magazine to spotlight its members' work, and distributes a monthly electronic newsletter.

Over the past few years, a great deal of local gay theatre has been dishearteningly mired in bad writing, lax direction, and amateurish acting. As a result, I was completely blindsided to find myself witnessing one of the funniest evenings of gay theatre I've seen in years.

Several of the shorts offered new twists on old themes. Much of the writing was superb (and could give Paul Rudnick and Q. Allan Brocka a run for their money).

Ted (Chris Maltby), Aaron (Michael LeRoy), and
Jason (Dene Larson) in Poolside Photo by: Candice Nite)

While some of the actors were less skilled than others, there were divas on display who knew how to bring down the house. Dedicated to exploring the unpredictable hunt for love, lust, flashy clothes, and a top in San Francisco, the evening's bill of fare consisted of the following:

Poolside: Written by by Rodney "Rhoda" Clay and directed by Candice Nite, this piece put a delightful new spin on an old, old tale. Jason (Dene Larson) has dragged his friend Matt (Jesse Rivas) out of hiding. Matt broke up four months ago with Ted (Chris Maltby) and is still bitterly licking his wounds.  When Matt goes off to get a drink, a handsome young stud arrives and stakes out a lounge chair. The shit hits the fan when Matt and Jason realize that Aaron (Michael LeRoy) is Ted's new boyfriend.

The Gay Man's Disaster Survival Kit:  Nicely directed by Max Cherney, this play finds two gay men checking their emergency backpacks to be sure they've got everything they need in the event of an earthquake. Randolph (Dashiell Hillman), is a Southern sissy who grew up on a farm and now earns his living as a hairdresser. Like one of Tennessee Williams' alcoholic tragediennes, he has substituted a bottle of vodka for the drinking water that should be stashed in his emergency backpack.  Having recently been mugged in the Castro, he's added a gun to his disaster survival kit.

Darren (Michael LeRoy) and Randolph (Dashiell Hillman) in
The Gay Man's Disaster Survival Kit (Photo by: James A. Martin)

Although the butch and charming Darren (Michael LeRoy) may love Randolph intensely, he has good reason not to want a gun in his house. James A. Martin's brief duet makes the audience question the safety of the gay ghetto as well as their internalized assumptions about feminine gay men -- especially those who know how to shoot a gun and are not afraid to pack heat.

3 Characters In Search of a Date draws its laughs with the precision of acid etching into glass. Written by Nick Brunner and directed by Ian Wolfley, it features Wolfley as a narrator who can't believe what is being said by the characters he is supposed to be supervising. Joe Sackett, Tonya Narvaez, and Nick Brunner portray easily recognizable San Franciscan "types" whose neuroses make it difficult for them to get laid.

Flip The Switch finds new humor in the old battle of brains versus brawn. In Cass Brayton's delightful script, Otto (Chris Maltby) and Cliché (Sunil Patel) are two catty intellectuals trying to convince their hulking fitness trainer to attend a party for which they've already hired a cocksucker to service the guests.  Alas, Bronco (Adam Musgrave) is one conflicted piece of muscle pudding.  Known around town as an extremely butch top, he's recently met the one man he'd be willing to bottom for.

Carlos M. Mora has directed Flip The Switch with a delicious sense of irony, giving the audience plenty of opportunities to watch Musgrave pump and flex while his two bitchy clients argue about what supplies they should purchase at Costco. Smartphone technology provides the hilarious surprise ending.

Adam Musgrave is Bronco in Flip The Switch
Photo by: James A. Martin

What Good Friends Are For: Written and directed by Paul Klees, this identity farce centers around the shocking announcement by Gregory (George Duryea) that, after having had sex with lots of gay men since his arrival in San Francisco, he's been having a six-month affair with a biological woman and is now convinced that he's straight. Gregory's friends Alan (Michael Erickson) and Paul (Dene Larson) want to support him but, when push comes to shove, are more concerned about losing their reservation at a local restaurant.

However, Ben (Gregory's roommate and oldest friend) is seething with cynicism, disbelief, and erupts in anger upon learning that the woman in question is both a close friend and co-worker. Hell may knoweth no fury like a woman scorned, but Rodney "Rhoda" Clay's bravura performance as a wounded queen with a volcanic sense of betrayal is pure comedic gold.

Two of the strongest plays on the program were written and directed by Joseph Frank. A Match Made In Heaven and Hell begins with a lonely, insecure nerd on his first Internet date. Lu (Nick Brunner) has been seated at one of Café  Attitude's tables, sipping one Shirley Temple after another as he waits for his online buddy to arrive. Despite withering insults from a supercynical waiter (Sunil Patel), the very hunky Jesus (Aaron Tworek) eventually arrives on a bicycle he jokingly refers to as "his ass."

Both men have severe emotional baggage and lots of Daddy issues. As the audience becomes aware of their true identities, the laughs continue to build. When two conservative and much older café patrons take offense at the men's innocent kiss, Jesus and Lucifer find a simple but highly effective way to change the online profile settings for Agnes (Gabrielle Motarjemi) and Bertram (Robert Cooper) so that they can all live happily ever after.

Bertram (Robert Cooper), Lu (Nick Brunner), Jesus (Aaron Tworek)
and Agnes (Gabrielle Motarjemi) in A Match Made in Heaven & Hell
Photo by: James A. Martin

Without any doubt, The Lamentation of Straight Girls Who Love The Sissy Boys was the highlight of the evening. Joseph Frank's play begins as a drab figure (May May Oskan) bemoans the plight of being a single straight woman in San Francisco. Enter Darius (Armando Rey) and Sasha (Jesus Fuentes), two hysterically funny and flamboyant Hispanic queens who bring to mind the ditsy banter between Lida Rosario Vazquez (Nicole Sullivan) and Melina Jacinto (Debra Wilson) on MADtv.

Darius (Armando Rey) and Sasha (Jesus Fuentes) are two Hispanic queens
in The Lamentation of Straight Girls Who Love The Sissy Boys
Photo by: Candice Nite

Defiantly clutching his murse and trying not to gag at the prospect of being forced to listen to a woman talk about her "Va Jay Jay," Darius is incensed that anyone would categorize him as a sissy. Sasha is straight out of the finger-snapping "Oh no, she din't" line of sassy characters who want some 'splainin' done. Together, they are a formidable team of fashion-conscious queens.

Darius and Sasha clearly have the potential for an extended series of Webisodes or animated online greeting cards (similar to the characters created for Rubber Chicken Cards). Both actors offer pitch perfect portrayals whose body language and wounded egos have been so beautifully realized that you don't ever want them to leave the stage.

Come to think of it, video skits might provide a whole new performance outlet for the members of GuyWriters!

No comments: