Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Walking Wounded Go Looking For Love

How can this be? Maurice Sendak has been dead for less than a month, the Discovery Channel's 25th annual "Shark Week" is two months away, Jeff Ross has postponed his popular Another Hole In The Head Film Festival until November, Piranha 3DD has been released to tepid reviews, and yet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have had to reassure terrified American citizens that there is, in fact, no zombie apocalypse. Recent headlines have read more like the promotional blurbs for a Roger Corman film.
  • On May 26, in Miami, Florida, 31-year-old Rudy Eugene (a Haitian-American with a history of domestic violence who had attended a Bible study class several days prior and thought he was battling the devil) was shot several times by police while in the midst of a naked, cocaine-induced psychotic episode. Eugene, who had already earned the distinction of being the first person to be tased by the North Miami police, was found cannibalizing the eyes, nose, and mouth of Ronald Poppo (a homeless man) on the downtown exit ramp of the MacArthur Causeway.
  • An international manhunt is under way for former gay porn star, Luke Magnotta, who has a history of torturing small animals. Magnotta is suspected of killing his boyfriend, Chinese student Jun Kin (whose torso was found in a suitcase in Magnotta's Montreal apartment) and mailing a severed hand and foot to the offices of Canada's Liberal Democrat and Conservative parties.
  • In Sweden, a jealous husband who suspected that his wife was having an affair cut off her lips and ate them in an act of revenge.
  • In the Baltimore suburb of Joppatowne, 21-year-old Alex Kinyua admitted to using a knife to kill and carve up 37-year-old Kujoe Bonsafo Agyei-Kodie. Kinyua then proceeded to eat his victim's heart and parts of his brain.
  • A woman in Georgia recently had her leg amputated in order to prevent the further spread of a flesh-eating bacteria.
  • In Hot Spings, Arkansas, 52-year-old Ray Allen Brown was charged with second degree murder after using his prosthetic arm and a rock to smash 52-year-old Robert Brindley's head and beat him to death.
In a column written for The Huffington Post, Michelangelo Signorile asks:
"Do all Evangelical leaders believe gays should be put to death? If the answer to that question is no, then they'd better start speaking up loudly and clearly because, over the past few weeks, evangelical pastors have made headlines urging parents to beat boys who seem gay, calling for gays and lesbians and 'queers' to be put inside an electrified pen and left to die, and urging the government to begin killing gays.
These declarations have been backed up by these pastors' followers, who've organized protests to support them and who've gone on national television to defend them (as have the pastors themselves), a proud hate movement going public. It may be true that the 'death to gays' pastors and their followers represent a tiny portion of evangelicals. But a much larger group of white evangelicals (and their leaders), which represented half of all GOP primary voters in the current presidential race, is not speaking out against the people making claims in the name of their religious faith. And by not doing so they are giving tacit approval to calls for violence, murder, and genocide."
Innocent minds have every right to believe that there are monsters under their bed, ogres in the neighborhood, and demons in their family. What happens to children who witness grisly events -- or try to protect the adults who should instead be protecting them? Often, their efforts prove to be futile.

A pattern common to families which suffer domestic abuse is that the abused child grows up to become an adult who reenacts the abuse he received in his youth. Sometimes it's only a matter of time before self-destructive behaviors which have lain dormant (or which the abused child hopes to have conquered) resurface to destroy years of hard work aimed at overcoming one's past.

* * * * * * * * *
Berkeley Rep is presenting Black N Blue Boys/Broken Men as part of a world premiere co-production with the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. A deeply disturbing one-woman show written and performed by Dael Orlandersmith, this powerful monologue delivers 90 minutes of gut-wrenching tales about young boys who, after being abused by their fathers, mothers, uncles, and friends of the family, grew into adults sitting on a powder keg of repressed anger.

Dael Orlandersmith is the writer and solo performer of
Black N Blue Boys/Broken Men

Among the battered souls brought to life by Orlandersmith are:
  • Flaco, a young man whose mother's roving fingers would not leave him alone. No one believes Flaco when he complains about his mother's insistence on reaching into his pants and fondling his dick, so he finally gives up and starts having sex with her. After his father walks into the room one afternoon and find Flaco fucking his mother, the boy is thrown out of the apartment and, at the age of 12, learns from a friend how to hustle tricks under the Coney Island boardwalk. A pimp gives Flaco $30 each time he satisfies a customer but, upon learning that the pimp is charging his customers $300, Flaco gets mad, leaves the shelter of the pimp's home, and starts turning tricks in the West Village. Often, his clients are wealthy businessmen who want a threeway with their wives or girlfriends. One night, Flaco is picked up by a man in a limousine who fucks the 14-year-old boy until he bleeds, then throws $400 in his face and orders him to get the hell out of the car. That $400 is the most money Flaco has ever made in one day, but it makes him feel awful. He can't wait for a chance to wash himself off.
  • Tenny, the uncle everyone loves and trusts. One day, after Tenny picked his nephew up from swimming practice, the boy begged him for some ice cream. After a stop at Dairy Queen, they got back in the car with their ice cream and the young boy innocently licked Tenny's face to get a taste of Tenny's vanilla ice cream. Tenny returned the favor, but soon started licking more and more of his nephew's young body until he had pulled the kid's pants down and raped him.
Dael Orlandersmith (Photo by: Kevin Berne)
  • Ian grew up in one of Britain's council houses (the equivalent of an American housing project). His father was a violent drunk who always came home from the pub in a dangerous state. As Ian matured, he was the only one of his friends who never touched alcohol. Finally, he got up the courage to leave home, moved to London, and got a job in a nice restaurant. Upon moving to New York, he continued to work at bettering himself and eventually started dating an attractive woman from Greenwich, Connecticut. On the night she threw a birthday party for him in his own apartment, Ian had two glasses of wine. He was fucking a stranger in the bathroom when his girlfriend walked in on them. Like his father, he erupted and became a violent and sadistic drunk.
  • Mikey fell in love with books at an early age and spent long hours at the library to avoid the toxic atmosphere at home. Books became his safety net, taking him to faraway places and on grand adventures as he put himself through college and eventually got a job working with runaway children. One night, his assistant didn't show up at the shelter where he worked, so he had to cook dinner for the kids (one of whom kept calling him "98 cent Mike" and teasing Mike because he was a "trick baby"). Suddenly, Mike snapped, spanked the living daylights out of the kid, and barely even knew what had come over him.
  • Another young boy grew up watching his mother and her friends take turns going into the bathroom where they should shoot up before reemerging in a very sleepy state. Occasionally his mother would get better, but soon her new boyfriend started shooting up as well. The boy tried to protect his baby sister but, one day, the infant saw what her mother was doing and tried to mimic her behavior. In the process, the young girl ate the contents of a small bag of white powder and died of an overdose. Even today, the older brother feels guilty for the girl's death and misses her terribly.
Dael Orlandersmith in a moment from her monologue entitled
Black N Blue Boys/Broken Men (Photo by: Kevin Berne)

Orlandersmith's writing is powerful, beautifully edited, and goes to very dark places that some theatregoers may not want to visit with her. A former social worker who once was employed at a shelter for runaway children, she paints devastating portraits of children whose youth and innocence were stolen from them by irresponsible adults.

Chay Yew, who has directed the piece with acute sensitivity to pacing, is helped tremendously by Ben Stanton's subtle lighting and Mikhail Fiksel's sound design. Unlike many monologues (which are performed on rather shallow stages), Daniel Ostling's angular unit set reaches far upstage into the heart of darkness, despair, depravity, and degradation in which these children were raised.

Black N Blue Boys/Broken Men is a riveting evening anchored by Orlandersmith's hypnotic power as a storyteller. Performances continue through June 24 at Berkeley Rep (click here to order tickets). Here's the trailer:

* * * * * * * * *
One of the best known songs from Stephen Sondheim's 1987 musical, Into The Woods, contains the following lyric:
"How do you say to your child in the night
Nothing's all black, but then nothing's all white?
How do you say it will all be all right
When you know that it might not be true?
What do you do?

Careful the things you say, children will listen.
Careful the things you do, children will see and learn.
Children may not obey, but children will listen.
Children will look to you for which way to turn,
To learn what to be.
Careful before you say 'Listen to me,' children will listen.

Careful the wish you make, wishes are children.
Careful the path they take, wishes come true, not free.
Careful the spell you cast, bot just on children.
Sometimes the spell may last past what you can see
And turn against you.
Careful the tale you tell, that is the spell.
Children will listen,

How can you say to a child who's in flight
'Don't slip away and I won't hold so tight'?
What can you say that no matter how slight
Won't be misunderstood?
What do you leave to your child when you're dead?
Only whatever you put in its head.
Things that your mother and father had said
Which were left to them, too.

Careful what you say, children will listen.
Careful you do it, too, children will see and learn.
Oh guide them that step away, children will listen.
Tamper with what is true and children will turn
If just to be free.
Careful before you say 'Listen to me.'
Children will listen."
One of those children who has listened intently and taken every word to heart is the protagonist of Elliot Loves, a beautiful new film written and directed by Terracino about a young man who is full of heart and hungry for love. Elliot Ayende is a Dominican American gay man who has grown up with the kind of mother that Pedro Almodovar worships.

Fierce, fiery, fantastic, and addicted to watching The Price is Right. Elliot's mother (Elena Goode) got knocked up in high school by a young man who told her that being pregnant was entirely her problem. He wanted nothing to do with it.

Young Elliot (Quentin Araujo) with his mother (Elena Goode)

As a result, Elliott has grown up in the shadow of his mother's flamboyant personality and a steady parade of boyfriends who never seem to be all that interested in her precocious, nelly son. When the film begins, the audience sees nine-year-old Elliot (Quentin Araujo) sitting on the toilet mimicking a shampoo commercial with the flair and fervor of a budding young queer. As the film progresses, the action moves back and forth in time to capture Elliot's life with his crazy mother and the 21-year-old Elliot's (Fabio Costaprado) search for a genuine boyfriend.

Quentin Araujo and Fabio Costaprado play Elliot at ages 9 and 21

At 21, Elliot is lusted after by men of all ages, even if few stick around for long. Still, he's at the age where a two-day relationship can be "really intense" and his best friend, Hector (Robin de Jesus), is always available for sympathy.

Like his mother, Elliot wears his emotions on his sleeve. He can go from being a giddy chatterbox to an intense tangle of emotions in the flash of an eye.

Fabio Castoprado as the 21-year-old Elliot

True love, however, keeps eluding him. One night he can be taken home by a man who professes his love, but whose lover arrives home from a business trip the next morning. On another occasion, a man sheepishly tries to trick Elliot into a threeway with an old friend from New Jersey. But Elliot's bouncy personality keeps him afloat, especially when (fresh out of the shower) he gets to perform his "clean dance" for a man he hopes to impress.

Elliot (Fabio Castoprado) performs his "clean dance"
before hopping into bed with a trick

As men drift in and out of Elliot's life, one feels the aching disappointment of an emotionally available young man who has witnessed a long line of his mother's boyfriends pass through his life. Luckily, Elliot's Aunt Carmen (Elaine del Valle) has always told him that he is special. One of his teachers, Mrs. Mills (Erin Fogel), even makes a point of telling Elliot that his name means "He who walks with God."

In the brief uptick of a hot romance with Kiko (Jermaine Montell), a muscular Puerto Rican fitness trainer who likes to brag about the size of his dick, the audience gets to watch Elliot flirt with codependency before being forced to move on with his life.

Kiko (Jermaine Montell) and Elliot (Fabio Castoprado)
get to know each other

With a tag line of "The boy can't help it!" Elliot Loves bursts with the idealism of youth, the vulnerability of childhood, and the emotional hunger of a young man on the prowl for more than just a quick fuck. Elliot's recipe for survival? “Keep it cute, papi.”

Elliot (Fabio Castoprado) with a new boyfriend

Terracino's film includes some delightful animation sequences. But its core strength lies with the two actors (Quentin Araujo and Fabio Castoprado) who deliver bravura performances as Elliot. Elena Goode's Latin spitfire of a single mother is beautifully realized (as is Elaine del Valle's portrayal of her sister, Carmen).

Kiko (Jermaine Montell) and Elliot (Fabio Costaprado) make love

While there is plenty of beefcake on display as eye candy, the beauty of Elliot's soul and his youthful exuberance dominate the picture. One of my favorite actors, Robin de Jesus, scores strongly as Elliot's friend Hector.

Elliot Loves is an uplifting film shot and acted from the heart. You won't want to miss it. Here's the trailer:

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