Wednesday, July 10, 2013

When You Are In Love and Oh So Young At Heart

Try to Remember -- and if you remember --  then swallow. Swallow, swallow, swallow, swallow, swallow your pride. I'm talking about those days when, as a young man, you had a bonerific crush on someone who was way out of your league. Someone you idolized so intensely that you fiercely denied their imperfections while refusing to acknowledge that their reality might not sync up with yours.

It really doesn't matter whether the object of your affliction was male or female. Think back to the kind of puppy love in which every little movement had a meaning all its own, a meaning that set you a-quiver with goose bumps and all kinds of tingly feelings that reeked of naive lust and priapic infatuation. When the lyrics to this song held a very special meaning for you.

As ardently as young men may worship someone, their tendency to objectify that person prevents them from developing the social skills necessary to build a relationship. Adoration is thrilling and fine. Genuine intimacy, however, can be much too frightening to sustain.

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On October 7, 1943, when One Touch of Venus opened at the Imperial Theatre, Kurt Weill's new musical transformed Mary Martin (who was primarily known at the time for her rendition of Cole Porter's "My Heart Belongs To Daddy") into a star. Some 70 years later, Tanner Cohen and Matthew Camp are starring in a low-budget indie film that could easily be subtitled "One Touch of Penis."

Cory James Kruekeberg's new film, The Go Doc Project, takes one of the oldest gay clichés and updates it to the electronic frontier of social media.  As the film begins, a young college student on the cusp of graduating is furiously masturbating to pictures of other gay men in an online chat room. As he explains to his "fans," he's recently become obsessed with a local go-go boy whose pictures keep inspiring his sexual fantasies.

Obsession sparks compulsive behavior and soon the Iowa native is editing JPG files to remove any unsightly moles or blemishes from the go-go boy's body. Finally, he gets up the nerve to send his idol a message stating that he's working on a documentary about gay nightlife and would like to interview the man and perhaps make him his muse.

Those of us who are old enough to remember what it was like in the good old days will instantly flash on pick-up lines like "I'm writing a term paper on homosexuality -- could I interview you?" or "Would you like to see my etchings?"

The difference here is that, up to this point, the college student's sex life has pretty much been limited to beating off in isolation to digital images on his computer screen. The go-go boy (like the actor who portrays him) also works as a tattoo artist and model. He's someone who has certainly had more life experience than the college student (although he may not be the proverbial hustler with a heart of gold).

Matthew Camp and Tanner Cohen star in The Go Doc Project

Once the dancer consents to participate in the student's project, they agree to address each other as "Go" (for "Go-Go Boy") and "Doc" (for "documentarian"). Doc spends his time following Go around with a camera he borrowed from an actor friend (Ramón Olmos Torres) and records Go dancing at a gay bar, shopping for groceries, working out at the gym, etc. But when Go invites Doc to come see his apartment, the tables quickly get turned on the interviewer. Soon Go is insisting that Doc take off his shirt and starts interviewing the filmmaker. Finally, Go simply says "We should make love."

Matthew Camp in The Go Doc Project

As their relationship builds it's obvious that one of these men has more experience than the other. An extended sequence follows Go and Doc around Manhattan and Fire Island as they kiss, snuggle, and discuss sexual politics and philosophy. While Go turns out to be better at (and more confident in) all three activities, it's obvious that Doc could help matters immensely if he would just shut up and fuck.

Matthew Camp and Tanner Cohen star in The Go Doc Project

With so little to be sure of, outdated concepts of monogamy, possessiveness, and an impulse to "protect" his "sexual muse" quickly start flooding Doc's mind. When reality bites down hard, Doc can't handle it. Once he's safely back in Iowa, he's seen fantasizing about married life and a house with a white picket fence.

Written, directed, and edited by Corey James Kruekeberg (Were The World Mine), The Go Doc Project has an aura of citizen journalism mixed with social media, gay romance, and an insecure loner's nervous entry into gay nightlife. Because The Go Doc Project was shot on a minimal (nearly nonexistent) budget, Kruekeberg’s partner, Tom, was the only crew he had available.

Without extra time or money for camera setups or professional lighting (which is especially obvious in some of the nightclub scenes), the filmmaker had to rely on the team of Cohen and Camp to take each scene (whether clothed or naked) and run with it. For the actors and crew, this was definitely a labor of love. As the filmmaker notes:
“I think everyone on the planet with a computer has an increasingly unhealthy relationship to it. When you’re not communicating face to face, soul to soul, with another person, it’s easy to judge them, obsess over them and objectify them. The major statement we make is: Get outside and experience the world away from the Internet. I think this is a problem that transcends age, gender, and sexuality.”

Tanner Cohen, who rocked film festivals in Were The World Mine, delivers an intense portrayal of Doc while rising go-go dancer and entrepreneur Matthew Camp is the slightly older, hotter, hunkier, and definitely wiser gay man who sees go-go dancing as a means to an end (rather than a pedestal upon which to be worshipped).

The film's naturalism, combined with its lively soundtrack, makes The Go Doc Project an appealing look at what happens when intimacy replaces curiosity, and when reality replaces fiction. Here's the trailer:

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One would have to search far and wide through literature to find a character as hopelessly filled with puppy love as 18-year-old Eugene Marchbanks, an idealistic poet from a wealthy family who is desperately infatuated with a local minister's wife. George Bernard Shaw's 1898 social comedy has held up remarkably well through the 120 years that have included the Suffragette movement, women's liberation, and a deepening understanding of the power dynamics in relationships.

In 2009, the California Shakespeare Theater presented a production of Candida that  had audiences roaring with laughter at Nick Gabriel's portrayal of Marchbanks. With Julie Eccles as Candida and Anthony Fusco as her clueless husband, the production made an exceptionally strong impression on the CalShakes audience. In reviewing the performance, I wrote:
“To see Shaw's play receive belly laughs from a modern audience is testament to the playwright's wit as well as a pert reminder that some things never change.  Directed by Jonathan Moscone with grace, style, and exuberance, this production is one of those comedic treats that seems as if it is floating on a cushion of tart lemon chiffon. Nick Gabriel’s Marchbanks is constantly alternating between the determined newfound masculinity of a puppy trying to challenge a larger, older, and much bigger dog, and a kitten who has just been distracted by a shiny object. Inflamed with the kind of ardor that keeps a teenage male constantly battling the demands of the rocket in his pocket, the look of smug delight on Gabriel's face as Candida takes his hand and drags him from the room is almost like that of the teacher's pet who knows he is about to get the kind of spanking that will bring him dangerously close to an orgasm.”
With a book by Austin Pendleton, music by Joshua (The Adding Machine) Schmidt and lyrics by Jan Levy Tranen, a musical adaptation of Shaw's play entitled A Minister's Wife had its world premiere at the Writer's Theatre in Glencoe, Illinois in June 2009 and was presented by the Lincoln Center Theater in April 2011. The character of Mr. Burgess (a local businessman who would like to replace his female workers with machines) was eliminated and the jousting between Proserpine Garnett and The Reverend Alexander "Lexy" Mill was toned down.

Currently receiving its West Coast premiere from the San Jose Repertory Theatre, it helps audiences to approach A Minister's Wife as less of a musical (or comedy) and more of a chamber opera or play with music. In the following clip, director Michael Halberstam and composer Joshua Schmidt discuss the genesis of their musical.

Although beautifully framed by Collette Pollard's unit set and brought to life in Brandin Baron's costumes, A Minister's Wife doesn't do much to enhance Shaw's wit or add insight into his characters during the course of its 95 minutes. Despite a luminous performance by Sharon Rietkerk in the title role and Tim Homsley's appealing portrayal of Marchbanks, this new musical may have passion, yet lacks fire. Though adapted from Shaw's classic, Pendleton's book rarely matches Shaw's wit.

Candida (Sharon Rietkerk) and Eugene (Tim Homsley) share an
intimate moment in A Minister's Wife (Photo by: Kevin Berne)

Part of the problem is simply that the good Reverend James Mavor Morell (Chrisopher Vettel) is a bit of a bore whose life force is fueled by his wife, Candida. Although Morell may never think of himself as a weaker man than the impetuous young poet, there's no doubt in Candida's mind that, without her love, her husband would be nothing.

The Reverend James Mavor Morell (Christopher Vettel) and his
wife Candida (Sharon Rietkerk)  in  a scene from A Minister's Wife
(Photo by: Kevin Berne)

Despite any reservations I may have from a critic's perspective, I don't doubt that A Minister's Wife might find a long life awaiting it as a joint project between the music and theatre departments of many universities. Excellent, intimate new chamber operas are rarer than hen's teeth and this work (written for five actors and a chamber quartet), can be mounted in a very cost-effective manner in academia.  If only A Minister's Wife crackled with the comedic gold that lies within Shaw's original script! Here's the trailer:

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