Monday, September 23, 2013

Trying To Put A Ring On It

For many young girls, the Disney princess phenomenon is a governing factor in their lives. A huge industry based on the fantasy of becoming (and being forever adored) as a princess has led to sizable profits for toy and clothing manufacturers. However, the foundational belief supporting these fantasies is that the Princess always gets her Prince and everyone lives happily ever after.

Carol Burnett had a huge success in 1959's hit musical, Once Upon A Mattress (which was based on the popular fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen entitled The Princess and the Pea). In the following clip, she appears as the lonely Princess Winifred, bemoaning the difficulties of progressing to the point where she can finally live "Happily Ever After."

In 1986, when Into The Woods was trying out at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, Stephen Sondheim's lyrics for "Agony" proved that even fairy tale princes are forced to navigate bizarre obstacles in order to win their true love.

Following this year's United States Supreme Court decision that 1996's Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional, many barriers to same-sex marriage have been crumbling into dust. As more states have voted to legalize same-sex marriage, the Federal government has taken some amazing steps toward ensuring that all Federal employees enjoy the full blessings of marriage equality. In his article entitled One Great Leap Forward: Defense Department Offering Full Benefits to Same-Sex Spouses, Brian Stone wrote:
"It's almost impossible to imagine: The Department of Defense has announced that no later than September 3, 2013, same-sex spouses of military personnel will receive all the spousal benefits that different-sex military spouses receive, in addition to special leave to travel to a state where they can be legally married if the state in which they are stationed does not have marriage equality."
The Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Windsor put the final nail in the coffin of the movement to delegitimize same-sex relationships. While there should never have been any need to apologize for the marriage between Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer, the love that once dared not speak its name has finally reached a point where it cannot be denied, cannot be swept under table, and cannot be trivialized. I heartily recommend Alan Shayne's moving essay, A Charmed Life, to show how this phenomenon plays out in real life.

Just as the AIDS epidemic created a new genre of literature focused on those battling a horrible disease, the increasing momentum of the marriage equality movement is paving the way for new works about gay relationships. In November, 2011, Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays, made its off-Broadway debut in the skilled hands of Craig Bierko, Mark Consuelos, Polly Draper, Harriet Harris, Beth Leavel and Richard Thomas.

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Several months ago, Wily West Productions staged a "collage" of short plays down at the EXIT Theatre under the umbrella title of Lawfully Wedded.  Written by three San Francisco playwrights (Morgan Ludlow, Kirk Shimano & Alina Trowbridge), these plays initially seemed like a string of blackout sketches.

After Bill (Philip Goleman) and Jason (Wesley Cayabyab) decide to get married, they're forced to navigate a series of familial challenges. How can they plan a wedding when one partner has a devout Mormon mother, the couple has to cross a state line to get legally married, the proxy serving as their witness has severe identity problems depending on which state he's standing in, and one groom's younger, and extremely impulsive brother is a hopeless stoner who insists on making all the decorations himself?

Philip Coleman (Bill) and Wesley Cayabyab (Jason) in
a scene from Lawfully Wedded (Photo by: Jim Norrena)

As the evening progressed, it became obvious that these vignettes were all linked together by a curious emotional thread. As Ludlow explains:
"As I started working on the sketches, I realized that this story is not only my story (as a gay man), but the story of the ever-evolving American family. Right now we are a society fiercely divided. There’s a lot of fear and bewilderment going on and a lot of anger and resentment. But there is also a lot of bravery, fortitude, and pluck. Marriage seems to be a litmus test for our culture right now. Our opinions on marriage quickly reveal our deepest held values. And the big issue of our time is whether or not to legalize gay relationships and how that might affect families, communities, and the American culture at large." 

Farah Sanders and Heidi Wolff in a scene from
 Lawfully Wedded (Photo by: Jim Norrena)

In another branch of the family, Rosa (Fara Sanders) may be in love with Lee (Heidi Wolff), but Lee's father is a staunch traditionalist who plans to leave all of the family's assets to his other, heterosexual child (who is involved in a heteronormative marriage). When a fatal motorcycle accident and some unresolved insurance issues complicate matters, his family is forced to face up to who had the stronger relationship -- the straight couple who shared a shared drug addiction or the interracial relationship between two loving lesbians.

As directed by Wesley Cayabyab (who is also a compelling actor), Lawfully Wedded's ensemble included Philip Goleman, Jason Jeremy, Kat Kneisel, Jeffrey Orth, Scott Ragle, Farah Sanders, Brian Martin, Janice Wright, & Heidi Wolff. Since all three plot lines eventually reach the critical point of examining what it means to be lawfully wedded "in sickness and in health, till death do us part," the evening takes some surprising turns. As Ludlow notes:
"We need to acknowledge that gay people (should they decide to marry) will face the same challenges as our straight brothers and sisters (maybe more) and while marriage has a universal truth, it is also an individual journey. This has been a long, difficult path. What hit me as I was madly trying to finish these sketches is the courage it takes not only LGBT people to step up and demand their equal rights but also the courage of our families, friends, and neighbors to stand up with us and demand change. I didn’t want people to stand around and pontificate about their feelings on marriage equality, or worse, subject an audience to a sermon about acceptance. I wanted someone to throw grandma’s wig in the dog bowl! I wanted people to chase each other around the room passionately with gerbils and vacuum cleaners! I wanted you to see people so in love with each other they wanted to part one another like water."

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One of the gay films screened at this summer's San Francisco Jewish Film Festival presented a hair-raising depiction of the obstacles faced by two gay men who quickly fall in love despite the fact that they are surrounded by the kind of tribal hatred as old as the feud between the Capulets and the Montagues.

The initial set-up for Out In The Dark is simple. Two men meet in a gay bar in Tel Aviv and quickly realize that they are attracted to each other. But there are problems. Major problems:
  • Roy Schaefer (Michael Aloni) is an Israeli lawyer who is out to his parents and is trying to decide on a new career direction. Among his clients are some gangsters who have told Roy that if he ever needs a favor -- any favor -- he can always rely on them.
  • Nimr Mashrawi (Nicholas Jacob) is a Palestinian student with a promising future who dreams of studying abroad where he could escape his family's (and nation's) blatant homophobia and anti-Semitism. Because he is illegally in Tel Aviv and a Palestinian Arab staying with a Jew from a prominent Israeli family, Nimr is under surveillance by the Israeli authorities and subject to blackmail. Meanwhile, Nimr's brother, Nabil (Jameel Khouri), has been secretly running guns for an underground group of Palestinian extremists. 

Director/producer/co-writer Michael Mayer's first feature film is a tense political and romantic thriller in which two gay men struggle to protect their love from the violence and paranoia that infects their daily lives. While Nicholas Jacob and Michael Aloni are two sympathetic leads, this is the kind of love story in which even the final ray of hope is shrouded in gloom.

Poster art for Out in the Dark

In his director’s statement, Mayer writes:
"Out In The Dark, for me, is about love and about a man facing insurmountable odds on his journey to experience it. Nimr‘s relationship with Roy and with his family are the heart and soul of Out In The Dark. My ultimate goal was to push Nimr’s relationship with Roy and with his family to the foreground and to allow us to experience it in the raw. When it came time to rehearse we spent weeks with the actors, working on building character and performance, but also (and just as important) establishing a natural closeness and affinity between the actors that brings real honesty to their portrayals. We should never feel like we are watching Nimr and Roy from afar, studying them, or worse, judging them, but rather we should be immersed in their drama and their touching story.

Together with my DP, Ran Aviad, we decided to keep the camera fluid and place it as close to the actors as possible, thus creating a sense of intimacy and immediacy and avoiding a more detached style of a static and distant camera so often associated with current world cinema. We chose to keep the framing tight, not only to serve intimacy but also to create a growing sense of claustrophobia and keep our geography vague (merging Ramallah and Tel Aviv into one continuous thematic location)."
There are many moments in Out In The Dark when a viewer might find himself wishing that both men, knowing what their tiny, hate-filled world has in store for them, would simply quit while they're ahead. But, as Shakespeare wrote: "The course of true love never did run smooth."

1 comment:

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