Saturday, January 17, 2015

Finding Emo

Teenagers often claim to know who they are with an absolutism that can be nightmarish. But it takes years before one can peel away layers of accumulated misinformation (and disinformation) in order to truly explore one's inner self. As youthful passion and smug self-righteousness fall to the wayside, a desperate grasp on reality can finally start to take hold.

All too often, a person is surprised at what he learns about himself. Are there cultural obstacles to discovering certain hidden truths? You'd better believe it.
  • Chubby chasers from Kuwait, Hong Kong, and Saudi Arabia came to visit me in San Francisco. The experience was very much like a second coming out. Recently, on a cold, winter night (as I apologized for wearing a comfy, bright red velour sweater to bed), an extremely affectionate Japanese friend exclaimed "But it's great -- you look just like Santa Claus!"
  • For many years, I could never understand why I was incapable of fitting in with certain groups of people or sharing the same values as many around me. It wasn't until I started learning about introverts (in large part thanks to Anneli Rufus's revelatory book, Party of One: The Loners' Manifesto) that I began to see all the pieces of the puzzle fitting into place. If that book had been available 40 years earlier, I might have had a very different life! Anna Bashkova's recent article entitled 6 Reasons Why You Should Date the Outgoing Introvert offers a  helpful set of new insights.
  • Finally, if the Internet (and word processing software) had been available in 1977 when I began to pursue writing as a creative outlet, I would have had a markedly different career in print.
A blogger-to-be waiting for the Internet to come online

In a fascinating article published on, blogger John Aravosis asks Why Did Gay Activists Never Embrace Violence? But hindsight, as they say, is 20/20. For the confused characters in two dramas I recently watched, hindsight is not even an option. In order to achieve any insight into their true selves, they must first unlearn a lot of falsehoods.

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Goofy naivete may have a great deal of charm, but it also comes loaded with liabilities. These became increasingly apparent in Sarah Ruhl's frail 2003 play entitled Late: A Cowboy Song That Knows No Gender (which is currently being performed at the Custom Made Theatre in a production directed by Ariel Craft). Working on a unit set designed by Erik LaDue, Ruhl's drama revolves around three unworldly and curiously immature Pennsylvanians who have known each other since the second grade.

Crick (Brian Martin) has grown into an idealistic slacker with no marketable job skills. His tearful sentimentality can reduce him to a state of weepy-eyed paralysis while watching reruns of 1946's It's A Wonderful Life on television. A handsome man-child who has never been exposed to much of anything outside his comfort zone, Crick has been living off the woman who was his grade school sweetheart and who (thankfully) has a job. When necessity forces Crick to get a job of his own, he interviews to become a security guard at a local museum so that he can spend time looking at the paintings in its collection. He gets fired for one of the most lame-brained reasons imaginable.

Crick (Brian Martin) and Mary (Maria Leigh) in Late: A Cowboy 
Song That Knows No Gender (Photo by: Jay Yamada)

Mary (Maria Leigh) is the girl Crick fell in love with in second grade and has been obsessed with ever since. Mary has a tendency to be late for class, late for dinner, late for love, and late for ovulation. When she ends up giving birth to a hermaphroditic child, she's even late to the decision about which one set of external genitalia should be surgically removed.

Mary (Maria Leigh) and Crick (Brian Martin) in Late: A Cowboy
 Song That Knows No Gender (Photo by: Jay Yamada)

Red (Lauren Preston) is a former classmate of Crick and Mary who has evolved into an extremely self-sufficient horse whisperer who lives just outside of Pittsburgh's city limits. Although Mary and Red enjoy meeting up for Chinese food, where they can savor a tasty clear broth along with the warmth of each other's company, their friendship is sporadic and informal. Happily clad in chaps and a cowboy hat, Red is very much her own woman. She self-identifies as a cowboy (rather than a cowgirl), likes to pluck out tunes on her guitar (although her singing voice is barely audible), and can easily manage without the complications of city life.

Mary (Maria Leigh) and Red (Lauren Preston) in Late: A Cowboy 
Song That Knows No Gender (Photo by: Jay Yamada)

While Ruhl's play has individual elements which show great potential, the hard truth is that there can be very little character development without some kind of dramatic tension. Whether that tension stems from an unexpected pregnancy, questions about whether to name their baby "Jack" or "Blue," or Crick's growing insecurities over not having a job (or control over his wife), the situation comes to a head when Mary comes home late and is confronted by her angry, jealous husband clutching a baseball bat just in case he needs to assert his male dominance.

Despite the earnest acting by Brian Martin, Maria Leigh, and Lauren Preston, it doesn't take long for the air to leak out of Sarah Ruhl's dramatic balloon. Late: A Cowboy Song That Knows No Gender has the feel of a whimsical kitchen experiment that failed to become an entrĂ©eThis is obviously an early effort by a playwright who has since produced (and been hailed for) much more solid work.

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One of the strangest examples of a story in which potential lovers "meet cute" is Love Steaks, a low-budget German film being screened during the 2015 SFIndie Film Festival. Written and directed by Jakob Lass, the action takes place in a luxury German seaside resort where two new employees are trying to adjust to the daily routine.

Clemens (Franz Rogowski) and Lara (Lana Cooper) are
new employees working at a health spa in Love Steaks

Lara Schmelzing (Lana Cooper) is a rowdy kitchen worker with a bawdy sense of humor, an obvious drinking problem, and a very aggressive nature. "Just one of the girls who's one of the boys," she enjoys a certain amount of violence and, given the opportunity, can be quite an effective little bully.

Lana Cooper as Lara Schmelzing in Love Steaks

By contrast, Clemens Pollozek (Franz Rogowski) is a shy, inhibited young man who has recently graduated from massage school and been hired to work in the hotel's spa. Although well schooled in chakras, auras, and holistic healing techniques, he still needs guidance in how to handle a drunken female client who tries to grope him as she lies naked on the massage table. To make matters worse, Clemens is a bit of a klutz.

Franz Rogowski is Clemens Pollozek in Love Steaks

After they meet in one of the hotel's service elevators, a strange sort of bond develops between Clemens (a sober, devout vegetarian who is sleeping on a spare mattress in the hotel's laundry room) and Lara, who tries to win him over with a juicy steak and some booze. As their playful encounters meet with continued disapproval from the spa's administrative staff, Lara takes sadistic pleasure in teasing Clemens (whom she calls "Clementina") about the fact that he has a small penis and forcing him to approach his boss and confess an overwhelming sexual attraction to him.

When Clemens approaches one of Lara's kitchen bosses to ask for some extra sensitivity with regard to her drinking problem, his noble intentions lead to her termination. Confused, disappointed, and startled by the turn of events, Clemens resigns from his job and is walking away when he encounters Lara. In a surprising turn of events, the two lovers get into a physical altercation that draws blood. Much to his surprise, the peace-loving vegetarian discovers he likes the taste of it.

Clemens (Frank Rogowski) tastes his own blood in Love Steaks

With some interesting cinematography by Timon Schaeppi, Love Steaks is a tightly-directed film which rests on the shoulders of its two protagonists. Here's the trailer:

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