Saturday, October 8, 2016

Wigging Out

Temper tantrums don't just wear out their audiences. Over a reasonably short period of time they lose their effectiveness. Whether one is a toddler or a teenager, the fast and furious response to not getting your way isn't guaranteed to produce the desired result.

According to Wikipedia:
"Acting out is a psychological term from the parlance of defense mechanisms and self-control, meaning to perform an action in contrast to bearing and managing the impulse to perform it. The acting done is usually anti-social and may take the form of acting on the impulses of an addiction (e.g. drinking, drug taking or shoplifting) or in a means designed (often unconsciously or semi-consciously) to garner attention (e.g. throwing a tantrum or behaving promiscuously). In general usage, the action performed is destructive to self or others and may inhibit the development of more constructive responses to the feelings in question. The term is used in this way in sexual addiction treatment, psychotherapy, criminology, and parenting."
As one matures, acting out can take on all kinds of dysfunctional behavior ranging from prolonged sulking to acts of violence. There are times when parents gleefully mock the behavior they resorted to when they were children.

Acting out is also a sure sign that someone is losing control of their emotions. Whether such behavior results from rejection, failure, anger, frustration, or jealousy, finding a way to move past one's emotional pain and feelings of betrayal is part of growing up.

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Many articles about bullying have been published in recent years, with a special emphasis on LGBT adolescents who are victimized by their straight peers. But what about situations in which one gay person is being bullied by another? What could possibly be the motivation for gay-on-gay violence? Living in the closet is an obvious answer. However, of equal importance is the bully not understanding why he is attracted to his victim. Or the victim not understanding why he has a crush on his attacker.

One of the most complex and fascinating movies screened during the 2016 Frameline Film Festival was Being 17, a remarkable coming-of-age story brought to the screen by director André Téchiné. Set in a remote village in the French Pyrenees, it focuses on two teenage boys who attend the same school.
  • Damien DeLille (Kacey Mottet Klein) has a comfortable home life, a supportive family, likes Rimbaud's poetry, excels at math, and wears an earring. Skinny (although not frail), the 17-year-old has grown up with a nurturing mother, Marianne (Sandrine Kiberlain), who is also the on-call village physician in Bagneres-du-Luchon. Damien's father, Nathan (Alexis Loret), is a helicopter pilot flying medical rescue missions in a war zone who looks forward to coming home to his family. While Damien is white and still trying to figure out whether or not he's attracted to men, he's an easy target for bullies. Until he seeks help from a former pugilist who is a family friend (Jean Corso), he has no idea how to defend himself.
  • Thomas Charpoul (Corentin Fila) has had a rougher life. Adopted by two farmers who live in the mountains, he commutes to school by bus and on foot, sometimes hiking for nearly three hours a day. Having grown up tending to cattle and sheep, he dreams of becoming a veterinarian, is completely at home in his own body, and has no compunctions about stripping off his clothes and going skinny dipping at night in a frigid mountain lake. A biracial teenager whose raging hormones make him prone to mood swings, he often vents his frustrations by bullying Damien at school. When Tom's adoptive mother, Christina (Mama Prassinos), unexpectedly becomes pregnant after years of being unable to conceive, the young man must shoulder even more of the farm's workload. 
Thomas (Corentin Fila) and Damien (Kacey Mottet Klein) are two
students attending the same school in André Téchiné’s Being 17

Although the two boys are constantly butting heads at school and receiving increasingly poor grades on their schoolwork, a series of medical emergencies brings them together in a most unusual way. When Christina becomes ill, Marianne (who has been guiding her through a difficult pregnancy), suggests that Tom come to live with her and Damien temporarily so that he can spend less time walking back and forth to school, If the two boys can study together, perhaps their grades will improve.

Damien (Kacey Mottet Klein) and Thomas (Corentin Fila) try to
help each other study in a scene from André Téchiné’s Being 17

It takes a while for either boy to recognize (or even be able to articulate) his sexual orientation, much less the erotic attraction they share. The fact that Marianne may also feel a subconscious attraction to Tom only makes things more complicated for Damien.

Thomas (Corentin Fila) and Marianne (Sandrine Kiberlain)
share a quiet moment in a scene from André Téchiné’s Being 17

With an original score by Alexis Rault and some gorgeous cinematography of Julien Hirsch, Téchiné (along with co-writer Céline Sciamma) lets the story play out over the course of three semesters, thereby allowing the relationship between Damien and Tom to be seen against a background of the changing seasons. By the time they have overcome the need to express themselves through violence (and must work together to provide emotional support to Marianne during a family crisis), the two boys are starting to mature. Formerly trapped in the whirlpool of emotions that arose from being in love with his tormentor, Damien can now facilitate a meeting between Tom and Marc (Edouard Lamoitier), an industrial farmer who might be willing to hire Tom to help take care of the animals on his farm.

Thomas (Corentin Fila) and Damien (Kacey Mottet Klein) are two
students attending the same school in André Téchiné’s Being 17

Being 17 benefits from the dynamic interaction between its two leads as they move from abject hatred (countered by an adolescent crush) to a surprising level of trust and affection. As they continue to mature, each develops a better understanding of his desire to sexually dominate the other. Corentin Fila's intensity as an actor offers audiences a fascinating portrayal with a long arc of character development (it's impossible not to be transfixed by the fire and passion in his eyes).

Poster art for Being 17

As Marianne, Sandrine Kiberlain turns in a touching performance which ranges from maternal warmth to the depths of depression while Kacey Mottet Klein gives a beautifully layered portrayal of a young gay man who is slowly coming to understand some of the surprising ways in which his emotions have been shaped by his sexuality. Here's the trailer:

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While Damien and Thomas were getting all wigged out in France, Darren Criss and Lena Hall were wigging out onstage in the national tour of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which touched down at the Golden Gate Theatre in Criss and Hall's home town of San Francisco. With an updated book by the show's original author, John Cameron Mitchell, and music and lyrics by Stephen Trask, Hedwig has not lost any of its appeal. If anything, it has gained a saucier, wittier script than that of the original 1998 off-Broadway production or the 2001 film (both of which starred Mitchell).

With costumes designed by Arianne Phillips (and wigs and makeup by Mike Potter), the character of Hedwig offers a tremendous opportunity for a male performer. This production first opened on Broadway on April 22, 2014 with Neil Patrick Harris in the lead. By the time it closed (some 507 performances later), Andrew Rannells, Michael C. Hall, John Cameron Mitchell, Darren Criss, and Taye Diggs had all donned Hedwig's monstrous wigs and packed the Belasco Theatre with adoring audiences. With so few leading roles for men in musicals, wig designer Mike Potter and Darren Criss explain Hedwig's peculiar appeal to any performer lucky enough to play the part.

Directed by Michael Mayer with sound design by Tim O'Heir, there are times when Hedwig's German accent and way of talking to the audience almost seem like a glam rock update of Marlene Dietrich's solo show from 50 years ago. In addition to Hedwig's more animated moments upstage as he listens to the noise coming from Tommy Gnosis's nearby outdoor concert, there is a bittersweet drollness to Hedwig's commentary. From one generation's screen goddess to another's drag goddess, the waves of adulation are undeniable. However, I doubt that Dietrich ever dropped her furs and started climbing into the laps of her audience or kissing older men on their bald heads.

From "The Origin of Love," "Sugar Daddy" and "Wig In A Box" to "Hedwig's Lament" and Itzak's rendition of "Midnight Radio," the opening night performance was a triumph for Criss and Hall. Julian Crouch's unit set (enhanced by Benjamin Pearcy's projections and the animation sequences created by Phosphene/John Bair) created a stunning playground for Hedwig's antics as Criss kept leaping on (and all over) the hood and roof of a broken down car. The only drawback was the throbbing intensity of the lighting design by Kevin Adams, which at times was so blinding that I had to shut my eyes to lessen the pain.

Darren Criss stars in Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Photo by: Joan Marcus) 

Overall, this production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a joyous experience that sits well in a much larger theatre than the Belasco. Itzak's physical transformation near the end of the show offers a magnificent star turn for Lena Hall who, together with Criss, gave the audience every ounce of energy she had.

Darren Criss stars in Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Photo by: Joan Marcus) 

One of the curious blessings of this revival is that whoever gets to play Hedwig (Lena Hall will take on the title role during some matinees) is not just having a blast onstage, but is eager to share the fun.

Performances of Hedwig and the Angry Inch continue through October 30 at the Golden Gate Theatre (click here for tickets).

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