- Gay men used to dread being called "faggot" (Dan Savage's original column inserted the words "Hey, Faggot" before each letter requesting his advice). However, in today's LGBT culture, many gay men tease each other with the word "faggot" while stressing that it's okay for gay men to use the term, but not okay for straight people to use it (unless of course, they're having sex in a situation that incorporates a certain amount of humiliation as part of their erotic play).
- For decades, African Americans had good reason to feel threatened by and resent any use of "the N-word." While people still bristle at the sound of the word "nigger," calling someone a "nigga" has taken on a vastly different connotation.
- Back in the 1960s, the word "bitch" was considered unspeakably crude (unless you were referring to a dog that had recently spawned a litter of puppies). Once used to define a person's role in prison relationships, today's men and women are routinely referred to as "bitches."
- For centuries, snowflakes were thought of as ice crystals that fell from the sky. However, in the past decade a new definition has evolved. "Snowflake" began as an epithet conservatives liked to hurl at soft-hearted liberals who were easily offended. However, as religious conservatives kept complaining about being persecuted and political conservatives found new value in claiming victimhood as a badge of honor, the most virulent bullies revealed their true identities (as the real snowflakes).
For cunning linguists, it's beginning to sound as if we're living in an alternate universe. Unless, of course, one remembers the famous opening sentence penned by Charles Dickens for his 1859 novel, A Tale of Two Cities:
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way -- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."Nevertheless, hope springs eternal, with fresh seeds being planted in the field of children's literature. A new book by Ben Brooks entitled Stories for Boys Who Dare to Be Different contains 100 stories about men ranging from Bill Gates to Stormzy, from Ai Weiwei to Salvador Dalí.
Due out later this year is The Good Guys: 50 Heroes Who Changed the World with Kindness, Rob Kemp's collection of stories about men "who have proven that changing the world doesn’t require a sword or a corporate jet." Kemp's book focuses on men like Usain Bolt and James Harrison (a prolific blood plasma donor who saved millions of lives over the past 50 years). As the author explains:
“We know our children are increasingly turning to other forms of media for entertainment and information, and we know that these tie in with social media feeds and 24/7 news -- little of which is painting a very positive picture of men, especially at the moment. The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have not only highlighted the poor behavior of men (and demanded that they’re rightly made culpable for it), but have shown us how the vast majority of people want to look to positive role models and be inspired by those who don’t mean to harm others, but help them instead. I hope these kinds of books reflect this and inspire young minds to follow a more positive path.”
Three stories new to Bay area audiences highlight how our carelessness with words can impact issues of health, continue to stigmatize minorities seeking employment, undermine a person's self-image, and damage relationships. Not surprisingly, each story involves a growing paranoia about treading on highly sensitive contemporary cultural issues. Instead of the old warning to "Do the right thing," people are learning the cost of failing to say the right thing.
* * * * * * * * *As part of CAAMFest 2018, audiences will get a taste of a new TV series entitled Just Doug, which stars Douglas Kim as a Korean-American who took his earnings ($2,391,520 in real life) from the 2006 World Series of Poker and, instead of using his newfound fortune to pursue a career guaranteed to get parental approval (medicine, law, dentistry), decided to try his luck in Hollywood. With emotional support from his close friend, Gary (Gilbert Galon), and agent, Francis (Kevin Brief), he has already spent six years trying to navigate a humiliating path of auditions for commercials and film roles with disappointing results.
Unlike aspiring actors whose financial desperation can force them to accept demeaning roles, Doug has the advantage of money in the bank (a critical luxury among struggling artists). One night, he goes out on a blind date with an attractive Asian woman named Carol (Cynthy Wu), who also dreams of a brighter future but is currently working in a deli. During dinner, he confesses that there's a tiny chance he might get called in the next day if the actor slotted for an audition gets sick.
|Poster art for Just Doug|
The next morning Doug is awakened by a call from Francis, telling him that it's his lucky day. The audition is for a role as the token Asian in a new sitcom called Basic Buddies. Approaching the opportunity like a professional, Doug gets through the first run-through without a hitch. Then, Neil (Time Winters) and Warren (Daniel Lench) ask if he could try it again with "a more ethnic verbal approach." Realizing that they're looking for a classic Hollywood stereotype that might be as ridiculous as Mickey Rooney's highly offensive portrayal of Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany's, Doug calls Francis (who encourages him to go ahead and try it, suggesting that, as Doug's agent, he's at a point where he needs to drop some actors from his roster).
|Daniel Lench and Douglas Kim in a scene from Just Doug|
The challenge for Doug is whether to "give people what they want" and completely lose his self-respect or leave the audition, lose his agent, and give up on acting. In a moment of anger, he chooses to give Neil and Warren exactly what they want -- but do it as an improv in which his character is an Asian stereotype on steroids. Although his second take is shocking -- and shockingly good for the sitcom's purposes -- it fills Doug with self doubt. Checking in one last time with Francis, he is advised not to make a decision for 24 hours and see what happens.
When a video of the audition leaks onto social media, Doug's online profile starts getting tagged with insults calling him a total sell-out. But then something surprising happens. A woman comes up to him in a coffee shop and raves about the scene, insisting that they take a half dozen selfies. When he encounters Carol at the deli where she works, she agrees that what he's doing is kind of racist, but reminds him that it's part of "the process." Then Doug's mother calls to congratulate him on becoming a Hollywood star, adding that all their friends loved what they saw and couldn't stop laughing.
Written by Doug Kim and Brian Shin (and directed by Dan Chen), the new series shows potential. You can watch the first episode of Just Doug on Dramafever.com. In the meantime, here are two trailers.
* * * * * * * * *San Francisco's New Conservatory Theatre Center is currently presenting the West Coast premiere of Bathsheba Doran's drama, The Mystery of Love and Sex. Resting on a solid foundation of the concepts that "Familiarity breeds contempt" and "You always hurt the person you love," the play's four characters have a long history of shared experiences.
- Howard (Dave Sikula) is a straight, white, married male who is not aging gracefully. A successful writer of detective stories, he prides himself on his ability to reach a conclusion and is the kind of stubborn old coot who believes that he is always right. Although Howard means well, he can be a royal pain in the ass, pushing people in directions they have steadfastly refused to go. He has no love for his father, displays a keen racial bias and homophobic slant in his writing, and likes to think of himself as "one of the good guys."
- Lucinda (Shay Oglesby-Smith) is Howard's wife who has given up smoking but, in order to tolerate her husband's behavior, decided that marijuana doesn't count. A true daughter of the South (her nickname is Lulabelle), when Lucinda announced that she planned to marry a New York Jew, she was ostracized from her family. She has since learned to smile and just let Howard continue to rant until she gets what she wants. Although the couple has lived together for many years, Lucinda has an independent streak which rises to the surface with surprising results.
|Linda Maria Girón (Charlotte) and Shay Oglesby-Smith (Lucinda) in a|
scene from The Mystery of Love and Sex (Photo by: Lois Tema)
- Charlotte ((Linda Maria Girón) is Lucinda and Howard's daughter. Selfish and narcissistic, she is the kind of well-intentioned woman who bulldozes her way into a new passion but, in her overzealous enthusiasm, can be as socially clumsy as a bull in a china shop. Although she vows that the shy Jonny is like her soulmate (and someone she can't live without), she has an annoying need to dominate him, even suggesting that he lose her virginity to her.
- Jonny (Kenny Scott) went to school with Charlotte and has been her best friend since they were nine years old. Whereas Charlotte is white, Jewish and spoiled rotten, Jonny is black, Baptist, and a deeply closeted virgin. As the play begins, Howard and Lucinda have arrived for dinner in Charlotte's dorm room where, although there are no chairs and the locally-sourced menu is free of meat, gluten, and butter, the atmosphere is awash in tension and cheap wine.
|Kenny Scott (Jonny), Linda Maria Girón (Charlotte), and Dave Sikula|
(Howard) in a scene from The Mystery of Love and Sex
(Photo by: Lois Tema)
Under Rebecca Longworth's capable direction, Doran's play follows these four characters from the time Jonny and Charlotte go to college until five years later, when Charlotte marries another woman. Along the way, there are numerous meltdowns, misunderstandings, moments of umbrage, and expressions of undying love -- all created to demonstrate that life is messy, people are imperfect, and it's hard to forgive someone (much less your own self) without facing up to some uncomfortable truths. One of those truths is that people like Howard and Charlotte are so busy thinking about what they want to say next that they are often incapable of listening to what someone else might have to say.
Working on Ting-Na Wang's handsome unit set (with costumes by Nikki-Anderson Joy, lighting by Sophia Craven, and sound design by Ryan Lee Short), NCTC's ensemble treads a delicate line between melodrama and bitter irony, between bullying and, particularly in Jonny's case, getting up the courage to get naked and make himself vulnerable to his closest friend in the world.
|Linda Maria Girón (Charlotte) and Kenny Scott (Jonny) in a scene|
from The Mystery of Love and Sex (Photo by: Lois Tema)
I tip my hat to Dave Sikula, who ran with the challenge of making Howard a thoroughly disagreeable, self-righteous bastard who can't help trying to run his daughter's life according to his own wishes. Linda Maria Girón's highly animated Charlotte (who doesn't hesitate to take her clothes off when she thinks that seducing her best friend without his consent is a good idea) creates a fascinating portrayal of a woman whose selfishness frequently blinds her to what the people in her life want (as opposed to what she thinks they need).
|Kenny Scott (Jonny) and Linda Maria Girón (Charlotte) in a scene |
from The Mystery of Love and Sex (Photo by: Lois Tema)
I was particularly taken by Kenny Scott's layered characterization of Jonny and the intriguing transformation achieved by Shay Oglesby-Smith's Lucinda late in the play. Performances of The Mystery of Love and Sex continue through May 20 at New Conservatory Theatre Center (click here for tickets).
* * * * * * * * *Over in Berkeley, the Aurora Theatre Company is presenting the world premiere of Jonathan Spector's timely dramedy, Eureka Day, a product of the company's Originate + Generate program for new works. The setting is an upscale private school whose liberal steering committee encourages its members to be as politically correct as possible when voicing opinions, making decisions, and trying to call a person or thing by its most appropriate gender and/or designation. While these people are exquisitely careful about how they phrase their statements while trying to express themselves (so as not to offend anyone), the underlying message is that, while one is free to say anything they like, it would be wise to be extremely careful about what they say.
|The cast of Eureka Day (Photo by: David Allen)|
The committee is led by Don (Rolf Saxon), the kind of group facilitator who is so eager to create and maintain a healthy environment for discussion that it's hard to tell whether he's bouncing up and down with giddy excitement or tip-toeing around the room to make sure everyone feels sufficiently validated. The only other man in the room is Eli (Teddy Spencer) who, as Google's 12th employee, has been exceptionally generous whenever funds are needed for school improvements or program activities. Eli is a stay-at-home father whose wife, Rachel, frequently travels for business.
At the beginning of the play, there are two women on the committee. Meiko (Charisse Loriaux) is a quiet (almost sullen) young mother who keeps knitting during meetings and does not appreciate anyone trying to put words in her mouth. By contrast, Suzanne (Lisa Anne Porter) is the kind of woman whose need to be the center of attention (and dominant voice on the committee) tends to suck all the air out of the room. As much as she likes to think of herself as a paragon of political correctness, Suzanne is a self-absorbed bully. When it becomes necessary for her to apologize to someone, the way she gushes about how truly sorry she is has a creepy aura of titillation.
|Lisa Anne Porter (Suzanne) and Rolf Saxon (Don) in|
a scene from Eureka Day (Photo by: David Allen)
At the moment, the group is welcoming a new parent to the committee. One reason Carina (Elizabeth Carter) has enrolled her son at Eureka Day is because of its reputation as one of the best private schools in the area. Another is that her son was having trouble fitting in at his former school.
Midway through Act I, Don drops a bombshell. He's received a letter from the Department of Health revealing that at least one student at Eureka Day has been diagnosed with mumps. As a result, he must send a copy of an enclosed form letter to all parents with instructions on what they must do to protect their children from becoming infected.
The question of how and who should be quarantined at home would seem to be the most important issue at hand. However, a discussion quickly erupts over how delicately parents should be informed of the news and which children have (or have not) received the appropriate childhood vaccinations. To the shock and consternation of those who believe in medicine and science, there are several anti-vaxxers whose children attend Eureka Day. The chosen solution is for Don to host a Facebook Live session in which parents can discuss the situation in a virtual meeting.
Shortly after the Facebook Live session begins, off-topic comments start appearing on screens above the audience. Before long, the online discussion has deteriorated into a string of petty insults which has the audience laughing their heads off, but does nothing to solve Eureka Day's problem. Meanwhile, Eli and Meiko have quietly set up a play date for their children which will simultaneously allow them to enjoy some intimacy while Rachel is out of town.
|Eli (Teddy Spencer) and Meiko (Charisse Loriaux) share a moment|
of intimacy in a scene from Eureka Day (Photo by: David Allen)
Act II begins on a more sobering note. Although Meiko's daughter had a cold when they visited Eli, her symptoms are subsiding. However, Eli's son, Tobias, is now in the hospital. As tension builds, Suzanne starts to lose control of the discussion. In a growing sense of panic, she lashes out, condescendingly suggesting that while everyone welcomes Carina's input (especially since she's a minority), there's just so much that the school can be expected to do for children who receive some kind of subsidy. Tempers flare as members of the committee worry what might happen if the school has to shut down in order to prevent more students from becoming infected. As emotions boil over, Meiko feels increasingly guilty about the possibility that her daughter might have infected Tobias. After Suzanne reveals a closely-held secret about her son's health, she learns that (contrary to her assumption), Carina's son is a full-pay student.
|Carina (Elizabeth Carter) is a concerned parent in a|
scene from Eureka Day (Photo by: David Allen)
Working on Richard Olmsted's handsome unit set (with its lovely view of the Bay area) that is beautifully lit by Jeff Rowlings, Aurora's production of Eureka Day benefits immensely from Theodore J. H. Hulsker's sound and video design. While Lisa Anne Porter's increasingly agitated performance continues to hog the spotlight, it's the quiet characters (Carina and Meiko) who hold the most powerful cards in the deck.
I found it interesting to note a curious contrast between Eureka Day and The Mystery of Love and Sex. Whereas both playwrights have concentrated on creating imperfect characters struggling to cope with strained emotions and difficult circumstances, it seems as if director Josh Costello lucked out by being dealt a stronger hand with a more powerful selection of cards. As the playwright explains:
“Before the Internet, there were a lot of subjects that most people didn’t know much about and, on some level, were willing to just defer to experts on. However, you can now go online and find whatever information you are looking for. In many ways that’s great. But it’s also tricky because of how prone we are to confirmation bias. Unlike gun control, abortion, or climate change, beliefs around vaccines don’t track closely with political beliefs. There are vaccine skeptics on both the left and the right (although they get there in different ways). My work is usually heavily rooted in a sense of place and, since this was a commission for Aurora, I wanted to write something that would be a 'Berkeley' play. I’d had the experience a few times in the Bay area of talking with people who I know are super smart, highly-educated people with whom I agree on 99% of issues, and then being shocked to discover that, on this one thing, we existed in different realities. So that was interesting to me.”
|Carina (Elizabeth Carter) and Suzanne (Lisa Anne Porter) are |
members of a private school's steering committee in Eureka Day
(Photo by: David Allen)
Performances of Eureka Day continue through May 13 at the Aurora Theatre Company (click here for tickets).