Thursday, October 28, 2010

Very Funny

David Parr

Last Monday evening at the TOSOS Robert Chesley/Jane Chambers Playwright Project, forever elfin David Drake presented a reading of David Parr’s Slap&Tickle. It had a perfect cast: Stephen Bienskie, J. Stephen Brantley, Todd Flaherty, Joseph Mahan, and Aaron Tone (Drake also stood in for a role). It was a HUGE hit. A sold out audience roared its approval. But the star of the evening was the playwright David Parr. He is a very funny playwright. A very, very funny playwright. A very, very, very funny playwright. An extremely very, very, very funny playwright. Perhaps even too funny. Perhaps even way too funny. As one funny playwright to another, perhaps Parr should concentrate on blank verse drama. Symbolic blank verse drama. Tragedy even. In Sanskrit.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Take One for the Team

Asher Brown, 13, Seth Walsh, 13, and Justin Aaberg committed
suicide in 2010 in the face of anti-gay bullying.

Something about my past I was sure I would never consider telling, I am now going to write about. Only a very few people know a small part of this. It seemed far too private and it was so very long ago. It did have a huge impact on who I am now, but recounting it seemed to serve no purpose and was best just forgotten. The suicides and bashings of the past few weeks have made it imperative that I reconsider. In fact it has become impossible for me not share.

This is just for background: The important matter comes later. My freshman and sophomore years of high school were spent in a private school on the west coast of Washington State. I came home to Kennewick for my junior and senior year. Kennewick High was a bit of a shock after St. Martin’s, but I was making great grades and I had some great teachers. And it seemed that it would be OK.

It was the great grades that started the whole problem. I have no idea how people are graded now, but back then it was “on the curve.” And it seems I was setting the curve high. Some of the school’s best athletes were in some of my classes. And because of me bumping up the curve, they were dropping a whole grade and therefore ineligible to play sports. And they were not happy Jocks.

One of the coaches (he was also a teacher of mine) was equally not happy about losing players he had been depending on to win games. So one day in class he must has looked at me and realized I was letting down the team. He took some of his players aside and suggested that they should take me aside and “convince” me to not be so “smart in class.” So they waited after school and beat me up.

I should mention I had been out since I was 13, but not necessarily obvious. And this attack was not overtly homophobic. That I was different was crime enough. I loved to read, I painted pictures, I acted with the local theater group, I was not athletic as either a participant or a supporter. Horror of horrors, I even liked opera! In other words, I was different. And I did get great grades and that alone deserved a kick in the head.

Now this was the 1950s and to paraphrase the song, “folks were if not dumb where I come from, they weren’t really all that smart.” They probably didn’t know the word “faggot” back then, they certainly didn’t use it. The worst they could come up as they kicked me was “smart ass” and “egg head.” They took special pleasure with “egg head,” snarling it at me as if it were the nastiest insult of all. The number of kicks that actually connected were few and far between. (Emplaning a lot about their competence on the playing field.) I survived. (I told my Mon I had fallen off my bike.)

I was told to stop getting good grades or this just be my first of many “workouts.” A girl who had been jilted by one of my “new found friends,” ratted on the cause and source of my encounter. I immediately failed the coach’s class to get away from him. And I pulled back in my other classes. Not that this was difficult, as I was becoming so active with the Richland players, and painting, and cruising the toilets of the Pasco train station, I had almost no interest in school work.

[sidebar: On two separate occasions I saw two of my “new found friends” enter the toilets late at night and stay a good forty-five minutes. There was probably a perfectly innocent explanation why at 2 a.m. they needed to use a john in a train station on the far side of a town across the Columbia River from where they actually lived. I did not let them see me. I did make a mental note of the furtive way they left.]

For two years my “new found friends” continued to wait for me after school. I was so clever in finding secret ways to get home from school they only caught me twice again. And their aim had not improved. I was so tempted to mention the Pasco train station. But I didn’t. Not only was I clever, I was smart.

The above is only prologue to my post.

The second person I ever had sex with was 17. I was 15. We had one happy summer riding our bikes. I suppose in an adolescent way, we were in love with each other. (Or as close as you could get to love in the Tri-Cities in the 1950s) I will call him Tim. He lived in a righteous God-fearing American family. His father (a proud member of the NRA) was a hunter and had bought Tim a shotgun when he was ten. Tim got very good with it and won a number of marksmanship contests. He became the apple of his father’s eye.

Or until his father and mother caught him being fucked in the family rec room. Being good Christians, they knew exactly what to do with an errant apple. They made plans to send him off to a hospital near Tacoma where he would be given a lobotomy. (A popular curative of the period for uppity women and non aggressive boys—I am told the tea-baggers are eager to reestablish this particular procedure.) Tim would come home no longer a fruit. He would come home no longer much of anything.

As soon as Tim could escape the loving concern of his parents, he came to warn me that what he and I were doing was wrong and a sin and an abomination and that if I did love him I would stop doing it immediately because he could not bear to think what his family was about to do to him would ever be done to me. He then went home and shot himself in the head. Tim’s father proved the old adage right: guns don’t kill people, people kill people. And he should know–he had caused his son to die, not the shogun.

Tim’s death was explained as a hunting accident. A common yearly occurrence where I grew up. Exact what he had been hunting in the family rec room was never fully explained. The coach later moved into our neighborhood, almost next door. His son grew an extensive crop of healthy marijuana plants behind the roses. He was to became one of the town’s major drug dealers. I heard he went to prison for rape.

As for Tim, I don’t even have a photo of him.

Please consider supporting the Trevor Project:

PS - Years later I discovered that my mother (one very smart cookie) did not buy my “bicycle accident” explanation. She knew exactly what had happened and went to the high school to complain. She was told that a little bullying was healthy for a growing boy. What she didn’t know at the time was that the vice-principal she confronted was the same coach who had set the “dogs” on me in the first place.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Man walks into a bar with a pineapple...

Honorary Golden Pineapple Awards presented by N Y Artists Unlimited (23 July 2010)

l to r: Sherry Eaker, Israel Horovitz, Tony Spinosa, Melba LaRose, Doric Wilson, Ellie Covan and Charles Busch (Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN)

Friday, March 26, 2010

A Shoe Full of Champagne

Mark Nadler & KT Sullivan
“Gershwin…Here to Stay”

When the Stature of Liberty climbed out of the ocean in 1886, she found a Manhattan that already had an abundance of dames. Which explains why she wisely constrained herself to an island out in the harbor. Way back to Jenny Lind, this city loves its theatrical ladies. I just spent a week indexing a book on the Flatiron Building* which focused me on the Gay Nineties to the Grim 1930s. So Lillian Russell and Anna Held were much on my mind (and in the book) when I joined Rick Hinkson and Zachary Stains in the Oak Room of the Algonquin last Saturday night.

I vaguely remember hearing a recording of Lillian Russell and seeing a glimpse of Anna Held in an old film. I have no clear idea what either lady was like except that everywhere they went they were bombarded with orchids, drenched in Champagne, and followed by gentlemen offering them bushel baskets overflowing with diamonds. But regardless of what you may have heard to the contrary, when it comes these legendary ladies, the furthest I go back is to Sophie Tucker, Pearl Bailey, and the ever diffident Miss Merman. (I WAS NOT at Castle Clinton the night Jenny Lind made her debut.)

KT Sullivan may very well be the last of these Great Dames of the New York stage. She is by far the sultriest. She has eyes that would force Hoffmann to write a whole new tale, a complextion to shame a porcelain doll, and what a voice. If Cleopatra could sing like this, Caesar would never have gone back to Rome, Salome could gather her heads where she may without removing a stitch, and Delilah would have no need for scissors. There should be baskets and baskets and baskets of Cartier, Van Cleef, and Tiffany whatnots waiting for her nightly.

Mark Nadler has arranged and directed this George Gershwin evening. The Oak Room is long and narrow with the piano against one wall in the middle and most of the audience left and right. Not exactly audience friendly, it can have an isolating effect. The Caffe Cino, much smaller, presented the same problem. Nadler’s solution was much the same that I used downtown fifty years ago. He wisely employs the whole room from entrances at either end to the aisles, even to the tables. (Miss Sullivan occasionally prowls about, a leopard off its leash) The result was to draw the audience in to a warm and intimate embrace. We were at his private party.

Mark Nadler is the quintessential stage door Johnny (complete with spats). To be in the same room with him is to be dressed in white tie and tails out on a night-on-the-town. He managed to conjure everything but a chorus line. He did pull a second pianist (the marvelous Jon Weber) out of his top hat. And together they performed an astonishing moment of music. Perhaps the most important moment of music heard in this city on that night. Jon Weber joined Mark Nadler in his piano-four hand arrangement of Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F. And the world stood still to listen.

A footnote: Speaking of music that stops the world in its tracks, I had been at the Algonquin a few weeks earlier for "Puttin' On the Ritz," piano man Steve Ross’s celebration of songs associated with Fred Astaire. Steve Ross is the toast of cities major to minor from here to the Antipodes. He also may be the nicest person I have ever met. He is such a perfect fit to this music, by the end of the show, it was as if his piano was dancing with Astaire.

KT Sullivan & Mark Nadler:
“Gershwin…Here to Stay”
Tue–Thu at 8:30pm , Fri, Sat at 8:30pm & 11pm
ongoing through April 10.
The Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel
59 W 44th St (212-419-9331)
Tickets: $50 plus $30 minimum.

There is an earlier post on KT Sullivan in this Blog for September 30, 2008, under the title “Come to the Cabaret.”

*If you love the history of New York City as much as I do, I recommend The Flatiron by Alice Sparberg Alexiou, St. Martin’s Press, 2010.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

From This Moment On

Over the years whenever I am being interviewed, someone will ask me how and when I was first aware that New York City was to be my future. Until last night, when Bernard Belasco took me to Town Hall for Broadway by the Year 1948, I did not have the vaguest idea. Hearing the songs from Kiss Me, Kate and Where’s Charley? began to stir the memory stew. The Cole Porter score and the song “Once in Love with Amy” have always been rooted deep in my consciousness. I never knew quite why.

I had a non-traditional relationship with recorded music. As I have mentioned before, on the ranch growing up our only radio was a crystal set. Thanks to the war, replacement crystals were impossible to get. Radio listening was strictly limited to Gabriel Heater and the agricultural report. Luckily for me, down in the basement was an old Victrola and a huge pile of records from the 1920s, when my mother and her brothers were kids and lived there. “How Could Riding Hood” and “She Knows Her Onions” and “Who’s Taking Care of the Caretaker’s Daughter While the Caretaker’s Taking Care?” were the songs I grew up with. The singers I knew were Ruth Etting and Rudy VallĂ©e and Libby Holman etc.. Ruth and Libby still top my list of favorites. (Another reason I was not a popular teenager in the 1950s.)

Last night when Scott Siegel (who deserves a yearly special Tony Award) was introducing the year 1948, he mentioned it was the year the long playing record was introduced, and it all came flashing back. In 1948 I was nine. For the first time I began to venture out of the kid’s section of the Kennewick public library. I discovered this whole room with current magazines and newspapers that I had never noticed before and as I walked in, there HE was, on the cover of this magazine called Theatre Arts.

OK, maybe he wasn’t on the cover but this very handsome man was smiling at me and if I remember right he was wearing an earring. The neck of his shirt scooped to the right showing a wicked wink of flesh, something I had never seen before on a man. There was a look in his eyes also not all that common among our local men folk. Reading the magazine, I discovered he was Alfred Drake and he was staring on Broadway in a show called Kiss Me, Kate.

In our town in the late forties you bought records in the same appliance store where you bought the phonograph. I knew the lady who ran it, and she would let me play the records. Imagine my joy when a few weeks later I walked in and there HE was again, on the cover of one of those new long playing records. I would come in and play it day after day. No one minded because there was almost no demand for this sort of record in a wheat ranch town. They were there primarily for display. As to when and where I heard “Once in Love with Amy” from Where’s Charley?, I still don’t know. (I don't think a cast album was recorded.)

But I started spending a lot of time in the magazine section of our library. I religiously read Theatre Arts, and religion it was and still is! The only one I ever subscribed to. I also discovered The New Yorker magazine, and my fate was sealed. 1948 was indeed a very good year, one which would forever change the direction of my life. (It was right about then that I became addicted to opera, but that is for another post.)

Broadway by the Year 1948 was wonderful. There was an amazing song that I had never heard before, “Is It Him or Is It Me,” from Alan J. Lerner and Kurt Weill’s Love Life sung by Farah Alvin. Bobby Steggert broke hearts with “Nobody’s Heart But Mine” from As the Girls Go by Harold Adamson and Jimmy McHugh. But the show stopper was (as it always is) Cole Porter’s “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” presented by Jeffry Denman and Bobby Steggert. These two stars from the current hit YANK!, had so many encores I stopped counting at about one hundred. Well, maybe not one hundred, but a lot. I take back what I said about Scott Siegel deserving a yearly special Tony Award. He deserves two yearly.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Love Among the Palms

I received an email from Arch Brown whose Thorny Theater in Palm Springs just opened a run of my play A Perfect Relationship:

“The Preview and Opening Night were huge successes. Big laughs throughout and the audiences got every nuance of your script. Jim Strait has sucked every little detail out of the actor's performances and brought them front and center. I think you would be thrilled. The Muriel (Linda McGraw) is simply hysterical and the Barry (Marc Wasmund) is a comic wonder ...and very butch. Even I was stunned by the production and its multitude of facets. This is the eleventh production Jim has directed for us and he just gets better and better, as do our actors. Bravo!”

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Drum, Drum, Drumming

Cast of Yank!

I am very proud that some songs from Yank! got their first hearing in Look Askew, a revue that Igor Goldin presented with TOSOS in 2003. There is no point in my writing anything about the show when David Cote says it all.

“They just don’t make old-fashioned musicals anymore, do they? …. Actually, they still do. Yank! is solidly in the Rodgers and Hammerstein tradition. Only difference: it’s about two male soldiers in love. Director Igor Goldin pulls it all together with a fluid staging that even includes a dream ballet. ….Most impressive is the Zellniks’ jazzy, swoony score…. And while the musical conventions are familiar, it’s new to see a retro-style tuner treat this potentially controversial topic with such humor and humanity. Now the season isn’t over yet, but I’d go so far as to say that Yank! could be the best original musical so far. If there’s any justice it will have a life beyond the run at the York Theatre. I’m not asking, I’m telling you: go see Yank!“ - David Cote, NY1

Theatre at St. Peter's Church
Citigroup Center, 619 Lexington Ave (at 54th St)
212-935-5820 - Tickets: $67.50
Fri 8pm , Sat 2:30pm, 8pm , Sun 2:30pm , Tue 7pm Ongoing through Mar 21.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Belles of Saint Veronica’s

Charles Busch & Julie Halston

As a birthday present to myself, I bought tickets to Charles Busch’s new show, The Divine Sister. It may be his best ever. At least it felt that way last night. He went back to his downtown roots to revitalize himself and boy did it work. Vital doesn’t come close to describing what I saw. From nun nonsense to Dan Brown to Anastasia to Rosalind Russell shouldering Loretta Young out of the frame, it does not let up for a minute.

At the first sound cue the audience roared with laughter and the decibels built from there. I suspect we may have moved the building on its foundations. Julie Hysterically Funny Halston and the rest of the cast (Alison Fraser, Amy Rutberg, Jennifer Van Dyck & Jonathan Walker) were right up there with Charles, nose to powered nose. No funnier cast is performing in NYC. You could light up the city with all the energy.

I heard a rumor that the run of The Divine Sister is sold out. Should this be true, the solution is simple. You need to use a little initiative and go down to First Avenue and when you see someone about to enter the Theater for the New City, mug them for their tickets. You get to see the show while adding to the ambience of the East Village. Or you can wait for the probability of a move.

In the curtain call Charles spoke about coming back downtown and what it meant to him and his company. At the end of his speech he dedicated the show to playwright Doric Wilson and then wished me happy birthday. There was HUGE sustained applause from an audience who for the most part did not know who the fuck I was. But never have I had a better birthday!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Feinstein’s Fables

Ayers Rock

And so the cobra and the mongoose sat down to rehearse their upcoming Broadway show when suddenly the grossly garish snake quite without provocation bit the mongoose on the butt for no other reason than the butt was there to be bitten. Whereupon the wee beastie feeling this pricking pain so close to his family treasure proceeded to bash the snake on the head with the Complete American Song Book. Whereupon the director yelled “Stop.” He had been staring wistfully out the window at a marquee being erected across the street proclaiming the arrival of The Addams Family. And so the director with a sigh stared at the murderous menagerie before him and wondered once again why he had let his agent delete the "no animals" clause from his contract.

Of Michael Feinstein, the mongoose, I know little. I think I have heard him sing and play. But if so I remember him as a sort of Uta Lemper, a crinkly carbon facsimile of an actual entertainer. I seem to recall my friend John Wallowitch had some choice if corrosive words that he would sputter at the mere mention of "fingers" Feinstein. I sometimes wonder why Muzak doesn’t sue for copyright infringement. Mr. F’s concept of an elegant piano man is strictly Wal-Mart when placed next to say the Tiffany class of cabaret’s true crown prince, Steve Ross.

Which bring us to the snake. Once again visiting NYC is Australia’s Mount Edna, the traveling version of Ayers Rock, another sacred lump. Billy Blackwell and I first encountered this invasive species Off-Broadway in the early 1970s. He threw wilting gladiolas at an empty house for about a week and then slithered back down under. While he was here he patiently explained to anyone he could corner how straight he is. In fact that was the only time he ever showed any energy, chasing innocent strangers thru the Village, forcing them to look at photos of his wife and kids. It never occurred to me at the time that he would ultimately become the media’s darling.

I deeply and profoundly disdain the Dame. And now the Mountain has once more returned to Manhattan with his new understated and self-effacing show called All About Me. Whatever Michael Feinstein might be guilty of, he does not deserve this hell. I suppose it makes perfect sense that an audience who cheers on the disintegration of actual human beings on Reality TV, is willing suffer sophomoric insults while waiting to be impaled by a gladiola. I only wish someone would borrow the Alaskan Moose lady's shotgun and punctuate this Australian landmark in his heterosexuality!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

An Artful Play

Cast with Chris Weikel (dressed as a grape) in the center

Last night the TOSOS Robert Chesley/Jane Chambers Playwrights Project presented a reading of Chris Weikel's new play Provenance. At the top of the play, a character significantly mentions Rubens, but the play itself is pure Monet - a maze of shimmering colors and incandescent flashes of light. It may be the healthiest and least sentimental gay love story I have ever seen on a stage. (I just heard Weikel’s Penny Penniworth may be coming back in the fall. GO! And then GO AGAIN!!)

Mark Finley directed a perfect cast: Timothy Babcock, Desmond Dutcher, Shay Gines, Lee Kaplan, Leicester Landon, Robert Locke, Catherine Porter and Tim Seib, lead by the wise and heart touching performances of James Nugent and Blake Walton. It is amazing how effortlessly Mark manages to turn readings into ensemble performances. Evenings like this totally validate why I stared TOSOS 30 plus years ago. And Provenance is the best 71st birthday present I could ever hope to receive.

PS - Check out the IT Awards blog for the next week”

Friday, January 15, 2010

Charles Nolte (1923-2010)

Charles Nolte as Billy Budd (c1950)

Charles Nolte, playwright, director, actor, educator and long time friend of my beloved Jane Lowry, died January 14th in Minneapolis.

“Born 3 November, 1923 in Duluth, MN, Charles Nolte was easily the best-liked professor in the Theatre Department at the University of Minnesota during his many years there from the mid-1960s into the 1990s. He was very approachable, warm-hearted, a good listener and he had succeeded on Broadway. Other professors had only visited Broadway but Chuck Nolte was Billy Budd for one year on the Great White Way which he followed with another long run in The Caine Mutiny Court Martial (1953-55).

His film debut came in War Paint (1953). Other films included The Steel Cage (1954); The Vikings (1958) starring Kirk Douglas, Ernest Borgnine, Janet Leigh, Orson Welles, and Tony Curtis (Here Charles used his muscles, height, blond hair, and Nordic-blue eyes to great advantage.); Ten Seconds to Hell (1959): Under Ten Flags (1960), starring Charles Laughton and Armored Command (1961) starring Howard Keel and the young Burt Reynolds.

Charles spent much of his time doing theater work in Europe. In Rome he appeared with leading lady Katherine Cornell in Under Ten Flags. In Paris he was in Medea with Judith Anderson, Christopher Plummer and Mildred Natwick. On the London Stage he appeared in The Summer People (1961). The time spent in Europe had changed him, however, and when he returned to the States in 1961 he found the theater scene "hopelessly parochial."

Nolte began to write plays, and in 1962 he returned to the University of Minnesota, earning his M.A. in 1963 and his Ph.D. in 1966. At that point the U offered him a sweet contract under which he was required to teach for only six months, leaving the rest of the year free to spend writing, acting and directing.

In 1965 his play, Do Not Pass Go was produced on Broadway and was favorably reviewed in the New York Times. Charles not only wrote but also acted in the two-person play, and with expenses being quite modest, it actually made money.

The University of Minnesota honored Charles in 1997 by naming a theater space within the Rarig Center the Charles Nolte Experimental Theatre.”

[above notes edited from the University of Minnesota Web site.]

In the late 1950s, many men of my generation cherished (so to speak) the photo of Charles as Billy Budd. He is survived by his longtime companion, child actor Terry Kilburn, who ran Meadow Brook Theater (Michigan) for many years. They met in the 1950s when Charles was playing in The Caine Mutiny Court Martial and Terry was in The Teahouse of the August Moon.

I met him only once for about three hours. He was one of the smartest, nicest, most open and generous people I ever met. It is as if I have lost a close old friend.

For his complete acting credits