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Archive for September, 2011

Emmys 2011 Gay Roundup

The cast of Modern Family accept Best Comedy Series at the 2011 Emmys.

There were really only two major things that gayed up this year’s 63rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards that aired last night on Fox. Jane Lynch and “Modern Family.” But they also dominated much of the show.

“Modern Family” took home fives of the night’s major comedy awards including Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy (Julie Bowen), Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy (Ty Burrell), Best Directing in a Comedy (Michael Alan Spiller), Best Writing in a Comedy Series (Steven Levitan and Jeffrey Richman) and Outstanding Comedy Series. During his acceptance speech Richman thanked his partner.

Jane Lynch hosted and did an amazing job. She started off the show with a full on song and dance number and kept the night interesting with a slew of tasteful zingers. Her style definitely reminded me of Ellen DeGeneres.

In straight news: “Mad Men” took home a fourth consecutive win for Best Drama Series, Charlie Sheen showed up and was creepy, Ashton Kutcher and John Cryer also showed up and weren’t funny and Kyle Chandler finally won for long-time role on “Friday Night Lights.”

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Local Theater Spotlight: ‘Falsettos’ by Available Light Theatre

Christopher Storer and Scott Wilson as lovers Whizzer and Marvin in 'Falsettos' by Available Light Theatre

Full Disclosure: I’m a long-time fan and official member of the Available Light Theatre.

Family drama never gets old. A fact on view at Vern Riffe Center (77 S. High Street, Columbus) courtesy of Available Light Theatre’s flawless performance of the modern classic “Falsettos,” which is running through Oct. 1.

Winner of the 1992 Tony for Best Book and Best Score, the William Finn/James Lapine musical follows the tale of Marvin (Scott Wilson) who leaves his wife (Kim Garrison Hopcraft) and son (Adam Crawford) for his younger male lover (Christopher Storer). Finn and Lapine combine two of their Off-Broadway hits “March of the Falsettos” and “Falsettoland,” each written and presented nearly10 years apart, for a funny and effecting look into a family in crisis.

When first staged in 1981, and later in 1990, the musical was definitely shocking to audiences in the midst of dealing with onset of the AIDS epidemic. But now the play seems more outdated than modern as we live in a post-AIDS scare world. The score was definitely created in the old school musical styles of Richard Rogers, Oscar Hammerstein and Irving Berlin.

Director John Dranschak, who also helmed AVLT’s first and extremely successful foray into musicals with “Merrily We Roll Along” last year, assembles a stunning cast for “Falsettos.”

Wilsonembodies lovesick schmuck and aimless father as Marvin, a man who tries to start a new life while maintaining a relationship with his 12-year-old son. Hopcraft holds much of the show together with her commanding grace as Marvin’s ex-wife, Trina. She’s as equally compelling in the hilarious “I’m Breaking Down” as she is during the emotional aria “Holding to the Ground.”

Another great choice by Dranschak? Casting a local teenager in the role of Marvin’s son Jason. Adam Crawford stays closest to his character as an apathetic, coming-of-age pre-teen dealing with flailing dysfunctional parents, a even more dysfunctional bar mitzvah and the death of a close friend. His tearful “Another Miracle of Judaism” is one of the show’s most touching moments.

Storer pulls out a powerful, yet subtle performance as Marvin’s aloof and ailing lover Whizzer. He quietly grows into the friend Jason needs and gives a tear-jerking rendition of “You Gotta Die Sometime” as his body succumbs to the AIDS virus.

The supporting players also shine just as prominently. Nick Lingnofski is an enjoyable cad (and an amazing dancer) as Mendel the psychiatrist and Trina’s eventual second husband. Danielle Mann and Kate Gersing are a welcome addition in the second act as the perky doctor-caterer lesbian couple living next door. Mann’s “Something Bad is Happening” adds historical realness to an unexplainable disease that was beginning to take so many lives.

Darin Keesing goes with a simple set design, with just a wall of empty frames that the actors move in and out of during some of the songs, and a few furniture set pieces. The band also takes a minimalist approach with just a four-man orchestra consisting of Spencer Channell (synthesizer), Mark Donavan (clarinet, flute, alto and soprano sax), Rick Soriano (percussion) and Andrew Willis (piano), led by Pam Welsh-Huggins.

“Falsettos” is a family tale that will take you on an old-fashioned ride, but in the hands of Available Light, it’s a ride that you’ll not soon want to depart.

Available Light Theatre’s “Falsettos” runs through Oct. 1 in Studio One of the Vern Riffe Center (77 S. High Street, Columbus). Tickets are on AVLT’s popular Pay What You Want System. For more information visit http://avlt.co/falsettos11.

Check out the below video of Wilson, Storer, Mann and Gersing discussing their characters in “Falsettos.”

Ohio Queers: GetEQUAL’s Day of Discontent to ‘celebrate’ DADT repeal

On September 20th Don’t Ask Don’t Tell will officially be repealed and for the first time in America’s history gays and lesbians will be allowed to serve openly in the military.

This is a cause for celebration right?

Nope. Not according to GetEQUAL, a activism group that has a chapter here in Ohio run by Tom Morgan. The Ohio chapter is planning a “Day of Discontent” protest outside the Ohio Statehouse in downtown Columbus on Tuesday in order to send the message that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell isa start but…it’s not enough. We still are not equal!,” according to the demonstration’s Facebook event page.

Though it might be an unpopular sentiment, Morgan and GetEQUAL do have a point. Gays and lesbians will be able to serve openly, but they won’t be allowed access to the pension, housing and medical benefits reserved for those in the military who are married. Think of this way, a gay or lesbian recruit with a partner of 10 years with two adopted children would not be able to bring his/her family with him if he’s stationed on a base in Germany, as a straight married couple would. And that’s just one example.

And that’s, of course, not to mention the rising gay hate crime rate, the fact that you still can’t be openly transgender in the military, the thousands of unequal marriage laws, the dozens of states with gay marriage bans, and the general daily spew of hate at LGBT individuals coming from televangelist and Republicans (generally the Tea Party. Did you see that CNN debate!? I wanted to throw my T.V. out the window.)

GetEQUAL Ohio are asking people to increase their support of pro gay legislation by contacting their legislatures. (Find contact info HERE and HERE.)

And join them for the protest in downtown Columbus on Broad Street Tuesday from 3 p.m to 6 p.m. Morgan suggests participants bring signs that say things like: “WE’RE STILL NOT EQUAL,” “FULL FEDERAL EQUALITY,” “I AM A PERSON,” “I DESERVE EQUALITY,” “DEMANDING MY EQUALITY,” “CIVIL RIGHTS NOW!” And they won’t be alone, as several GetEQUAL chapters around the country are planning similar protests.

Local Theater Spotlight: ‘Rocky Horror’ returns to Shadowbox

Billy DePetro as Rocky Horror and JT Walker III as Frank N. Furter in Shadowbox Live's "The Rocky Horror Show" (photo by Studio 66)

Shadowbox Live brought back an oldie but a goodie for their first full-length musical in their new downtown space, with Richard O’Brien’s cult classic “The Rocky Horror Show,” for a nice and svelte two-hour opening last night.

I’ve been waiting for to see what Shadowbox’s new digs meant for their Sunday musicals series, as it is my favorite part of the Shadowbox experience. Strong showcases of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” “Back to the Garden” and “Rent” over the past few years have set the group up as a musical theater powerhouse in Columbus. This also isn’t the first time the troupe has taken on “The Rocky Horror Show,” but new cast members and a new stage has reinvigorated the 1975 sleeper hit.

The sexually ambiguous tale follows straight-and-narrow, newly engaged couple Brad and Janet (John Boyd and Leah Haviland) as they happen upon the mansion of evil alien scientist Dr. Frank N. Furter and his merry band of horny “sweet transvestites” from the planet Transylvania. The couple finds themselves, willingly and not-so-willingly, forced into one compromising situation after another.

For Shadowbox’s rendition Director and Executive Producer Stev Guyer trades flashy set pieces for keen character work, inspired staging and a much larger costume budget. During “Over at the Frankenstein Place,” as Brad and Janet make their way to the suspicious looking Frank N. Furter mansion after an unlucky flat tire in the rain, they weave their way through the crowd as chorus members pop up, interpretive dance style,  amongst the audience, guiding them to the castle. Katy Psenicka’s choreography continues to impress as the cast flanks themselves throughout the audience during many scenes, taking advantage of the larger space.

The actors were also in rare form. Boyd and Haviland are perfectly perky as the do-gooder couple, set off nicely by Edelyn Parker and Amy Lay as the perfectly mischievous Magenta and Columbia respectively. Tom Cardinal does a foreboding and annoyed Riff Raff well, while a nearly-naked, pecks-flexing Billy DePerto adds charm and naïveté to the clueless Rocky Horror, a hunky Frankenstein-style creation of Frank N. Furter’s.

Supporting characters also shined, such as Betsy Shortt who fully committed to making the Narrator shine. She spent much of her time either quick-changing backstage or entertaining the audience with a new accent. She hilariously morphed from stilt-walker to dwarf to overgrown child to an overweight male eating popcorn. But “The Rocky Horror Show” is really only as good as it’s Frank N. Furter and JT Walker III is a transsexual force to be reckoned with. He struts, he belts, he whips wit and kills with ease. All the necessary traits needed to master the iconic gender-bending character.

I only took issue with “Hot Patootie,” sung by Furter’s former lover, Eddie (Jamie Barrow), just before Furter murders him amidst a romping dance number, and “Planet Schmanet – Wise Up Janet Weiss.” Both were significant moments that came off underwhelming.

Shadowbox house band Bill Who? effortlessly took on O’Briens rock score. In there old space at Easton Town Center, a shoddy sound system often had the band overpowering the vocals to the point of being unable to hear the lyrics, a problem that’s gladly no longer an issues at the new space.

After nearly four years of attending Shadowbox performances, the costumes for their “Rocky” return are the best I’ve ever seen from the troupe. It’s as if there’s been an explosion of creativity in the Shadowbox Art Department. Art Director Amy Lay and Costume Designer Kaitlin Descutner properly dress up the men in fishnet and stilettos, but add a sparkled, psychedelic Alice in Wonderland/Cirque-du-Soleil theme to the cast’s overall costuming. Many times simply what the actors were wearing was enough to steal the show. Pre-recorded video and other projections also helped increase the production value.

Despite a phenomenal showcase, I did think the Shadowbox crew dropped the ball on the audience participation factor that’s become such a necessary part of the “Rocky Horror” fabric. The program includes a list of audience do’s and don’ts, alluding to the pandemonium that typically takes place at “shadow cast” versions of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” practiced in many movie theaters around the country. A few people shouted the popular “shadow cast callback script” at the stage, which became more distracting than amusing. (Personally, I don’t think there’s room for any of the “shadow cast” antics during a staging of the original play.) However during the popular “Time Warp,” when participation is expected, only two people in the crowd stood up to sport their pelvic thrusts. With such a large space, this could have easily been remedied by the cast members returning to the audience and playfully forcing a few people out of their chairs, allowing everyone else to follow suit.

During any version of “Rock Horror” the crowd has to participate in the “Time Warp,” I’m pretty sure it’s in The Constitution. But this isn’t the main reason why one goes to see a production of “Rocky Horror.” Why does one? Men in lingerie, of course. And this show has the latter in spades.

“The Rocky Horror Show” runs 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sundays through November 13 at Shadowbox Live (503 S. Front Street, Columbus). Tickets are $30 for adults and $20 for students/seniors. For more information call 614-416-7625 or visit www.shadowboxlive.org.

Local Theater Spotlight: ‘Titus Andronicus’ by Shepherd Productions

 

Jim Azelvandre and the cast of "Titus Andronicus"

Most theater company directors shy away from staging William Shakespeare’s “The Lamentable Tragedy of Titus Andronicus,” the overly bloody and horridly written tale of a Roman General caught in a revenge cycle with a war-hungry queen. However, Andy Batt isn’t most directors.

Known to most in Columbus as the head director of MadLab Theatre, which typically produces only new works bent toward the controversial, Batt’s side venture, Shepherd Productions, is taking a step in the other direction by staging one “little-produced and unheralded classic” a year. (Click here to donate to the new troupe’s Kickstarter campaign.)

Though a completely separate company, Batt’s decision to stage “Titus” as Shepherd’s premiere is definitely MadLab-esque. If MadLab were ever to take on an unadulterated Shakespeare production, the controversial and oft-loathed “Titus” would be the perfect choice.

Even Shakespeare fanatics are known to run in the opposite direction when they see the words “Titus Anronicus” and critics have spent centuries deriding the classic as one of the bard’s worst. However modern renderings of the bloody tale over the last few decades (most notably Julie Taymor’s 1999 film “Titus” starring Anthony Hopkins and Jessica Lange) have introduced the revenge tragedy to a new and more appreciative audience, an audience that has grown up on the ultra violence of video games and “The Saw” franchise.

The story follows the demise of theRoman Empire, circa. 3 A.D., through the tragic tale of Roman General Titus Andronicus. After a slew of war victories Titus returns home to a new and inept emperor who marries the queen of the nation he’s just defeated. An extremely bloody cycle of revenge ensues between Queen Tamora and Titus as they try to “one-up” the wrongs done them by the other. Once the dust settles, the play ends with a body count that’s more than twice that of “Hamlet.”

Kate Tull takes on the daunting task of adapting the script specifically for Shepherd, stripping the cast down from 30 to 16 and trimming many of the play’s lengthy monologues. However all the adapting in the world couldn’t make this play’s scripting bearable, but the combination of Tull’s efforts and Batt’s staging makes for a more than entertaining evening at theater.

Batt predictably chooses MadLab All-Star Jim Azelvandre to herald Shepherd’s maiden voyage. A Shakespeare vet, Azelvandre easily slips into the vile benign that is Titus. He adds interesting nuance to the general, who spends much of the play draped in the insanity brought by vengeance.

When filling out the rest of the cast, however, Batt, spread his wings and pulled in actors from all corners ofColumbus’ theatre scene. It was refreshing to see so many new faces on the MadLab stage. Courtney Deuser also wore vengeance well as Tamora, Queen of the Goths. Deuser revels in the queen’s evil character, wrought by the death of her eldest son at the hands of Titus. Tamora’s slave/lover Aaron (Franklin Grace) is famously the most loathsome of the cast. Grace kept a gleeful smirk throughout that aptly accented Aaron’s true passion for evildoing.

The true casualties of the two-act, two-hour Titus-Tamora showdown are the pair’s offspring, who end up being some of this cast’s strongest players. Paul Moon adds emotional depth to Titus’ eldest, Lucius, who, even after watching Titus kill his brother and his sister, ends up following in his father’s murderous footsteps. David Tull and Jeff Potts are nearly too convincing as Demetrius and Chiron, Tamora’s sons and creatures of pure hateful lust. Their ravishing and brutal mutilation of Titus’ daughter Lavinia (Erin Fisher) kept the audience grimacing in utter horror.

Fisher nearly steals the show as the tortured Lavinia. Her unfailing commitment to the character’s suffering was truly captivating. There’s a particularly effecting scene when Fisher is convulsing about after her bloody encounter with Tamora’s sons. The brutes have dismembers her hands and cut out her tongue to keep her from revealing what they’ve done. In a great special effects moment, blood spurts from her mouth, forcing a gasp from more than a few in the audience. Fisher effortlessly portrays each of Lavinia’s emotions clearly without the use of her hands or speech.

Travis Horseman adds equal parts camp and rage to clueless Saturninus, Emperor of Rome, ultimately a pawn in the execution of Tamora’s wrath. And kudos to Batt for snagging local theater icon John Feather for the role of Marcus, Titus’ much wiser older brother. Feather, of course, offers a seamless performance, as if he’d been born speaking Shakespeare’s Elizabethan verbiage.

Set and lighting designer Doug Northeim takes a minimalist, yet high-impact approach, adding only a Roman Colonial-style staircase and pillars that the actors moved about, and two LED screens that flash art deco paintings of the actors’ period surroundings. The projections also feature large red slashes and slasher sound effects whenever someone is killed (which is often). His lighting scheme is also equally compelling, juxtaposing hues of stark red and cool blue, while Jennifer Feather Youngblood’s ancient Roman costumes add necessary authenticity and legitimacy to the production.

Shepherd’s inaugural showcase is definitely worth the price of the ticket, but audience members of the American Idol generation might refer to it as a “poor song choice, with brilliant delivery.”

Check out Shepherd’s “Titus Andronicus” below:

“The Lamentable Tragedy of Titus Andronicus” by Shepherd Productions runs through September 17 at MadLab Theatre (227 N. Third Street,Columbus). Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students/seniors. Click here to purchase tickets online, or call 614-221-5418. For more information visit www.shepherd-productions.com

Mistrial declared in trial of gay student Larry King’s killer

Brandon McInerney and Larry King

Today a judge in California declared a mistrial after a week of deliberation by jurors in the Brandon McInerney murder case.

For those unfamiliar, McInerney was the 14-year-old who shot 15-year-old Larry King for allegedly hitting on him in 2008. The incident shook the nation and prompted several high-profile celebrities to create PSAs against anti-gay bullying and even revived the national debate on anti-gay bullying legislation.

After eight weeks of testimony, which included 100 witnesses, the jurors came to a 7 to 5 vote in favor of McInerney being guilty of voluntary manslaughter. They had communicated to the judge earlier this week that they could not come to a decision, but the judge asked them to continue deliberations, until discussions hit a stall earlier today. The prosecution now has to decide if they will refile the murder and hate crime charges against McInerney.

Shortly after the mistrial verdict was delivered, GLSEN (The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network) released the following statment:

The mistrial declared today is hardly a surprise. This was always destined to be a case with little resolution and no winners, whatever the verdict. The central facts remain the same: homophobia killed Larry King and destroyed Brandon McInerney’s life, and adults failed both young men because of their own inability to deal forthrightly and compassionately with the multiple challenges they each faced. The jury’s indecision is a sad reflection of our collective inability to find common ground and invest in a better future for all youth and a culture of respect for all.

I completely agree with this statement. What’s extremely sad about this whole situation is the very dangerous message that it’s sending to our youth. During the trial, it was reported that McInerney’s lawyers were using the “gay panic defense” (a defense also used during the trial of Matthew Shepard’s murders), which basically sends the message that homophobia can’t be controlled. It’s the fault of gays and transgenders for being that way. The whole thing sickens me to my core. Though McInerney is definitely at fault and should be put away forever, it was really our intolerant society that failed both these boys.