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Embracing The Pride

A must see performance at Wallis Annenberg

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Whenever the subject of “The Gay Experience” is addressed within our entertainment culture, with it also comes a heavy burden of expectation. To put it simply, you just can’t please everybody.

That’s not a value judgment; it’s simply a matter of fact. How can any single vehicle give expression to the multi-faceted perspectives of the entire LGBTQ community? No matter how well-intentioned, large segments of the population inevitably end up feeling left out. Remember the polarizing reactions to HBO’s Looking?

On its surface, The Pride, with its tiny cast of white cis-gender actors, may not appear to aspire toward inclusivity; nevertheless, this remarkable 2009 play by British wordsmith Alexi Kaye Campbell (currently onstage at the Wallis Annenberg Center for Performing Arts) not only undertakes such a goal but endeavors to convey a particularly wide perspective through an unusually intimate microcosm.

Set mostly in a single London apartment, it’s a piece which juggles three characters between two distinctive time periods, fifty years apart. In 1958, Philip (Neal Bledsoe) is married to Sylvia (Jessica Collins), an illustrator who is collaborating on a children’s book with Oliver (Augustus Prew); the two men are attracted to each other, but the restrictive societal mores of their time and place are insurmountable obstacles to their union. In 2008, the two men are a couple, but their relationship is threatened by Oliver’s infidelity; addicted to kinky sex with anonymous partners despite his deep love for Philip, he turns to his best friend Sylvia for guidance as he tries to overcome the inner demons that drive his behavior.

The premise is immediately fascinating, evoking myriad implications. The most obvious, of course, is that these three characters, obviously different and yet somehow the same in both settings, parallel and echo each other as their separate stories play out; they want the same things, but their roles shift, their dynamics change, and the actions they take reflect events in both time periods. All of this serves to underscore a symmetry across (or perhaps outside) time, with ripples within it emanating from a singular traumatic event at its center.

So, how does all this reflect a larger view of the aforementioned Gay Experience?

The Pride moves back and forth in time, from an era in which homosexuality was illegal to one in which two men could live openly as a couple; yet the repression of one still casts deep shadows upon the other. The modern characters are haunted by the pain endured by their earlier counterparts; it fuels their fears and shapes their choices, even when a happier life is within their reach.

Within this fictional framework, the connections between past and present take on something of a mystical significance, stretching the characters’ linked destiny across lifetimes until it reaches a kind of closure – or at least the possibility of a new beginning. With this carefully-woven tapestry, The Pride suggests that our ever-evolving cultural identity is similarly connected through time to the hardships of our history; but it also reminds us that there is a similar thread which pulls us forward to the promise of a better future.

Weighty ideas notwithstanding, there is a light tone to Campbell’s script. Crackling with the witty banter of a Noël Coward comedy, yet laced with the pregnant subtext of Harold Pinter, it is an inherently English play; and true to its heritage, it revels in its use of language. Its literate text bristles with wordplay, and a keen ear is essential to mining the play for the riches contained within its depths.

Unfortunately, the cast struggles with this aspect of the dialogue; the words fly surely enough from their lips, but often seem separated from any intention besides the need to speak them quickly. They don’t seem to be talking with each other so much as at each other, and this impairs them in building the kind of chemistry which is necessary to provide the emotional payoffs that come later in the play.

That doesn’t mean that they fail; though their technical proficiency may be lacking, their commitment to honesty in their roles is not. The Pride delivers its most powerful moments when the characters are stripped of artifice and allowed to exist as their truest selves, and this cast proves well capable of that challenge.

Collins stands out in her ability to communicate between the lines; her two Sylvias are distinct, yet bound by an inner reality that makes her (them?) arguably the most likable character in the mix. Bledsoe seems out of his depth, at times, and Prew has a tendency towards one-noted nebbish-ness; but each of them rises to the occasion when it counts the most, eloquently portraying their flawed characters’ emotional pas-de-deux and ultimately making us care a great deal for each of them.

A fourth player deserves special mention: Matthew Wilkas, who portrays three peripheral characters throughout. Free from the burden of carrying a story arc across two separate timelines, he creates complete and engaging personas for each of his roles; alternately hilarious and moving (often within a single beat), he also displays a dexterity with the script’s linguistic challenges that is a much-appreciated bonus.

The real champion of The Pride, though, is director Michael Arden. It’s a potentially murky piece, with profound and swirling themes wrapped inside an exterior that is both cerebral and stylish, but he identifies the elements of deepest importance and brings them to light with his steady guidance.

Part of this is achieved by helping the actors navigate their way through the characters’ esoteric journey, to be sure, but his staging is equally essential; by mounting his production in the round (an intimate choice seemingly at odds with such elevated material) he breaks down the barrier of theatricality and gains an up-close and personal advantage in peeling back the show’s stylistic conceits to reveal the powerful insights at its core.

Besides the gifted director and his cast, not much else is needed to breathe life into Campbell’s ingenious play. The elegantly ethereal scenic design adds its own flavor to the mix; its white-neon-lit transparent furniture and reflective glass flooring suggest a repetition of patterns and provide a suitably ghostly setting for the comings and goings of its time-hopping inhabitants. Also lending support are the subtly self-referential choices of costume and music, which provide their own sly commentary on the action.

What provides possibly the greatest impact to the Wallis’ production (which is the long-overdue Los Angeles premiere of this award-winning play) is its timing. Planned to coincide with Pride Month, it is a welcome effort by the theater to reach out to the LGBTQ community, certainly; but it also takes place in a world where regressive backlash, fueled by the divisive rhetoric of the current political environment, threatens to push back against the progress made by that community in its struggle for freedom and equality.

Viewing the show from the perspective of this treacherous time casts its message into stark relief; in order to break free from the oppressive mindset of the past, and keep it from infecting our future, we must find the self-respect – the pride – that calls out from the better world we must believe lies ahead of us.

It is that which makes The Pride a worthwhile trip to the theater. Though there may be quibbles about some aspects of its execution, those are eclipsed by the sincerity of its powerful message; and though its non-diverse cast may not represent the specific viewpoints of every faction, its message addresses the journey from oppression towards acceptance – a condition of our LGBTQ history that unites us all.

See it with someone you love.

The Pride performances continue through July 9
Lovelace Studio Theater at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA, 90210

Tickets:
Single tickets: $40 – $75 (prices subject to change)
Online – TheWallis.org
By Phone – 310.746.4000
Box Office – Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts Ticket Service
9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA, 90210

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Movies

Celebrate Judy Garland’s centennial by watching her movies

The dazzling force of nature made 34 films

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‘Meet Me in St. Louis’ is one of Judy Garland’s iconic film roles.

When the world ends, aficionados will still be watching their favorite Judy Garland movies.

Queer icon Garland was born 100 years ago this year (on June 10, 1922).

Everyone knows how tragic much of Garland’s life was. MGM feeding her uppers and downers when she was a child. Bad luck with husbands. Getting fired from movies because of her addiction issues. Her death at age 47.

You can’t deny that Garland’s life was often a mess. Yet, it’s too easy to encase Garland into a box of victimhood.

Contrary to the misperception of her as a sad figure, Garland wasn’t a morbid person. She was a fabulous comedian and clown, John Fricke, author of “The Wonderful World of Oz: An Illustrated History of the American Classic,” told the Blade in 2019. Lucille Ball said Garland was the funniest woman in Hollywood, Fricke said. “‘She made me look like a mortician,’ Lucy said,” he added.

In the midst of the sentimentality and morbidity shrouding her legacy, you can readily forget Garland’s prodigious talent and productivity.

Garland was a consummate, multi-faceted, out-of-this-world talented performer. She (deservedly) received more awards than most performers would even dream of: two Grammy Awards for her album “Judy at Carnegie Hall,” a special Tony for her long-running concert at the Palace Theatre and a special Academy Juvenile Award. Garland was nominated for an Emmy for her TV series “The Judy Garland Show” and for Best Supporting Oscar for her performance in “Judgment at Nuremberg.”

Garland, a dazzling, force of nature on screen, made 34 films. There’s no better way to celebrate Garland’s centennial than to watch her movies.

Garland was renowned for connecting so intimately with audiences when she sang. She’s remembered for her legendary musicals — from “The Wizard of Oz” to “Meet Me in St. Louis” to “A Star is Born.”

But if you watch, or re-watch, her movies, you’ll see that Garland wasn’t just a singer who sang songs, and sometimes danced, in production numbers in movie musicals.

Garland was a talented actor. She wasn’t appearing on screen as herself – Judy Garland singing to her fans.

Whether she’s tearing at your heartstrings as Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz,” performing brilliant physical comedy with Gene Kelly in the “The Pirate,” breaking your heart with “The Man that Got Away” in “A Star is Born” or unrecognizable as Irene Hoffmann in “Judgment at Nuremberg,” Garland is acting. Her performance etches these characters onto your DNA.

Picking Garland’s best movies is like deciding which five of your 20 puppies should go on an outing. But, if you’re cast away on a desert island, take these Garland movies with you:

“Meet Me in St. Louis”: This luminous 1944 musical, directed by Vincente Minnelli, has it all: Garland in top form, the Trolley song, Margaret O’Brien, along with a stellar cast, and the best Christmas song ever.

“The Clock”: This 1945 movie, also directed by Minnelli, showcases Garland as a gifted dramatic actress. Shot in stunning black-and-white near the end of World-War II, the movie is the story, set in New York City, of a young woman (Garland) and a soldier on leave (Robert Walker) who fall in love.

“Easter Parade”: Sure, this 1948 picture, directed by Charles Walters, is thought of as a light musical by some. But, who cares? It’s in Technicolor, and Judy’s in peak form – dancing with Fred Astaire.

“A Star is Born”: If you don’t know the story of this 1954 film, directed by George Cukor, starring Garland and James Mason, you’re not a member of queer nation. There have been other versions of “A Star is Born,” some quite good, but this is still the best. Garland should have gotten an Oscar for this one.

“Judgment at Nuremberg”: This 1961 film, directed by Stanley Kramer, will never be a date night movie. It’s long (3 hours, 6 minutes), grim (about Nazi crimes) and Garland is only in it for about seven minutes. But the story is gripping and Garland’s performance is mesmerizing. When you watch her as Irene, you won’t be thinking that’s Judy Garland.

Happy centennial, Judy! 

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Books

New ACT UP book is part history, part memoir

‘Boy with the Bullhorn’ chronicles hard work, grief, anger

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(Book cover image courtesy of Fordham University Press)

‘Boy with the Bullhorn: A Memoir and History of ACT UP New York’ 
By Ron Goldberg
c.2022/ Fordham University Press
$36.95/512 pages

The sign above your head shows what’s going on inside.

Last night, you made the sign with a slogan, firm words, a poke to authority – and now you carry it high, yelling, marching, demanding that someone pay attention. Now. Urgently. As in the new book, “Boy with the Bullhorn” by Ron Goldberg, change is a-coming.

He’d never done anything like it before.

But how could he not get involved? Ron Goldberg had read something about ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, and he heard they were holding a rally near his workplace. It was 1987, he’d never participated in anything like that before, but whispers were everywhere. He and his friends were “living under a pervasive cloud of dread.”

He “was twenty-eight years old… scared, angry, and more than a little freaked out” about AIDS, he says.

Couldn’t he at least go down and hold a sign?

That first rally led Goldberg to attend a meeting, which, like most, as he came to realize, were raucous and loud and “electric.” Because he was “living fully ‘out and proud’,” and because he realized that this was an issue “worth fighting for,” he became even more involved with ACT UP by attending larger rallies and helping with organizing and getting his fellow activists fired up. He observed as women became involved in ACT UP, too. Monday night meetings became, for Goldberg, “the most exciting place in town.”

There, he learned how politics mixed with activism, and why ACT UP tangled with the Reagan administration’s leaders. He puffed with more than just a little ownership, as other branches of ACT UP began spreading around the country. He learned from ACT UP’s founding members and he “discovered hidden talents” of his own by helping.

On his years in ACT UP, Goldberg says, “There was hard work, grief, and anger, surely, but there was also great joy.” He was “a witness. And so, I began to write.”

Let’s be honest: “Boy with the Bullhorn” is basically a history book, with a little memoir inside. Accent on the former, not so much on the latter.

Author Ron Goldberg says in his preface that Larry Kramer, who was one of ACT UP’s earliest leaders encouraged him to pull together a timeline for the organization and this book is the result of the task. It’s very detailed, in sequential order and, as one reads on, it’s quite repetitive, differing basically in location. It’s not exactly a curl-up-by-the-fire read.

Readers, however – and especially older ones who remember the AIDS crisis – won’t be able to stop scanning for Goldberg’s memories and tales of being a young man at a time when life was cautiously care-free. The memories – which also act as somewhat of a gut-wrenching collection of death-notices – are sweet, but also bittersweet.

This book is nowhere near a vacation kinda book but if you have patience, it’s worth looking twice. Take your time and you’ll get a lot from “Boy with the Bullhorn.” Rush, and it might just go over your head.

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

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Sports

Trailblazing Scots pro soccer athlete comes Out and inspires others

Murray, 30, came out during an interview posted on the website of his club, saying “the weight of the world is now off my shoulders”

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Screenshot/YouTube

EDINBURGH – Two weeks after making headlines as the first-ever senior Scottish pro soccer player to come out as gay, Zander Murray is revealing the impact his courageous decision has had on at least one closeted player. Murray tweeted a message he received that shows the difference an athlete coming out can make. 

“I just wanted to tell you that you’ve been a massive inspiration for me to come out to teammates and family,” the anonymous player told Murray, according to the tweet. 

“As a young footballer I find it difficult to be myself as it is but being gay and keeping it secret was so challenging. It felt amazing when I told my teammates, they were super supportive.” 

Murray shared the message with a heart emoji and the words: “Makes it all worthwhile young man.”

Murray, 30, came out during an interview posted on the website of his club, the Gala Fairydean Rovers, on September 16, explaining “the weight of the world is now off my shoulders.”

Screenshot/YouTube

As the Los Angeles Blade has reported, Jake Daniels of Blackpool came out as gay in May, the first U.K. male pro soccer player to come out in more than 30 years. Justin Fashanu was the first in Britain men’s soccer to come out back in 1990. Homophobic and racist media reports drove Fashanu to suicide eight years later. 

Reaction to Murray’s coming out last month has been “incredible,” he’s told reporters. One of those reaching out to congratulate him was Olympic gold medalist Tom Daley. The U.K. diver sent him a DM, Murray told a British interviewer. 

“He messaged me while I was on my way back from football training in a car with four boys. I had tears in my eyes seeing his direct message, and I messaged him back.

“I said, ‘Look I am in a car on the way back from football with four boys and I’ve got tears in my eyes and I don’t even care.’”

Prior to coming out, Murray had been “living in fear 24/7,” he told Sky Sports. “I can’t explain it. You’re hiding your phone in case you get messages from friends, constantly double-checking if you have a team night out, you’re cautious with what you’re saying.

“It’s very hard, especially for myself, I’m a character in that dressing room. I’m not quiet in that dressing room, I like to have the banter and to get stuck in, so very challenging.”

But Murray said he couldn’t have decided to come out “at a better time, at a better club.” So why now? He posted the answer on Instagram with several bullet points, including:

  • “Gay male footballers in the UK need role models. 
  • Majority are terrified to come out to friends/family/teammates (trust me a few have reached out already!).”

STV Weekend News Sunday, September 18, 2022 Zander Murray

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