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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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Music & Concerts

Rapper DaBaby pulled by Lollapalooza over homophobic comments

“Lollapalooza was founded on diversity, inclusivity, respect, and love. With that in mind, DaBaby will no longer be performing.”

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Screenshot from Rolling Stone Magazine's YouTube Channel

CHICAGO – In an announcement Sunday morning, the organizers of Chicago’s Lollapalooza Music Festival said they had pulled artist DaBaby from tonight’s closing show after a series of public homophobic remarks by the rapper last weekend in Miami at the Rolling Loud music festival.

On Twitter Lollapalooza officials wrote; “Lollapalooza was founded on diversity, inclusivity, respect, and love. With that in mind, DaBaby will no longer be performing at Grant Park tonight.  Young Thug will now perform at 9:00pm on the Bud Light Seltzer Stage, and G Herbo will perform at 4:00pm on the T-Mobile Stage.”

The Grammy-nominated rapper’s comments onstage at the Miami festival last weekend brought swift condemnation from other artists in the music industry including British Rockstar Elton John and Madonna among many others.

In the middle of his set last weekend in Miami the rapper told the crowd, “If you didn’t show up today with HIV/AIDS, or any of them deadly sexually transmitted diseases, that’ll make you die in two to three weeks, then put your cellphone lighter up! Ladies, if your pussy smell like water, put your cellphone lighter up! Fellas, if you ain’t sucking dick in the parking lot, put your cellphone lighter up!”

DaBaby later issued an apology via Twitter that read, “Anybody who done ever been effected by AIDS/HIV y’all got the right to be upset, what I said was insensitive even though I have no intentions on offending anybody. So my apologies” However, the addendum in the same tweet of; “But the LGBT community… I ain’t trippin on y’all, do you. y’all business is y’all business.” was immediately decried as further proof of the rapper’s intolerance of the LGBTQ community.

Michael J. Stern, a Los Angeles attorney and a former federal prosecutor who is now a noted featured columnist for USA Today blasted DaBaby’s ‘apology;’

In his response to Dababy’s remarks Elton John, who founded the Elton John AIDS Foundation in 1992, a nonprofit organization which funds frontline partners to prevent infections, fight stigma and provide care for the most vulnerable groups affected by HIV, responded in a lengthy series of tweets:

Madonna took to her Instagram telling the rapper to “know your facts,” before spreading misinformation. 

“AIDs is not transmitted by standing next to someone in a crowd,” she wrote on Instagram. “I want to put my cellphone lighter up and pray for your ignorance, No one dies of AIDS in 2 or 3 weeks anymore. Thank God.”

This year’s Lollapalooza festival, which is one of the first major festivals to return in full force since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, concludes Sunday with headlining performances by musical acts Brockhampton, the Foo Fighters, and Modest Mouse.

Dua Lipa ‘Horrified’ at DaBaby’s Homophobic Remarks at Rolling Loud | RS News 7/28/21

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Sports

Olympic Silver Medalist Erica Sullivan Is ‘Still The Same Gay Girl’

Ever since young lesbians have been stanning Sullivan on social, the University of Texas student has opened-up to the world about who she is.

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Graphic courtesy of TEAM USA Swimming

TOKYO – Erica Sullivan is a Japanese-American from Las Vegas and, at age 20, an Olympian attending her first-ever Summer Games. But that barely scratches the surface: This week, she won a Silver Olympic Medal. Not just any medal, mind you; she’s the first-ever Silver medalist in the women’s 1500-meter freestyle. 

Her big moment came on Tuesday in Tokyo, when Sullivan finished the 1500 in 15:41.41, 4.07 seconds behind Gold Medal winner and fellow American, Katie Ledecky. 

“The last 24 hours have been a dream,” Sullivan wrote on Instagram. “Thank you all from the bottom of my heart. Always for the people I represent,” and she added a heart.

Make no mistake about who she represents: “Yes, I’m the gay one,” says her Twitter bio

Whether it be a tweet, on Instagram or on TikTok, Sullivan proudly, frequently posts that she is the “only out gay swimmer” on Team USA. 

@erica.sully

When ur the only gay on the US Swim Olympic team #olympics #swim #lgbt🌈 #fyp

♬ the token straight – chloe

“Only gay USA swimmer. WHERE ARE THE GAYS” she tweeted in sharing an article about the record number of out LGBTQ Olympic athletes.

 

Ever since, young lesbians have been stanning Sullivan on social, as the University of Texas student has opened-up to the media and the world about who she is. 

“This is kind of self-centered and cocky to say, and I’m sorry for that” Sullivan told reporters after winning Silver, “but I feel like I am the epitome of the American person, whereas I’m multicultural, I’m queer, I’m a lot of minorities in that sense. That’s what America is. America is, to me, it’s not being a majority. It’s having your own start. The American dream is coming to a country to be able to establish what you want to do with your life.”

Sullivan described having to train amid “duck poop” in Lake Mead, given that pools were shut down because of Covid-19. She also mentioned to the media: “If the women’s soccer team, specifically Tobin Heath and Christen Press, would like to reach out, that would mean the world!”

What a change from just four years ago, according to Yahoo! News and Swimming World. Sullivan was dealing with the death of her father, coming out and mental-health issues. Her mother is a Japanese citizen living in the U.S., her late grandfather was an architect for some of the Olympic venues and her late father was a swimmer at the University of Wisconsin.

Sullivan is also a Swiftie, meaning she’s a huge fan of Taylor Swift, which fellow fans have embraced. 

Headlines like, “All Hail Erica Sullivan, Olympic Silver Medalist, Swiftie, and Queer Icon” and “Lesbians, We Have A New Supreme And She’s An Olympian Named Erica Sullivan” have only further enshrined Sullivan as a heartthrob for girls who like girls. 

Lauren Yapalater did a deep-dive into Sullivan’s socials for Buzzfeed, revealing the swimmer “tweets about lesbian yearning movies just like the rest of us poor souls.” 

And then there’s “The Question:”

“So many people have asked me if I’m single,” she told Jill Gutowitz of Vulture, who Sullivan calls “the queen of Twitter lesbians.” 

“I’m like, I am still the same gay girl I was before all this. I’ve had a crush on the same girl for three years now. The yearning gets you every time.”

Next up for Sullivan: back to school, and the pool, 

“I deferred college for three years to train for these games,” she told Gutowitz. “So, I’m going to Austin to continue my film career, my educational career, and my swim career. I’m gonna go another quad, I’m gonna try and go for 2024, that’s the plan. But hopefully after that I can focus on my film career.”

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Arts & Entertainment

Black gay dance icon gets luminous treatment in ‘Ailey’ doc

Nothing prepares you for the experience of Ailey,” she says. “The emotional, spiritual, aural, and visual overwhelm the sense

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AILEY courtesy of NEON

NEW YORK – When it comes to the history of dance in America, few names loom larger than that of Alvin Ailey.

A trailblazing pioneer of the art form who blended styles of modern dance, ballet, and jazz into breathtakingly theatrical presentations that explored and uplifted Black experience in American culture, his works earned him accolades and honors throughout a long career that gave him name recognition even among people with little or no interest in dance.

His choreographed masterpieces became touchstones within the medium, with many of them still among the most frequently remounted dance productions more than 30 years after his death, and the company he founded in 1969 – the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater – remains one of the most lauded and prestigious dance organizations in the world today.

Yet despite his status as one of the most famous American choreographers of the twentieth century, there are many today, even among the aficionados of dance, who would be hard-pressed to tell you much about his life.

That’s not entirely due to neglect or lack of interest, as a new documentary by filmmaker Jamila Wignot – simply titled “Ailey” – helps us to understand. Ailey was a genius who kept his private life as far out of the spotlight as possible.

As a Black gay man, he was keenly aware of his doubly marginalized status, and rather than inviting controversies that might overshadow the creations he worked tirelessly to bring into the world, he preferred to let the work itself become his public identity. He even took measures to obscure himself after death, ensuring that his passing from AIDS (in 1989, at the age of 58) would be reported as the result of a terminal blood disease.

In Wignot’s dreamily eloquent film, she presents us with a portrait of a man who seemingly sublimated his entire being into the creation of his art, documenting Ailey’s magnificent career with a wealth of archival footage and interviews.

Along the way, she also offers exploratory deep dives into the creation and legacy of some of his most iconic ballets, illuminating some of the themes that wove themselves into his body of work throughout his life. Finally, she follows the creative process as dancers at today’s Ailey American Dance Theater work on a new production of “Lazarus,” one of the late master’s most renowned pieces.

In the process, she delivers the biographical facts of his life side by side with the artistic passions that drove him, and places it all in the context of the larger cultural history of late 20th Century America – as well as how Ailey’s legacy continues to resonate within the changing social dynamics of our own time.

Yet throughout this feast of information, illuminating the facts and counterpointing the remembrances of those who worked at his side, Wignot also gives us Ailey’s own commentary. Culled from recordings and interviews made during his lifetime, this posthumous self-narration of his own story lets us glean for ourselves what insight we may.

In retrospect and alongside the memories of his surviving companions, Ailey’s own words tell us more about the man himself than he perhaps meant to do when he said them, inserting a layer of intimacy within the vast scope of the biography as it unfolds, and the film is all the richer for it.

It should come as no surprise that Wignot has painted such a reverent, yet deeply personal portrait of her subject. She’s been inspired by Ailey’s work – and his vision – since attending a performance of the Ailey Dance Theater during her sophomore year at Wellesley College more than two decades ago. Her admiration is evident from the way she gushes about Ailey in her director’s statement about the film.

“Nothing prepares you for the experience of Ailey,” she says. “The emotional, spiritual, aural, and visual overwhelm the senses… Ailey’s dances—celebrations of African American beauty and history—did more than move bodies; they opened minds.

His dances were revolutionary social statements that staked a claim as powerful in his own time as in ours: Black life is central to the American story and deserves a central place in American art and on the world stage. A working-class, gay, Black man, he rose to prominence in a society that made every effort to exclude him. He transformed the world of dance and made space for those of us on the margins—space for black artists like Rennie Harris and me.”

The Rennie Harris to whom Wignot refers is the founder of Rennie Harris Puremovement, a hip-hop dance theater company based in Philadelphia, who as guest choreographer of the AADT production of “Lazarus” is featured prominently in the film. He is just one of many professional dance veterans whose voices, featured throughout, seem united in singing the praises of Ailey’s passion, creative power, and timeless aesthetic – and Wignot makes sure we don’t have to merely take their word for it.

Like most dance documentaries – or good ones, anyway – the greatest gift of “Ailey” is the chance to see the dancers in motion. It’s a film full to the brim with electrifying footage of some of Ailey’s masterworks, giving us a rare opportunity to revel in the sheer visual poetry of his style. In pursuit of his ideal to capture “truth in movement,” he built choreographed expressions of the Black American experience, executed with grace, strength, and unparalleled beauty.

His work celebrated that history while bearing witness to its injustice, with an emphasis on the dignity, humanity, and hope that makes it possible to look toward a transcendent future for all. It was, of course, social activism through art, though Ailey and his original dancers might not have exclusively intended it that way, and it is not an overstatement to say that it changed the world. Wignot cannily gives us the privilege of seeing just enough of it to stand as testament to its impact, and more than enough to make us want to grab the next opportunity to see the Ailey American Dance Theater perform in person.

In the meantime, you are encouraged to seek out “Ailey,” which premiered in NYC on July 23 and expands to theatres nationwide on August 6, to whet your appetite. It’s a documentary that succeeds far more than many others in telling a real-life story that feels authentic, and despite the carefully-guarded secrecy of its elusive subject, it presents as true and complete an impression of him as we are likely to get.

Outside of watching his work, that is.

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