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“Significant Other” explores perennial problem through millenial lens

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Will Van Vogt is making his Geffen Playhouse debut with “Significant Other.” Photo Courtest Geffen Playhouse.

There comes a time for most people, usually in our twenties, when the circle of friends we in which we move begins to peel away; one by one, they reach a point when the bustle of a busy social life is suddenly less appealing than the traditional comfort of domesticity, and they pair off with some special someone with whom they think they are ready to settle down.

When this happens, inevitably, the group dwindles until there is only one person left.

Being that person, to put it succinctly, pretty much sucks.

It’s this phenomenon that is explored in “Significant Other,” a comedy by playwright Joshua Harmon which officially opens its West Coast premiere at the Geffen Playhouse on April 11.

The show, which has already enjoyed successful Off-Broadway and Broadway runs, follows a young man named Jordan, a single professional who also happens to be gay.  When his close group of female friends each begins to slowly drift away and get married, he finds himself feeling left alone while he searches for his own “Mr. Right.”

Will Van Vogt, who plays Jordan, says it’s a play that hits him pretty close to home.

“I’ve been living with the same woman, my best friend, for eight years, and just before I came to L.A. she moved in with her life partner – so we sort of broke up this domestic partnership that we had developed.  I’m so excited and proud for her, but it’s sort of like, ‘well, now what’s going to happen to me?’”

He says that same kind of uncertainty is at the core of his character, and of the play itself.

“Jordan is trying to figure out what adult life looks like for him.  He begins to look around and realize that he doesn’t have everything in place the way that he’d like to, and it sends him into a bit of a spiral – worrying about things he wants, things he’s afraid he’ll never get.  It’s a very human story about things I think we’re all afraid of at the end of the day.”

He’s also thrilled to be part of a show that, as he puts it, is so “queer-centric.”

“One of the things I love most about this play, as a gay man, is that we have this person, front and center, who’s going through major life events that are applicable for everybody who shows up to that room.  It’s wonderful to have a queer character deliver those messages – so often we’re reduced to playing side characters, or characters facing great tragedy, but Jordan is this layered character who goes through these relatable human emotions across all levels.  Whether you’re a gay man in your twenties or an elderly woman in your nineties, or anybody in between, you’re going to recognize the struggles that he’s going through.”

Even so, at a time in entertainment culture when the watchword is “inclusiveness,” he says that the character’s sexuality is relevant because it is, essentially, not relevant at all.

“This play isn’t about Jordan being gay, it’s about him being a human being.  The problems he’s trying to tackle are heightened because they’re reflected against heteronormative traditions, but underneath they are really just human experiences.”

Melanie Field, who plays Laura, says the play is not just about Jordan’s issues.  The other characters are all trying to find their way, too.

“Laura is closest to Jordan, they have a special bond.  They are pretty aligned when it comes to their views about life, and about marriage.  They don’t really subscribe to the whole idea of marriage and romance – but when their other friends start meeting people and settling down, she catches the bug too.  And then it becomes about how this challenges their friendship.  They have to figure out how they are going to remain best friends, and what that really means, as their relationship status changes.”

Just like Van Vogt, she says she sees a lot of herself reflected in her role.

“I’m starting to ask myself the same kinds of questions about my own life as these characters.   It hurts to grow up – it’s difficult, it’s confusing, it’s infuriating at times.  We’re looking for all the answers, we’re wanting to know what’s going to happen and how we’re going to get through it.”

She thinks this is what will give the show heightened resonance for millennial audiences – especially the young, urban professional types represented by its main characters.

“A lot of millennials, because of access to education or focus on career, are late-bloomers compared to older generations.  The play addresses the idea of looking at how things were for them and comparing your own life to that, even while you’re trying to deal with how the world has changed and the culture has shifted.  What does your ideal relationship look like while you’re trying to maintain your independence?  Do you even want children?  And if you do, how do you meet the person you want to have them with?  So much of dating now takes place on a phone screen or a laptop.  It’s more complicated now, and I think our show reflects that beautifully.”

“There are several scenes in where Jordan talks to his grandmother about where she was at as his age. We have that presence in our show, of this older generation that did things so much differently in terms of dating, and marriage, and children and all of it.  It’s a really nice foil for what Jordan is going through.”

Playwright Harmon has been lauded for his skill at creating “richly funny comedies with appealing, exasperating and infinitely recognizable characters.” Even so, with all this deep talk about relationship challenges, intergenerational comparisons, and cultural shifts, it might be easy to forget that “Significant Other” is a comedy.

Not to worry, says Van Vogt.

“There are so many laugh-out-loud moments. It’s a totally funny play.”

 

“Significant Other”

Written by Joshua Harmon

Directed by Stephen Brackett

Starring Melanie Field, Vella Lovell, Preston Martin, Keilly McQuail, John Garet Stoker, Concetta Tomei, and Will Von Vogt.

Geffen Playhouse, Gil Cates Theatre – 10886 Le Conte Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90024

Previews begin March 3, performances March 11 – May 6

Tickets available at www.geffenplayhouse.com

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Vlogger StanChris; My religious mom reacts to Norway’s “gay Santa” ad

My religious mom reacts to Norway’s gay Santa advertisement! Let’s see what she has to say about it.

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Screenshot via YouTube

LOS ANGELES – The twenty-something StanChris, the Out YouTuber who has been building his audience on his YouTube channel by vlogging about the ordinary everyday experiences of his life as a young gay guy is back- this time interviewing his mother.

My religious mom reacts to Norway’s gay Santa advertisement! Let’s see what she has to say about it.

My religious mom reacts to Norway’s “gay Santa” ad

********************

S O C I A L – L I N K S

→Instagram : stanchris https://instagram.com/stanchris

→ Twitter : stanchrisss https://twitter.com/stanchrisss

Subscribe here!!: https://youtube.com/c/stanchris

Watch more: https://youtu.be/rjI4c7nSXkw

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Movies

Verhoeven returns with subversive tale of lesbian nun in ‘Benedetta’

Period drama delivers sex, violence, and horrors of the Black Death

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Daphne Patakia and Virginie Efira in ‘Benedetta.’ (Photo courtesy IFC Films)

There was a time when Paul Verhoeven was a big deal in Hollywood.

The Dutch filmmaker first attracted international attention during an early career in his homeland, with critically acclaimed movies like “Turkish Delight” and “Soldier of Orange,” which found an audience outside of the Netherlands and brought him greater opportunities in America, Once here, he adapted his style to fit a more commercial mold and forged a niche for himself with violent, action-packed sci-fi blockbusters, scoring major hits with “Robocop” and “Total Recall” before reaching a pinnacle with “Basic Instinct” – arguably still his most influential and iconic film.

Then came “Showgirls.” Although the Joe Eszterhas-scripted stripper drama is now revered as a “so-bad-it’s-great” cult classic, it was a box office bomb on its initial release, and its failure, coupled with the less-spectacular but equally definitive flopping of his next film, “Starship Troopers,” effectively put an end to his climb up the Hollywood ladder.

That was not, however, the end of his story. Verhoeven moved back to his native country (where he was hailed as a returning hero) and rebounded with the critically lauded “Black Book” before spending the next two decades developing and producing new projects with other filmmakers. In 2016, he assumed the director’s seat again, this time in France, and the resulting work (“Elle”) put him once more into the international spotlight.

Now, he’s back with another French film, and fans of his signature style – a blend of social satire, psycho-sexual themes, graphic violence, and near-exploitation-level erotic imagery that has prompted some commentators to label him as a provocateur – have every reason to be excited.

“Benedetta,” which receives its long-delayed (due to COVID) release in the U.S. on Dec. 3, is the real-life story of a Renaissance-era Italian nun (Virginie Efira), whose passionate devotion to her faith  – and especially to Jesus – sparks disturbing and dramatic visions. When young novice Bartolomea (Daphne Patakia) enters the convent and is assigned to her as a companion, it awakens a different kind of passion, and as their secret relationship escalates, so too do her miraculous episodes, which expand to include the physical manifestation of stigmata. Soon, despite the skepticism of the Mother Abbess (Charlotte Rampling), she finds herself heralded as a prophet by the other sisters and the local community, leading to controversy, investigation, and a power struggle that threatens the authority of the church itself.

Inspired by “Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy,” Judith C. Brown’s biography of the real Sister Benedetta, Verhoeven’s latest work is perhaps his most quintessential to date. In his screenplay (co-written with “Elle” collaborator David Birke), the Dutch auteur – who is also a widely recognized, if controversial, religious scholar – gives free reign to his now-familiar obsessions, weaving them all together into a sumptuously realized period drama that delivers copious amounts of nudity and sex, bloody violence, and the horrors of the Black Death while exploring the phenomenon of faith itself. Is Benedetta a saint or a harlot? Is she chosen by God or mentally ill? Are her visions real or is she a fraud, cynically exploiting the beliefs of those around her in a bold-faced grab for power and glory? And if she’s lying, in the larger context of a world held firmly in the grip of a church that treats salvation as transactional and levies its presumed moral authority to unlimited financial and political gain, which is greater evil? Though the film strongly implies the answers lie somewhere between the “either/or” of absolutes, it shrewdly leaves the viewer to contemplate such questions for themselves.

What concerns “Benedetta” more than any esoteric debate is a sly-yet-candid commentary on the various levels of societal hierarchy and the ways in which the flow of power perpetuates itself through their devotion to maintaining the status quo. As Benedetta’s perceived holiness carries her upward through the strata, from unwanted daughter of the merchant class to Mother Superior and beyond, more important than the veracity of her claims of divinity are the shifting and carefully calculated responses of those she encounters along the way. Fearing the loss of their own power, they ally and oppose themselves in whichever direction will help them maintain it. It’s a Machiavellian game of “keep-away” in which those at the top will not hesitate to use economic class, gender, sexuality, and – if all else fails – torture and execution as weapons to repress those they deem unworthy.

Inevitably, the above scenario provides plenty of fodder for Verhoeven’s movie to make points about religious hypocrisy, systemic oppression, and the way white heterosexual cisgender men keep the deck eternally stacked in their own favor – all of which invites us to recognize how little things have changed in the five centuries since Sister Benedetta’s time. That, too, is right in line with the director’s usual agenda.

Ultimately though, the signature touch that makes the movie unmistakably his is the way it revels in the lurid and sensational. Verhoeven delights in presenting imagery designed to shock us, and key elements of the film – from hyper-eroticized religious visions and explicit lesbian sex, to the prominent inclusion of a blasphemous wooden dildo as an important plot point – feel deliberately transgressive. This should be no surprise when one remembers that this is the director who brought us not only “Basic Instinct” and “Showgirls” but also “The Fourth Man,” a homoerotic psychological thriller from 1983 still capable of making audiences squirm uncomfortably today; and while all this titillation may trigger the most prudish of viewers, it makes “Benedetta” into a deliciously subversive, wild-and-wooly ride for the rest of us. More to the point, it underscores the film’s ultimate observation about the empowering nature of sexual liberation.

Helping Verhoeven make maximum impact with this obscure historical narrative is a cast that clearly relishes the material as much as he does. In the title role, the statuesque Efira successfully creates a compelling and charismatic figure while remaining an enigma, someone we can believe in equal measure might be sincere or corrupt and with whom we can empathize either way; likewise, Patakia exudes savvy and self-possession, transcending moral judgment as the object of her affection, and the two performers have a palpable chemistry, which is made all the more compelling by their thrillingly contemporary approach to the characters. Rounding out the triad of principal roles is Rampling, a cinematic icon who brings prestige and sophistication to the table in a masterful performance as the Abbess; more than just a grounding presence for her younger co-stars, she provides an important counterbalance with a subtle and layered performance as a woman who has devoted her life to a belief in which she has no faith, only to find herself overshadowed by a charlatan.

“Benedetta” is not exactly the kind of film that’s likely to put Verhoeven back on the Hollywood fast track – it’s far too radical in its underpinnings for that. Nevertheless, it’s a welcome return to form from a unique and flamboyant filmmaker we’ve missed for far too long, and his fans – along with anybody with a taste for provocative cinema – should consider it a must-see.

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Books

‘Capote’s Women’ is catnip to older pop culture fans

Revisiting iconic author’s seven ‘swans’

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(Book cover image courtesy of Putnam)

Capote’s Women
By Laurence Leamer
C.2021, Putnam $28/356 pages

Her lips are locked tight.

Your best friend knows all your secrets, and she’s keeping them; you told her things you had to tell somebody, and she’s telling nobody. You always knew you could trust her; if you couldn’t, she wouldn’t be your BFF. But as in the new book “Capote’s Women” by Laurence Leamer, what kind of a friend are you?

For months, Truman Capote had been promising a blockbuster.

Following his success with “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “In Cold Blood,” he was “one of the most famous authors in the world” but he needed a career-booster. The novel he was writing, he teased, would be about “his swans,” seven wealthy, fashionable women who quite personified “beauty, taste, and manners.”

His first swan was Barbara “Babe” Paley, whom he’d met on a trip with the David Selznicks to Jamaica. For Capote, “Babe was the epitome of class,” simply “perfect” in every way; it helped that the famously gay writer was no threat to Paley’s “madly jealous” husband.

Babe’s “dearest friend” was Nancy “Slim” Keith, who quickly learned that if a lady wanted her confidences kept, she didn’t tell Capote anything. She shouldn’t have trusted Babe, either: When Slim left for a European trip, Babe asked if Slim’s husband could accompany Babe’s friend, Pamela Hayward, to a play.

Slim was aware of Pamela’s predatory reputation, but what could she say?

Of course, Pamela, another of Truman’s swans, stole Slim’s man, a scandal that Capote loved.

Gloria Guinness was highly intelligent, possibly enough to be a spy in Nazi Germany. Lucy “C.Z.” Guest was an upper-crust “elitist” with a “magical aura.” Marella Agnelli “was born an Italian princess”; Lee Radziwill, of course, was Jacqueline Kennedy’s sister.

Through the late 1960s, Capote claimed to be writing his masterpiece, his tour de force based on his swans, but several deadlines passed for it. He was sure Answered Prayers “would turn him once again into the most talked-about author in America.”

Instead, when an excerpt from it was published, his swans got very ruffled feathers.

Every time you stand in line for groceries, the tabloids scream at you with so much drama that you either love it or hate it. Or, in the case of “Capote’s Women,” you cultivate it.

And that’s infinitely fun, as told by author Laurence Leamer.

Happily, though, Leamer doesn’t embellish or disrespect these women or Capote; he tells their tales in order, gently allowing readers’ heads to spin with the wild, globe-hopping goings-on but not to the point that it’s overdone. While most of this book is about these seven beautiful, wealthy, and serially married women – the Kardashians of their time, if you will – Capote is Leamer’s glue, and Truman gets his due, as well.

Readers who devour this book will be sure that the writer would’ve been very happy about that.

“Capote’s Women” should be like catnip to celeb-watchers of a Certain Age but even if you’re not, find it. If you’re a Hollywood fan, you’ll want to get a lock on it.

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