Arts & Entertainment
‘Long Day’s Journey’ at the Wallis proves timeless value of classics
A tale of several elephants in the room
Outside of literary and dramatic circles, the name Eugene O’Neill is not often heard in conversation these days.
The pioneering American playwright and Nobel laureate, who died in 1953, is still renowned as one of the great influencing voices of modern theater, of course. His plays continue to be rightfully hailed as classics, and his socialist leanings helped to establish a liberal undercurrent in American theater which continues to flow to this day.
Even so, his plays were written well over half a century ago, and many modern theater-goers might well question whether they bear any real relevance to the culture of today.
Onstage now at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts (9390 N Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills), the imported Bristol Old Vic production of his posthumously-published, Pulitzer-winning masterpiece “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” answers that question with a resounding “yes.”
Rife with barely-fictionalized autobiography, the play is set over the course of a single day in the seaside summer home of James Tyrone and his family. Tyrone is a famous actor whose fear of poverty makes him a miser despite his financial success; his wife, Mary, abandoned her aspirations as a pianist to marry a “matinee idol”; their eldest son, Jamie, is a ne’er-do-well who has failed at becoming an actor in his own right; and their youngest son, Edmund, is a sickly intellectual with dreams of becoming a poet. When the play opens, all seems well and cheerful between this obviously loving quartet, despite some occasional grousing. As the action proceeds, however, it becomes clear that each of them harbors deep regrets about their own lives and deep resentments against each other – resulting in painful and conflicted interactions, full of mixed messages and crossed signals, fueled by shame and guilt, and exacerbated by the addictions that each embrace to dull their own despair.
At first glance it may appear that this bleak snapshot of one family’s daily descent into a shared hell has little to do with the world today. After all, what can a play set in 1912 have to say about family dynamics and the psychology of addiction that our modern understanding has not made irrelevant?
In the hands of director Sir Richard Eyre and his cast of world-class performers, plenty.
This imported British production puts its finger right on the pulse of O’Neill’s complex language, mining it to reveal its underlying, oft-repeated themes in scenes that could easily be taking place in countless households throughout America today. It’s a chilling reminder of how little difference a hundred years can make.
First, there is the “elephant in the room” which is Mary’s addiction to morphine; in a country currently in the grip of a record epidemic in opioid dependence, it’s hard not to hear the reverberations when she and the others refer to the eagerness of doctors to prescribe drugs as an easy fix – or to think of the millions of men and women who wander like ghosts, as she does, behind the closed doors of their modern-day homes. Likewise, it’s hard to escape the irony of the three Tyrone men drowning their feelings in an endless flow of alcohol even as they bemoan the matriarch’s lack of “will power” against her own self-destruction.
Then there are the political parallels – Tyrone’s old-fashioned self-made-man rhetoric about the values of the past play against his sons’ anti-capitalist criticisms and introspective artistic inclinations like scenes between a Trump-supporting elder and his liberal progressive offspring at any dinner table in America today. In his fear-driven conservatism, the old man skimps on essential care for his own family in favor of financial speculation; what better allegory could be conceived for the political gap which divides our society in 2018?
There are other things. In Mary’s haunted memories we can read the frustration of a woman denied agency by a society which treats her sex as mere decorative possessions; in the alcoholic cynicism of Jamie and the impotent rebellion of Edmund we can see the response of a younger generation capable of seeing the failures of a system rooted in the past yet incapable of effecting change; and in the passive-aggressive wrangling of this fractured family unit, it’s possible to see the reflection of an entire culture caught in a codependent loop of recrimination and self-loathing.
The technical merits of this production, which garnered raves in its home country before being shipped to the Wallis stage, are all as would be expected – from the glass-house vortex of Rob Howell’s set to the ever-dimming glow of Peter Mumford’s delicate lighting – and will be self-evident enough to audiences not to warrant elaboration here.
As for the show’s remarkable cast, it’s impossible not to spend a few words on them. The magnificent Jeremy Irons, in a role he seems born to play, makes of Tyrone a fading autocrat; simultaneously asserting and abdicating authority just as he professes and withholds his love, he is the archetypal distant father figure – yet he never once seems anything other than human.
Every bit his equal is the exquisite Lesley Manville. Her Mary evokes the bright charm of a coquettish schoolgirl worn increasingly thin by desperation bubbling within – an apt persona for someone who has clung too long to the image of her past while denying the disappointment and loneliness of the decades gone by. She is a woman who plays the role of doting wife and loving mother, yet has lost the feeling required for those roles, and she is as heartbreaking as she is riveting to watch.
The two sons more than hold their own against their powerhouse co-stars. Rory Keenan’s Jamie is a charismatic rake, whose intelligence shines through even in his most boorish moments. As Edmund, Matthew Beard sometimes lacks connection to the flights of poetic fancy into which his character sometimes goes, but he more than makes up for it in the authenticity with which he bestows this young man’s conflicted feelings for his family.
This group of actors, through a meticulous specificity of language and intent, brings O’Neill’s magnum opus to life in a way that makes it feel newly-minted. It’s because they (and their insightful director) have taken pains to find the truth engraved deeply into these characters that this “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” emerges just as its author surely intended – as a portrait of the damage that can be inflicted by human beings on themselves and each other, even where there is love.
As anyone lucky enough to sit in the audience during the show’s brief run at the Wallis will discover, it’s something that is just as relevant today as it ever was – and, like it or not, ever will be.
“Long Day’s Journey Into Night” runs through July 1 in the Bram Goldsmith Theatre at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets and more info available at thewallis.org.
‘A Transparent Musical,’ pioneering queer series for the stage
The show, now performing its world premiere run at LA’s Mark Taper Forum through June 25, is a retelling of the story of the Pfefferman clan
LOS ANGELES – It might seem a little out of the ordinary to begin a review of a theatrical production by discussing a TV series – but in the case of “A Transparent Musical,” it’s the logical place to start.
The show, now performing its world premiere run at LA’s Mark Taper Forum through June 25, is a retelling of the story of the Pfefferman clan, the secret-laden, deeply dysfunctional and very Jewish LA family at the center of “Transparent,” a now-iconic, pioneering Amazon series that premiered in 2014 and ran for 4 critically-acclaimed seasons before ending with a special feature-length “Musicale Finale” in lieu of a fifth.
In its original form, the saga began with the coming out of Maura Pfefferman to her children as a trans woman – a bombshell revelation that that sends the privileged, self-absorbed family reeling. From there, it charted Maura’s transition into the proud trans matriarch she always knew was inside her, as well as the struggles of her former spouse (Shelly) and their children (Josh, Sarah, and Ali) to navigate life – both as a family and as individuals – in the aftermath.
In later seasons, the focus shifted more to youngest child Ali and the search she undertakes for her own identity, and after the controversial departure of series star Jeffrey Tambor, the tale finally culminated with Ali’s creation of a musical about her family’s history.
While the final episode won its share of critical praise and accolades and gave fans of the series some form of closure, many viewers couldn’t help but feel a sense of anti-climax; for them, the circumstances around Maura’s departure from the narrative (which we won’t go into here, you can look it up if you don’t remember) left something of a bitter taste in the air, and while the renewed sense of hope and healing it delivered for Ali, her siblings and her mom were appreciated, the fact that Maura wasn’t allowed to get there with them felt, well, unfair.
While the actor who played her may no longer have been suitable to continue the journey, the character deserved a much better fate, and the audience who had rooted for her over the course of four seasons deserved her to have it, too.
With that in mind, one might go into “A Transparent Musical” – co-written by series creator Joey Soloway and MJ Kaufman, with music and lyrics by Soloway’s sibling Faith – with reserved expectations. Indeed, what would a musical adaptation of this sprawling narrative, with its complex social and cultural themes and its extended cast of intertwined characters, even look like? Could it even be possible for them to fit 41 episodes of television storytelling into a two-and-a-half-hour stage version?
As it turns out, they didn’t even have to try. Instead, “A Transparent Musical” reimagines the entire story of the Pfeffermans into a streamlined, standalone experience that can be enjoyed and appreciated without any knowledge of the series whatsoever. Instead of placing Maura (played here by Daya Curley) at the center of the story, it’s young Ali (Adina Verson) who becomes our point of entry; tasked with helping to mount a play for her Jewish Community Center’s Purim carnival, she finds herself drawn into a voyage of self-discovery, recalling key moments in her family’s past and drawing connections between their story and the multi-faceted cultural and ethnic heritage that sprawls out behind them.
Gone are most of the side trips taken by the series, along with many of the non-Pfefferman characters, and what’s left is a scaled-down retelling that manages to feel just as complete – if not more so, given that Maura is now allowed to be included in the ending – as the series that fans grew to love.
Of course, trimming things down to that extent inevitably means sacrificing a lot of nuance, and that has an impossible-to-ignore impact on the show’s first act, which is lengthy to begin with but feels even lengthier because of it.
One of the challenges of “Transparent” was that its protagonists were all messy, self-centered, unreasonable, compartmentalized, dishonest, stubborn, spiteful, even sometimes deliberately cruel to each other – in short, all of them, including Maura (sometimes especially her), were often difficult to like.
The saving grace was the show’s ability to let us see into the deepest corners of each of their lives, where we could recognize and relate to the wounded humanity hiding behind all those walls of defense; here, without the luxury of such detailed exploration, their unpleasantness sometimes makes it tough to care whether they work things out for themselves or not.
But of course, one doesn’t have to like or even care about characters to find aspects of oneself reflected in them, and their relatability goes a long way toward keeping us invested enough to stick around after intermission – and that’s fortunate, because it’s in the second act that “A Transparent Musical” blossoms into the fully realized manifestation of Soloway’s story we never knew it needed to become.
Without giving spoilers, the second half employs flights of fancy – devised and expanded from elements included in the series – to bring together all the Pfeffermans’ struggles and crystallize all the story’s themes into one cathartic bundle.
By the time it’s over, the acceptance, forgiveness, and yes, transcendence that has happened on stage leaves us to ponder questions of our own identity, and how being seen for who we really are makes a big difference in our ability to see others that way, too.
As directed by Tina Landau, the production bursts with colorful, exciting imagery and inventive staging that helps us easily follow the jumps in time and place that occur within the show’s immersive setting – which, designed with tongue-in-cheek authenticity by Alan Rigg, puts the audience in the middle of a JCC auditorium.
Faith Soloway’s songs may not linger melodically in your brain in the way typically expected of showtunes, but their lyrics are clever, insightful, funny, and successfully transmit complicated threads of language and ideas without letting us lose track of any of them; coupled with James Alsop’s crisp, high-energy choreography, it’s a combination that delivers a welcome injection of high-spirited musical theatre fun.
As for the cast, a diverse and talented ensemble that seems to be having the time of their lives, they are uniformly excellent. Verson deserves special mention for carrying the show’s narrative responsibilities without distancing themself in the process, as does Curley for inhabiting Maura so completely that we easily forget any previous incarnation of her.
Liz Larsen has multiple show-stopping moments as “what about me?” mom Shelly, as does Peppermint (in the dual role of Davina and Darlene), whose powerful vocal prowess brings down the house more than once – a feat also accomplished by Kasper as Ezra. Standout moments aside, however, the entire company should truly be considered joint stars of the show.
It could go without saying, perhaps, that a show like “A Transparent Musical” is highly important to be seen in a time like ours, as vicious backlash from extremist bigots grows ever more alarming and politicians pander to homophobia with regressive and harmful legislation.
There are moments in the show that address this growing volatility, an element which brings a fresh sense of urgency to its message of acceptance – something it makes much easier to swallow by showing us that feeling comfortable in your own skin is an essential human need extending far beyond the importance of gender, sexuality, race, or any of the other external factors we use to divide ourselves from others.
Even so, and despite multiple themes that are bound to be uncomfortable – even potentially triggering – for many audiences, “A Transparent Musical” is not a bleak show, nor does it dwell on the political terrors of the larger world, even if it acknowledges that they are there. It goes without saying that many of our readers will consider it a must-see piece of theatre, simply by virtue of its messaging and the need to be visible; rest assured that even if you’re going because you feel like you have to, you’re probably still going to enjoy it, too.
Max brings history to the masses in entertaining ‘Book of Queer’
Cervini’s work not a typical queer documentary
Pride month has officially arrived, and that means it’s time again for all our TV providers to join the rest of the corporate world in falling over itself to show its support the only way it knows how – by marketing directly to us and letting us know that, yes, they want our money, too.
We can’t resist a little glib snark, but truthfully, we’re not complaining. After being ignored for decades by the mainstream, a little overcompensation once a year is fine by us. That’s especially true when the content that rolls out on our screens is well-crafted, authentic, and entertaining without pandering to its audience – which, as anyone who has binge-watched through the “LGBTQ+” section of their streaming service of choice can easily tell you, is not always the case.
That’s why we chose to start our Pride month viewing with a series that’s not even brand new. “The Book of Queer,” which is part of the debut rollout on Max (the rebranded streaming service formerly known as HBO Max), originally aired on Discovery + for Pride 2022. Now, it’s available to a wider audience just in time for Pride 2023, and coupled with its focus on queer history, the timing is too perfect not to bring it to your attention.
Created by Harvard-and-Cambridge-educated historian Dr. Eric Cervini – likely familiar to many of our readers via a popular social media presence built around his “Queer History 101” newsletter – “Book of Queer” is a five-episode crash course that tells the stories of significant queer (or purportedly queer) individuals who have made their mark on human civilization across the millennia through re-enactments by an all-queer ensemble cast, illuminating them with commentary from an array of expert “talking heads” who are both erudite and accessible. It’s a familiar format, obviously, but this time it comes with a twist – the re-enactments take the form of comedic sketches, reimagining its famous historical subjects through a contemporary lens and turning them into campy (and absurdly anachronistic) avatars of defiantly queer empowerment.
Those accustomed to a more straightforward documentary approach might be put off by this approach, and we can’t blame them; the irreverence of the very first episode, which explores queer leaders of government throughout history and depicts Abraham Lincoln as a flamboyantly sexed-up serial gay lothario, is by itself enough to raise hackles. Considering the reverence with which most of these individuals are viewed today, it’s inevitable that many viewers will find the show more than a little transgressive.
Yet even as it plays fast and loose with the accuracy of its portrayals – which, for the record, feels like a deliberate tactic, not a clumsy effort to contemporize and dumb them down for a modern audience – it is scrupulous about making sure we aren’t fooled by its wacky style into thinking that it doesn’t take any of this stuff seriously. Though it plays on all the familiar tropes and stereotypes of modern queer culture – to the point that we might be offended by some of its humor if it came in a show not conceived and executed by queer creators – it is always quick to set the record straight, not just with the savvy, well-researched insight of the commentators, but with clever visual aids like infographics and pop-up supplemental facts; like Cervini’s online history lessons, there’s a light tone to the whole affair, giving everything a fresh sense of fun that makes it all feel very much like a product tailored for the reputed shallowness and short attention span of the internet age -but that doesn’t mean it’s not dedicated to honoring the history it relates to us by remaining strictly aligned with the facts.
Indeed, in many ways it uses its cheeky burlesque of history to amplify and drive home some of its most convincing points. How better to underscore its arguments – the nonbinary identity of Egyptian monarch Ahkenaten, or Abe Lincoln’s committed sexual relationships with the lengthy list of male “roommates” who shared his bed (yes, really) before becoming president, and those examples are just from the first installment – than by comically portraying them as if they were the modern equivalent of their “types” in the queer community? More than that, when we see these histories presented in this way, the arguments of “traditional” (i.e. heterosexual) historians that dismiss such theories as unsubstantiated speculation seem even more ludicrous than they did before – and that’s saying a lot.
In truth it’s more than a little thrilling to see the show’s unequivocal assertions about the queerness of its subjects – all backed by rigorously cited sources and extensively researched anecdotal evidence – presented without a lot of the equivocating disclaimers that usually accompany that discussion. And while it may take most of the first episode for some viewers to warm up to its madcap approach (though more casual audiences may be comfortable with it from the start), it quickly reveals its value goes beyond simply keeping us entertained. By episode 2, not just in spite but because of its humor, it’s able to evoke unexpected – and unexpectedly powerful – tears over the death of Alan Turing, and to remind us that Renaissance artists like Da Vinci and Michelangelo lived under constant threat of prosecution, punishment, and even execution for sodomy.
Indeed, if there’s one common thread that runs through all these histories, it’s the ever-present suppression, persecution, and worse that has been imposed upon queer people across the centuries; if “Book of Queer” makes us laugh, it does so in the spirit of all the pioneers who came before it, combating the cruelty and bigotry of our oppressors with the kind of fierce, subversive comedic artillery that easily pierces their small-minded assumptions and attitudes about us.
That, as much as anything, drives home the importance of a show like “Book of Queer” in the here and now, as LGBTQ+ life and culture faces a resurgence of bigotry and legislation aimed at pushing us back into the closeted, underground life we’ve had to endure for millennia. That importance is clearly not lost on Cervini, who despite the involvement of high-profile guest narrators like Margaret Cho and the late Leslie Jordan emerges as the show’s brightest star. Appearing in each episode to provide “footnotes” that give further historical context for each of the stories, his twink-ish youthful appearance and mischievously fey charm belie his status as a Pulitzer-nominated author and historian (for his 2020 book, “The Deviant’s War: The Homosexual vs. The United States of America”), but the authority and comprehensive knowledge with which he speaks leave no doubt of his ability to lead a generation of young queer scholars and activists fighting into the future, armed with the certainty of facts and an understanding of a history that has been buried by our oppressors for far too long.
“Book of Queer” might not be your typical documentary, but really, do we want a queer documentary to be “typical”? It’s clear that Dr. Eric Cervini does not, and after seeing this one, we are inclined to agree with him.
Tragedy and comedy intertwined in witty ‘Quietly Hostile’
Irby’s fourth essay collection addresses pandemic, TV writing career, more
‘Quietly Hostile: Essays’
By Samantha Irby
You know from the get-go that “Quietly Hostile,” essayist, television writer and humorist Samantha Irby’s fourth essay collection, is filled to the brim with the author’s mordant wit, cynicism and empathy. Who else but Irby, 43, who has struggled with depression, would write: “This book is dedicated to Zoloft”?
There are zillions of essay collections. But few are as memorable, poignant, funny (sometimes grossly, in a good way) and heart-filled (a term Irby might hate) as “Quietly Hostile”
This long-awaited collection is filled with what Irby would call “good shit”: from hilarious descriptions of her bad dog in doggie day care to bits about, literally, shit, (that will gross you out, but reduce your shame about pooping).
Irby, who is Black and bisexual, grew up in poverty in Evanston, Ill. Her parents died when she was 18 (her mother from multiple sclerosis; her father, who gambled, likely, suffered from post traumatic stress disorder).
At the age of nine, Irby’s mother’s MS went out of remission. While still a child, she was called upon to care for her Mom.
“When I was an actual kid growing up on welfare with a sick mom and expired Tuna Helper from the dollar store, the future and its infinite possibilities stretched before me like a sumptuous buffet I couldn’t afford to go to,” Irby writes.
There is a backdrop of pain, sadness and, sometimes, anger to much of Irby’s humor. But self-pity and rage don’t consume the book.
Irby, the author of “Meaty,” “We Are Never Meeting in Real Life” and “Wow, No Thank You,” knows that the cliche is true: tragedy and comedy often are often intertwined.
It’s fun to learn in “Quietly Hostile” that Irby, who was a writer for the popular TV shows “Shrill” and “Tuca & Bertie,” is as much a fan as the rest of us of the TV shows she loves.
In 1998, Irby couldn’t afford cable or HBO. She had to wait to watch the “City” until it came out on VHS. “The show reflected nothing of my life,” she writes, “but provided something of a road map for my future…” she writes.
In a future, she wouldn’t have dreamed of then, she grew up to become a writer on “And Just Like That,” the “Sex and the City” reboot. (She’s a writer on season two of “And Just Like That” which premieres on June 22 on Max.)
Irby was stunned when Michael Patrick King of “And Just Like That” asked her to write for the show. “I was like … Are you allowed to work on a show like this if you only wear nine-dollar T-shirts,” she writes, “and have no idea how many Brooklyns there are.”
“During my interview,” Irby jokes, “I said, ‘Can I give Carrie diarrhea?’ and I was hired immediately.”
Even ardent “Sex and the City” aficionados may find too much of SATC in “Quietly Hostile.”
No worries: Irby who speaks of herself as being “fat” and “sick” (she has arthritis and Crohn’s disease), riffs on many things in “Quietly Hostile.” Irby turns her sharp wit on everything from what it’s like to run for a public toilet when you have diarrhea to why she’s a David Matthew’s fan girl to her love for (approaching addiction to) Diet Coke to the “last normal day” before the pandemic to the “food fights” that are a part of the most loving marriages.
Grab a Diet Coke (or libation of your choice), tell your bad dog to quit barking and enjoy “Quietly Hostile.”
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LGBTQ+ ‘Swifties’ get emotional Pride month support in Chicago
Swift said that she was inspired to get vocal about LGBTQ activism after having a conversation with her friend Todrick Hall
CHICAGO – The over fifty-thousand Taylor Swift fans packing Soldier Field Friday night as the singer brought her current “The Eras Tour” to the Windy City for a three-day sold-out stop-over were treated to a Vegas-style spectacle. But for her LGBTQ+ ‘Swifties’ she had a special message.
During a pause before performing her song ‘Champagne Problems’ the 33-year-old performer addressed the stadium telling the audience that it was a ‘safe space.’
🏳️🌈 | Taylor wishing fans a happy pride month and saluting those who live authentically “This is a safe space.” during her Champagne Problems speech tonight! #TSTheErasTour via @swifferwins pic.twitter.com/qNEkZm2C3m— Taylor Swift Updates (@SwiftNYC) June 3, 2023
“I’m looking out tonight, I’m seeing so many incredible individuals who are living authentically and beautifully, and this is a safe space for you,” Swift said.
“This is a celebratory space for you. One of the things that makes me feel so prideful is getting to be with you and watching you interact with each other, being so loving and so thoughtful and so caring.”
“Being with you during Pride Month, getting to sing the words to ‘You Need To Calm Down’ where there are lyrics like, ‘Can you just not step on his gown?’ or, ‘Shade never made anybody less gay,’ and you guys are screaming those lyrics.
“Such solidarity. Such support of one another and such encouraging, beautiful acceptance and peace and safety. And I wish that every place was safe and beautiful for people of the LGBTQ+ community,” she said addressing the fans.
“We can’t talk about Pride without talking about pain. Right now and recently there have been so many harmful pieces of legislation that have put people in the LGBTQ+ and queer community at risk,” she said acknowledging the flood of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation the first five months of this year. Then she urged her fans to carefully consider their options as the nation moves into another elections cycle.
“It’s painful for everyone. Every ally. Every loved one. Every person in these communities. And that’s why I’m always posting, ‘This is when the midterms are. This is when these important key primaries are,’ Swift said encouraging fans to vote for legislators that protect the LGBTQ+ community.
“Are they actually advocates? Are they allies? Are they protectors of equality? Do I want to vote for them?” she asked.
Taylor Swift kicks off #PrideMonth by encouraging fans to vote for legislators that protect the LGBTQ+ communityhttps://t.co/qs68MLDG6d— Rolling Stone (@RollingStone) June 3, 2023
The proud recipient of no less than 12 GRAMMY Awards, 14 MTV Video Music Awards, and an astonishing 94 Guinness World Records, Swift has been a vocal ally and supporter of the LGBTQ+ community.
The singer-songwriter and musician revealed in an interview with Vogue, that she was inspired to get vocal about LGBTQ+ activism after having a conversation with her friend, choreographer and “RuPaul’s Drag Race” judge Todrick Hall.
“Todrick and I are in the car, and he asked me, What would you do if your son was gay? The fact that he had to ask me shocked me and made me realize that I had not made my position clear enough or loud enough. If my son was gay, he’d be gay. I don’t understand the question,” Swift says.
She added: “Rights are being stripped from basically everyone who isn’t a straight white cisgender male. I didn’t realize until recently that I could advocate for a community that I’m not a part of. It’s hard to know how to do that without being so fearful of making a mistake that you just freeze. Because my mistakes are very loud. When I make a mistake, it echoes through the canyons of the world. It’s clickbait, and it’s a part of my life story, and it’s a part of my career arc.”
Swift’s LGBTQ activism includes endorsing politicians who promote LGBTQ rights and she started a Change.org petition in support of the Equality Act. The singer also released the pro-LGBTQ single “You Need to Calm Down,” which featured Hall.
A queer Hollywood homage takes the stage for Pride month in ‘Back Porch’
If you are a fan of theatre, & you also happen to be a fan of classic movies, & you also happen to be queer, then Pride Month in LA holds a special treat for you
BURBANK, Calif. – If you are a fan of theatre, and you also happen to be a fan of classic movies, and you also happen to be queer, then Pride Month in LA holds a special treat for you.
From June 2 – July 9, Burbank’s Victory Theatre Center will be the venue for the world premiere of “Back Porch,” a new play by Eric Anderson that uses an imaginary scenario within a real-life slice of moviemaking history to tell a very queer story – one that pays delightful homage to a beloved Hollywood classic as well as the playwright behind the work that inspired it.
The setting is a small Kansas town and the year 1955, when a Hollywood movie crew descends upon the community to shoot scenes for the classic film, “Picnic.”
According to the synopsis:
Barney Opat (Karl Maschek) is the widowed father of two boys: 18-year-old Gary (Isaac W. Jay), who yearns to escape small-town Kansas life for a more glamorous existence, and energetic 13-year-old Del Wayne (Cody Lemmon). The family’s life is upended when a handsome stranger working as William Holden’s stunt double (Jordan Morgan) blows into town alongside the all-star cast. Other characters include the Opats’ bachelor boarder, singing teacher Myron Uhrig (Eric Zak), and their neighbor, Millard Goff (Jonathan Fishman).
Needless to say, sparks start flying (in more ways than one) almost immediately.
Playwright Anderson – who was himself born and bred in Kansas – says he remembers being 4 years old when portions of “Picnic” were filmed near his home.
“My family drove to the location one evening to take part in the ‘Neewollah’ scene on the river. I’ve been crazy about movies — and theater — ever since. With “Back Porch,” I wanted to pay tribute to a significant American playwright who was also significantly closeted. I hoped to write the kind of play that he himself might have written had he lived in another time and place.”
The play is directed by Kelie McIver, another Kansas native, who goes as far as to call it a “love letter to William Inge.” She also calls it “a terrific ensemble piece in which each character has an interesting and beautiful arc. I love them all and want to hang out with them.”
“Back Porch” is presented by Bluestem Productions. In addition to Anderson and McIver, the creative team includes set designer Kenny Klimak, lighting designer Carol Doehring, sound designer Cinthia Nava, costume designer Molly Martin, stunt/fight choreographer Brett Elliott and intimacy director Amanda Rose Villarreal. The stage manager is Margaret Magula. David Willis and Kelie McIver produce for Bluestem.
For information and to purchase tickets, call (818) 533-1611 or go to the production’s website.
R.K. Russell’s life, sport & bisexual awakening
This Black queer former NFL player says he’s fighting “for us all to be seen, whether it be in the pages or on the screen”
WEST HARTFORD, Conn. – He’s tackled opponents on the gridiron, paved a path for out LGBTQ+ athletes and shared his unique voice in words and prose. Now R.K. Russell is celebrating the release of his long-awaited memoir, The Yards Between Us, as well as a Hollywood deal to bring his story to television viewers.
It’s something Russell told the Los Angeles Blade he never dreamed would be possible, even as a child.
“Grown me could barely imagine the book, let alone, little me,” Russell said. “It is something I have not seen before, and something that doesn’t really exist. Something that is so shocking even to me, this being my life. I think the reason that I continue to take these opportunities that come to use my platform and my voice and my talents, my gift, to not just tell these stories, but to hopefully champion other people in their story. To just fight for us all to be seen, whether it be in the pages or on the screen, everywhere people exist. We exist.”
As the Blade reported in August 2019, Russell came out as bisexual in a feature for ESPN. The NFL defensive end was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in 2015 and played a few seasons for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Buffalo Bills. After coming out as a free agent, Russell wasn’t able to fulfill one of his dreams — to play professional football as an out and proud bisexual man. But at that time, he said all he was focused on was living his truth.
“It was a powerful time in my life,” Russell told the Blade. “It was the first time I really felt that I was taking all this control and I wasn’t just at the mercy of the NFL or waiting for that phone call, or at the mercy of friends, family, lovers. It was my decision and my moment and my truth. And I got to express it in a form that felt very genuine to me.”
The Buffalo native called the experience “freeing.”
“I didn’t think I’d realize how much I had been proverbially holding my breath until that moment. And then it just felt like such an exhale. It’s such a freeing thing, and the weight of the burden of that secret, of that shroud, or that shame,” he said. “I just realized how heavy what I had been carrying for so long. So, definitely a powerful and freeing moment.”
Having already told part of his story to ESPN, The New York Times and other news outlets over the years, there was a reason Russell felt it was important to write the rest of his story.
“That was just a very specific part of my life, and it showed me that maybe by sharing my whole story, my life and my journey and my truth and other parts could be just as impactful, if not more impactful,” he said. As he set out to write the memoir, he said he first experienced imposter syndrome, until he came to a realization.
“The point that got me through was, ‘What would little R.K. read that would have helped him? What was a book that didn’t exist when he was young, and that he could have picked up and seen himself, or that people like him can pick up and see themselves? Or even people unlike him, to get a human connection to someone that does not look like them or doesn’t play sports?’ So, I think the huge, final push was, ‘What would I have liked to have read as a child?’ And hopefully that will help other people.”
The Yards Between Us traces not only Russell’s football career and his love for the game, for both men and for women, but also what it was like for him to keep his bisexuality secret and the tension between his private and public lives. As his weighs upon him, he’s dealt a devastating loss, an event that leads to an all-enveloping darkness, until finally he recognizes, it’s time to make a change.
Since coming out, he’s found love with his boyfriend, Corey, grown closer to his mother and this September he’ll mark four years sober.
Russell’s memoir has won him accolades from LGBTQ+ readers, but not just them.
“I’ve also gotten a lot of support from people who aren’t LGBTQ+ who see the value in the story, but also see the value in the intersections of it all. Because I don’t just talk about being a bisexual, I talk about being a Black man. I talk about being a football player, defining masculinity and redefining masculinity. There’s a lot of intersections that my story crosses. And I think for people to see all of these layers also coexisting in one person, that’s important to see the bridges between these communities that at times can be put against each other, or it can be divided, to see them all exist within one person.”
While all that sounds very serious, Sony Pictures Television sees comedy gold in exploring Russell’s intersectionality of sports, race, sexuality and masculinity. His memoir is being adapted into a half-hour comedy series, as Deadline reported. Russell is co-writing and executive producing a half hour comedy series with Saeed Crumpler of “Flatbush Misdemeanors,” alongside Gabrielle Union, who is a producer in her own right as well as wife to Dwyane Wade and stepmother to their 15-year-old trans daughter, Zaya Wade. As the Blade reported last month, the Wades left Florida because of its anti-trans policies and laws.
“She’s fantastic. Amazing,” said Russell. “If anyone wants to know what allyship looks like, Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade and their whole family, they’re so amazing. “
Union, he said, recognizes the importance of representation. “It’s important to have genuine representation, whether it be during Pride Month with companies and campaigns or in shows and books that our stories are coming from, that there are Black queer writers writing Black queer stories hopefully also in part started or acted by Black queer artists.”
Long before he wrote a word of his memoir, Russell has been publishing his own poems, which he told the Blade was his “way to express life with words.” He said he started writing poetry following the death of his stepfather.
“It was a way for me to kind of name grief, without naming it. I didn’t have that vocabulary, that word at that time, but I was feeling it so intensely,” he said.
One of Russell’s poems, Tributes, was an effort at explaining bisexuality and his experiences. “’Bisexuality,’ the word, means something slightly different to you, to me, or to someone else. I can talk about the experience in a way that is so varied and so broad and to me, so true and genuine.” Below, an excerpt from that poem:
Love is freedom
and the freedom to love is a birthright,
or at least it should be.
These years fill my canvas
and I know too much of life to expect
only one color to leave its strokes across my heart.
Paint is intended to mix no matter the artist. —Tributes, by R.K. Russell
Music & Concerts
It is Grace Jones v. Carly Rae Jepsen in the clash of musical titans
This year’s OUTLOUD WeHo Pride festival features a free concert on Friday with paid-ticket events on Saturday and Sunday
HOLLYWOOD – “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…” So begins the classic A Tale of Two Cities. The line seems to accurately describe our current times of queer triumphs and tragedies. It characterizes both the progress and the pain being experienced by the LGBTQ community as Pride Season opens.
This, however, is not the tale of two cities. It is the tale of one city, and two divas. Specifically, two divas who are putting their talent and their voices out to inspire our personal age of wisdom and drown out all the foolishness.
That city is West Hollywood and its Outloud music festival in conjunction with Pride. Launched in 2020 as a ten-episode series on Facebook, Outloud then created a weekend-long event in 2021 celebrating LGBTQ+ artistry and music. This year’s festival features a free concert on Friday with paid-ticket events on Saturday and Sunday.
Before the weekend of contrasting LGBTQ+ significances, Broadway and Disney Queen Idina Menzel headlines the roster on Friday Night. With an LGBTQ fan favorite pedigree with hits from the show Rent, to defying gravity as the marginalized Elphaba of Wicked to the Ice Queen who “Lets it go”, Idina has been showstopping with LGBTQ themes that have spoken to a wide range of generations.
On stage at the Saturday and Sunday concerts will be the fascinating juxtaposition of two divas, each carrying her own LGBTQ significance, but who could not be more different from the other if they tried. It is Jones, as in Grace, versus Jepsen as in Carly Rae.
They are the Yin meets Yang of divas.
Grace Jones on the one hand, is legend, she is our origin. She rode an arc from Jamaica, to America, to Paris and beyond. Her voice reverberated from gay discos crying that she “wanted a man” in the first days when gay discos spun their mirrored balls. She, in many ways, defined us. She exuded non-binary before there was such a term and people just called her androgynous. She has stated, “Some people are both genders. I think you just come out the way you come out, and you have to embrace it honestly.” She is the diva quite at home in form fitting black leather with whips and fire. “I go feminine, I go masculine. I am both, actually. I think the male side is a bit stronger in me, and I have to tone it down sometimes. I’m not like a normal woman, that’s for sure.”
Carly Rae Jepsen is our sweet, affection seeking, secret diva. To much of the popular world she is a “one-hit” wonder, but to many LGBTQ folks her ongoing catalogue speaks to, and of, our hearts and the ongoing search for love. In terms of black leather, she has been heard to say, “I’ve never been an all-black girl. I like pinks and blues and greens, If you come over to my closet, you’ll be able to find a rainbow of things to wear.”
This diversity can be heard in the music each makes as well. Grace Jones owns the edge, and has remarked, “Music has its own depths, and I let it take me where it takes me, even if it means stripping all my clothes off.” Grace’s music is known for its unique style and sound, influenced by reggae, funk, post-punk, pop and New Wave. It has traditionally resonated with the LGBTQ+ community as anthems for self-expression, liberation, and nonconformity.
Carly Rae Jepsen, on the other hand, has described her music as “Bejeweled. It’s colorful. It’s romantic. It shines.”
While Grace is global and created a worldwide fabric in fashion and music, Carly Rae is decidedly Canadian with a hometown girl kind of flair. “Canada was my whole world and my whole reality, and now I meet people who’ve never been there, and it’s like, ‘You’ve never been to my whole world?” she says.
Entertainment Tonight Canada called Carly Rae “the queen of the Gay Community.” She has been active in the music industry since 2007. She has released six studio albums, two remix albums, four EPs, 28 singles, 10 promotional singles, and 24 music videos. Her song “Call Me Maybe” became the biggest-selling song in the world in 2012 and the best-selling domestic Canadian single in history. She is known for her support of the LGBTQ community and her music has been embraced by the LGBTQ community for its inclusive messages of acceptance and self-love. She has said, ““I have so many gay friends that I love. It is a regular thing. And if my video is encouraging that mind frame with other people—well it is about time…”
“I WOULD much rather have a small and mighty group of people who are getting what I love about music and connecting than a ‘Call me Maybe’ ever again.”
Grace has said about herself, “I like conflicts. I love competition. I like discovering things for myself. It’s a childlike characteristic, actually. But that gives you a certain amount of power, and people are intimidated by that.” So if there were to be a Jones versus Jepson competition, who would win? Grace has sold more records than Carly Rae. Grace Jones has sold over 738,614 albums and had four songs on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Carly Rae Jepsen has sold over 521,000 albums and had six songs on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. However, Carly Rae Jepsen has also sold over 25 million records worldwide, which includes singles and streams. Grace Jones’ total record sales are not clear, but she has been active since the 1970s, and relatively few streams. It cannot be ignored however, that she is the one who has a significant influence on pop culture and music.
Calling her out as a culture creator himself, Andy Warhol said, “Grace Jones is one of the most creative and brilliant people I have ever met. She is always pushing the boundaries of art and expression. She is a true original.”
While lack of acknowledgement has been a bone of contention from Grace for divas that followed and copied her (Hello, Madonna, she is speaking to you…), several have paid their homage. “Grace Jones is a force of nature, a wild spirit, a rebel. She inspires me to be more fearless and outspoken. She is a role model for women and men alike, “ stated Lady Gaga. Rihanna has similarly paid tribute, “Grace Jones is a trailblazer, a pioneer, a visionary. She has influenced generations of artists with her music, fashion, film and performance. She is a living legend.”
Carly Rae has been treated more like a kid sister diva, on the other hand. When she broke Gaga’s record for longest duration at #1, Gaga teased that she would be “coming for her.”
Neither is a stranger to Pride stages. In 2019, they each owned rainbow tinted spotlights. Carly Rae served as Grand Marshal of Toronto Pride. Grace headlined at New York City Pride.
Now their talents combine on a stage in West Hollywood for Outloud. “Outloud is a show created for queer people in queer communities. It was born out of a need to support a struggling community of queer artists. While the top of our bill celebrates industry titans who each champion or represent LGBTQ causes, our drive comes from the diverse, eclectic assortment of established and emerging talent who represent the very best of queer music today,” Outloud founder and CEO Jeff Consoletti told Rolling Stone. To that point, the full roster of the three nights is choc full of incredible talent.
Friday Night @ OUTLOUD Presented by WeHo Pride will kick-off WeHo Pride Weekend with a free-ticketed experience on Friday, June 2 with a lineup that includes headliners Idina Menzel, Jessie Ware, Shangela, and Tinashe, as well as additional performances by JORDY, Tolliver, and DJ Venessa Michaels. RSVP is required for Friday night free-ticketed entry. Saturday Night @OUTLOUD on June 3 features Grace Jones, and Sunday, June 4 features Carly Rae Jepsen. Both require paid-ticket purchases.
The full weekend lineup also includes performances by Passion Pit, Orville Peck, Santigold, Princess Nokia, Yung Bae, DRAMA, Meet Me @ The Altar, Kat Cunning, Rubio, Cub Sport, and Black Belt Eagle Scout. Register or get tickets at www.weareoutloud.com.
Which diva should the community support? The legend or the lover? Our legacy, or validation of our emotions? The ying or the yang of queer musical culture?
Looking to the deeper meaning of Yin/Yang holds the answer.
It is the Chinese cultural principle that the universe is governed by a cosmic duality, sets of two opposing and complementing principles and cosmic energies.
We need them both.
Therefore, get multiple sets of tickets. Both your soul, and your heart, need the nourishment and will thank you. And you will have a damned good time.
Rob Watson is the host of the popular Hollywood-based radio/podcast show RATED LGBT RADIO.
He is an established LGBTQ columnist and blogger having written for many top online publications including The Los Angeles Blade, The Washington Blade, Parents Magazine, the Huffington Post, LGBTQ Nation, Gay Star News, the New Civil Rights Movement, and more.
He served as Executive Editor for The Good Man Project, has appeared on MSNBC and been quoted in Business Week and Forbes Magazine.
He is CEO of Watson Writes, a marketing communications agency, and can be reached at [email protected] .
Summer brings major dose of new queer film, TV content
New book awash in crazy action, humor, and superheroes
There’s no season quite like the summer when it comes to having fun outdoors, for obvious reasons – but unless you want a nasty sunburn, you need to spend time indoors, too. Luckily, the Blade is here for our readers with our picks for the most promising new movies and shows coming to our various screens over the coming season, so you’ll have something good to watch while you’re recovering from all that shiny Vitamin D.
THE NEIGHBOR (Limited theaters 6/2, Digital & DVD 6/6) – From Italian director Pasquale Marrazzo comes this fresh-from-the-festivals LGBTQ drama about two young men who begin an intense romance after having a terrifying experience together, and the parental hate and homophobia that comes to light in the face of their newfound love. It sounds grim, but it comes with a string of strong reviews to recommend it and acclaimed performances from Michelle Costabile and Jacopo Costantini, plus a score by prizewinning composer Teho Teardo (“House of Gucci,” “Il Divo”).
HORSEPLAY (Limited theaters 6/2, Digital & DVD 6/13) – Another queer LGBTQ film fest darling, this one a thriller from Argentina, about a group of friends at a summer get together; their hard-partying fun leads to horseplay (naturally), which (also naturally) stirs up other issues – and submerged secrets, feelings, and jealousies begin to push tensions toward a violent breaking point. Directed by acclaimed filmmaker Marco Berger and described as “a boundary-pushing look at masculinity, homophobia and sexuality,” it stars Bruno Giganti, Agustín Machta, Franco De La Puente, and Ivan Masliah Taekwondo. It also looks very sexy, which makes us look forward to it that much more.
THE IDOL (HBO, 6/4) – “Euphoria” creator Dan Levinson is also behind this much-anticipated new series, which stars Lily-Rose Depp as a rising pop star who falls under the spell a Svengali-like self-help guru played by none other than The Weeknd (aka Abel Tesfaye). It also stars queer fan favorite and “Schitt’s Creek” co-creator Dan Levy, along with Jane Adams, Hari Nef, and Troye Sivan, among others. Already controversial thanks to a behind-the-scenes whistleblower who told Rolling Stone that it “borders on sexual torture porn,” you can bet there will be a lot of eyes – queer and otherwise – streaming this one.
ALL MAN: THE INTERNATIONAL MALE STORY (Digital, 6/6) – For a certain generation of gay men, the words “International Male” evoke memories of rushing home from high school to grab that precious sexy catalogue out of the mailbox before their parents got home. Now, this long-awaited documentary – which was an Official Selection at both the Tribeca and Outfest Film Festivals – finally arrives to bring the story of this iconic touchstone of queer history to light, by charting “the journey of an unlikely band of outsiders” who “designed one of the most sought-after mail-order catalogues of the ‘70s and ‘80s, forever changing the way men look at themselves, at each other, and how the world would look at them.” Matt Bomer, Simon Doonan, and Carson Kressley are among the participating talking heads, but the real attraction is the wealth of archival imagery showing some of the most outrageously gay (and irresistible) fashion ever created.
BLUE JEAN (In Theaters, 9/9) – UK filmmaker Georgia Oakley won high praise for this 2022 slice-of-history drama, now making its official U.S. debut. Set in 1988 England as the conservative Thatcher government is poised to pass stigmatizing legislation against gays and lesbians, it features a powerhouse performance from Rosy McEwen as a gym teacher whose closeted double life is threatened by the arrival of a new student. BAFTA-nominated, this one won the Venice Film Festival’s People’s Choice Award and four British Independent Film Awards, making it both a heavy-hitter and a must-see.
WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS (FX, 6/13) – The popular vampire mockumentary – along with its breakout star, queer fan favorite Harvey Guillén – returns for a fifth season.
JAGGED MIND (Hulu, 6/15) – Directed by Kelley Kali and inspired by her own short film “First Date”, this feature-length queer thriller follows a woman (Maisie Richardson-Sellers) who, plagued by blackouts and strange visions, finds herself stuck in a series of time loops that may or may not be connected to her mysterious new girlfriend (Shannon Woodward). This one will have its world premiere at the American Black Film Festival in Miami Beach the day ahead of its streaming drop.
AND JUST LIKE THAT… (Max, 6/22) – The Samantha-less reboot of “Sex and the City” brings back the rest of the scandalous cadre for a second season.
EVERY BODY (In theaters, 6/30) – Julie Cohen directed this revelatory doc, which investigates the lives of intersex people, telling the stories of three individuals who have risen above childhood shame, secrecy, and non-consensual surgeries to thrive as adults after coming out as their authentic selves; it also weaves in a “stranger-than-fiction” tale of medical abuse, told in exclusive footage from the NBC News archives, which helps shed some light on the modern-day treatment of intersex people. We are definitely on board for anything that brings visibility to one of the most invisible sectors of our community – especially when it also aims to reduce stigma.
THEATER CAMP (In theaters, 7/14) – Sure to be a big draw for film fans who also love musical theater, this new movie from co-directors Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman is an original comedy starring Tony-winner Ben Platt (“Dear Evan Hansen”) opposite Gordon as a BFF pair of instructors at the rundown titular institution, who join forces with their loyal production manager (Noah Galvin, Platt’s real-life boyfriend) to rescue it from the clueless tech-bro (Jimmy Tatro) that has been brought in to run it. How? Why, with a musical, of course! Written by Platt, Gordon, Galvin, and Leiberman, it also stars Patti Harrison, Nathan Lee Graham, Ayo Edebiri, Owen Thiele, Alan Kim, Alexander Bello, Bailee Bonick, Kyndra Sanchez, Donovan Colan, Vivienne Sachs, Quinn Titcomb, Caroline Aaron, and the always hilarious Amy Sedaris. Sign us up.
BARBIE (In theaters, 7/21) – Let’s face it, this wickedly campy-looking, over-the-top comedy from the brilliant Greta Gerwig is probably going to be the film of the year – at least for a solid percentage of the queer audience, who are certain to be passing the popcorn on opening weekend as they watch Margot Robbie’s Barbie and Ryan Gosling’s Ken visit the real world together. And since collections have always been part of the “Barbie” game, Gerwig’s satirical joyride offers an assortment of other Kens and Barbies, including Kingsley Ben-Adir, Simu Liu, Ncuti Gatwa, and Scott Evans as Ken, Hari Nef, Issa Rae, Kate McKinnon, Dua Lipa, Emma Mackey, Ana Cruz Kayne, Sharon Rooney, Alexandra Shipp, and Nicola Coughlan. Truthfully, if they throw in a Barbie camper set, we will be in heaven.
KOKOMO CITY (In theaters, 7/28) – Lena Waithe executive produced this “wildly entertaining and refreshingly unfiltered” documentary that follows the lives of four Black transgender sex workers in Atlanta and New York City. Winner of Sundance’s NEXT Innovator Award and NEXT Audience Awards, it gives its quartet of subjects ample opportunity to spill the tea on their profession, and they do not hold back. As a bonus, it’s the directorial debut of producer/singer/songwriter D. Smith, who made history as the first trans woman cast on a primetime unscripted TV show.
HEARTSTOPPER (Netflix, 8/3) – The eagerly awaited return of Nick and Charlie (Kit Connor and Joe Locke), the most irresistibly adorable pair of young teen boyfriends ever, for a second season of this beloved UK series that will likely have everyone immediately clamoring for a third.
ONLY MURDERS IN THE BUILDING (Hulu, 8/8) – Another returning favorite, the third season of this deliciously charming confectionary blend of characters, comedy and crime podcasts comes with the addition of a new premium ingredient – Meryl Streep (real, not imitation) – for extra delectability. Who could resist?
RED, WHITE & ROYAL BLUE (Prime, 8/11) – “Heartstopper” fans who have binged through the new season in one sitting and are hungry for more might find a suitable fix when this Greg Berlanti-produced, Matthew Lopez-directed film adaptation of nonbinary author Casey McQuiston’s YA bestseller drops a week later. It’s an implausible but infectiously sweet rom-com that imagines a same-sex romance between America’s First Son and the heir to the British throne, with young newcomers Taylor Zakhar Pérez and Nicholas Galitzine taking on the leading roles; also starring are Clifton Collins Jr., Stephen Fry, Sarah Shahi, Rachel Hilson, Ellie Bamber, Aneesh Sheth, and Polo Morín, but we are frankly most excited to see Uma Thurman playing America’s first female president. Let’s hope that plot detail isn’t such an implausible premise.
‘Harley Quinn: Ravenous’ a dark Gotham novel with a feminist warrior
New book awash in crazy action, humor, and superheroes
‘Harley Quinn: Ravenous’
By Rachael Allen
c.2023, Random House
Forget about it.
Put it out of your mind; don’t worry about it. It’s likely nothing, so let it rest. Let it go and don’t be afraid because, as in the new book “Harley Quinn: Ravenous” by Rachael Allen, fear is how they make you scream.
Being a first-year intern at Gotham University was going to be the best.
Having completed the university’s gap-year program last year, Harleen Quinzel was practically bouncing. She’d decided on research, possibly psychology, as a career and first year program included mentorship and a chance to study some of Gotham’s worst, most notorious criminal minds. The Joker, Two-Face, King Shark, Mr. Freeze, she could be assigned to any one of them at Arkham Asylum.
First year was also going to be a bit of a relief.
Sure, she’d still have to put up with classmates like the jerk who kept asking if she was “straight now” (nope, still bi, today, tomorrow, last week) and she’d have to try to fit in, which was hard to do after what happened at the end of last year. Then, some of Harleen’s friends were attacked with a fear spray that made them scream and scream, and her best friend died from it. There was gossip but Harleen had her research to enjoy, she loved her mentor, and she was fascinated by Talia al Ghul, who’d tried to assassinate Gotham’s mayor. Talia was a great study-subject – even though Harleen wasn’t technically supposed to ever speak to her.
Until Talia said that she knew who made the fear spray. She needed information for information, tit for tat, and she hinted that she knew the truth about Straw Man, who was rumored to haunt Arkham and who had a hand in the fear spray, so…
So then Harleen woke up in the hospital, the victim of a bad accident and amnesia. But was it an accident? Were this guy, Win, and the adorable Ivy trustworthy? And the escape of Gotham City’s worst, most violent criminals — was Harleen at fault?
Let’s say a movie theater mushed its film to a pulp and made a novel from the leftover cells. Or they used the mush to paint a Ben-Dot artwork panel, but in words. That’s kinda how you could think of this book. As a part of the “DC Icons” franchise, “Harley Quinn: Ravenous” almost screams graphic novel or comic book.
So what’s the problem?
Nothing, as long as you know that before you pick it up because that’s the sort of feel you’ll get in what only looks like a regular novel. Nothing, if you relish a story that starts with action and peppers it with chaos before dropping readers into a land of dark monsters and crime. Nothing at all, if you’ve read author Rachael Allen’s novel-before-this-one – otherwise, you’ll be awash in humor, feminism, superheroes, and scrambling to find your footing. Be warned.
Overall, if you love a funny, crazy-paced dark-Gotham novel with a feminist warrior, you’ll devour “Harley Quinn: Ravenous.” As for a bookmark…? Nah, forget about it.
Zachary Zane is on a mission to destroy sexual shame
The bisexual influencer, sex columnist, & author of the memoir Boyslut opens up about his career, his anxiety, and his upcoming vasectomy
By Rob Salerno | WEST HOLLYWOOD – Zachary Zane isn’t having fun this weekend in Los Angeles.
While normally the Brooklyn-based sex columnist and bisexual influencer would have a string of sex parties lined up for a trip to his hometown, Zane says he’s had to restrain himself because he’s freezing his sperm in advance of an upcoming vasectomy.
“This weekend is particularly boring,” he says with a broad laugh over coffees in Studio City. “There are a lot of fun sex clubs and parties here. It’s a lot of house parties that turn into orgies. That’s one of my favorite things.”
It’s the sort of frank, guileless admission that’s become the 33-year-old’s trademark through his “Sexplain It” column at Men’s Health and substack newsletter, which has made him an icon of the bisexual community and led to his book Boyslut: A Memoir and Manifesto.
Zane says he was motivated to get the snip after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling last year gutted abortion rights in the United States.
“After Roe v. Wade got overturned, I kind of wanted to take control, and no longer have it be that the impetus has to be on the woman,” he says. “I do not want to have kids. I like having unprotected raw sex. I like being able to cum in my partners. Over the years, you have close calls, and the science is here, you don’t have to worry about it.”
And this too is surprising, given that Zane’s online presence seems to embody the “chaotic bisexual” character type.
“My editors say I’m cautious and take calculated risks. I’ve never turned in a story late. In many ways I’m a sexually chaotic bisexual, but I’m also very on top of everything,” Zane says.
Reading Boyslut, Zane’s tendency for over-preparing, cautious planning, and protecting the feelings of others is evident and oddly refreshing, whether he’s writing about his struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxieties about his remaining sexual hangups, juggling polyamorous relationships, or broaching a truly shocking fetish with his partners (I’ll leave that for you to read about in the book).
If you were picking up Boyslut expecting it to be a polemic about sexual libertinism, you might walk come out surprised by the degree to which the book advocates for caution, comfort, and compassion as much as it’s an endorsement of reckless, uninhibited sexual pleasure.
Indeed, Zane says an early title for the book was “Cautious Slut.” And, lest you think the actual title is exclusionary, Zane defines a “boyslut” as “a person of any gender or sexual orientation who approaches sex without a lick of judgement or shame.”
“I’m trying to help people live unabashedly in whatever their relationship is with sex. It’s not just about being slutty and having sex with as many people as possible. If you are asexual I want you to own that,” Zane says.
Zane also makes a compelling argument for the importance of having a community of people you trust to overcome sexual shame.
“Of course, I experience shame. I’m not superhuman. I live in society,” he says. “When I do experience shame, I try to differentiate between feeling shame or feeling guilt. When I’m feeling overwhelmed by it, I think a lot of the answer is having this community and friend group that I can call instead of going home and crying alone.”
It’s hard to imagine that the guy who regularly writes about his prodigious sexual escapades could suffer from shame, but Zane insists there’s plenty he still holds back.
“I’m vaccilating between the things that cause me shame and things I don’t need to share with everyone,” he says. “I feel very comfortable writing about very raunchy sexual experiences – me getting DP’d and my hairy asshole. But I don’t talk about my breakups online, my relationship with my family. Even when I talk about my OCD and anxiety, it’s usually from a humorous place and not like, ‘oh, this was crippling.’”
Though he insists that he’s very sexually open, it was in fact his anxiety over sexual shame that led him to his current career.
“I chose a career where, if my nudes leaked, that would be the best thing that happened to me. I wouldn’t get fired – I would get great articles from it,” he says. “I did that purposely because I didn’t want to have that fear and anxiety.”
So is that the answer? Share everything that causes you anxiety?
“I think all of us have different levels of risk tolerance,” he says. “Engage with the amount of sharing you want to do. I’m talking about cultivating a friend group or community where you feel loved and embraced by people who really cherish you and know you. I’m not encouraging people to just overshare online and seek validation from headless torsos and strangers. It’s about having these more meaningful connections that matter more.”
Of course, not everyone has the luxury of a column in a national magazine to exorcise their anxieties into.
But over the three years that Zane has written Sexplain It for Men’s Health, he believes he’s contributed to a culture shift both at the magazine and in the broader culture.
“Men’s Health has always been slightly gay, just by being a men’s fitness magazine with half-naked men on the cover,” he says. “A lot of closeted bi guys who’ve been married for twenty years, they don’t feel comfortable to read Out or Pride.com, but they do feel comfortable to go to Men’s Health and if they’re on the site and they see something, they’re going to click. So I’m reaching an audience who arguably needs it the most.”
“I was really part of this new generation at Men’s Health. They have a lot of queer men on staff, a lot of women on staff, and they’re making it more feminist and queer and intersectional.”
And what even qualifies Zane to be a sex advice columnist anyway?
“First and foremost, I was a journalist. In the first Sexplain Its, I always reached out to an expert in the field.” Zane begins to explain how he reads every relationship book out there and sifts his reader submissions to only answer the questions he feels comfortable with.
Then he gets wistful as he begins to tell a story that led him to believe he could write authoritatively on sex.
“It’s a weird thing about being a sex expert. I had a date with this woman when I was 22. She was like 50 and a sex expert/therapist. A funny thing was I was the same age as her kids. So, I was at the beginning of my career, trying to break into this, and I asked, ‘What constitutes a sex expert?’ And she goes, ‘For anything, being an expert is when you say you’re an expert and people believe you.’”
Boyslut: A Memoir and Manifesto is available in stores now.
Rob Salerno is a writer, journalist and actor based in Los Angeles, California, and Toronto, Canada.
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