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Non-binary actor stars in LA Premiere of Taylor Mac’s “Hir”

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Zack Gearing, Cynthia Kania and Puppett star in the LA premiere of Tayor Mac’s “Hir” at the Odyssey Theatre (photo by Ron Sossi)

After bringing two live extravaganzas to Los Angeles in the last two years, Taylor Mac – the boundary-pushing playwright, actor, singer-songwriter, performance artist, director, and producer – has gained an enthusiastic audience among local theatre-goers.

Mac (who uses “judy,” lowercase sic, not as a name but as a gender pronoun) has received multiple awards – including the Kennedy Prize, New York Drama Critics Circle Award, two Bessies, two Obies, the McArthur “Genius” Grant, and a Guggenheim Fellowship – and was a finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in Drama for “A 24-Decade History of Popular Music in America.”

Now, one of “judy’s” most acclaimed plays is being mounted by the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, which will open its 50th anniversary season with the L.A. premiere of “Hir.”

The word “hir” is a gender-neutral, third-person singular object pronoun that replaces the use of him or her.  According to Mac, “The title is a metaphor.  It’s pronounced ‘here,’ and I enjoy the duality of something being about gender and also about place.”

Hilarious and terrifying, “Hir” is a dysfunctional family dramedy for a new era: a highly intelligent, heartfelt, and deeply humorous portrayal of a family in crisis – in which domestic abuse, the trauma of war and the acceptance of gender neutrality are illustrated in a nearly absurd, emotionally gripping, intensely real dynamic.  Somewhere in the American suburbs, Isaac, dishonorably discharged from his tour in Afghanistan, has returned home to discover a household in revolt.  The insurgent: his mom. Liberated from an oppressive marriage to Isaac’s father by his debilitating stroke, and with Max, Isaac’s newly out transgender sibling, as her ally, Paige is on a crusade to dismantle the patriarchy.

The play, like most of Mac’s work, is an outrageous exploration of American culture; described in the press release as “a darkly funny, shockingly absurd and endlessly surprising vision of a world in transition,” it’s cut from the same edgy, theatrical cloth that Mac is known and lauded for.

Even so, director Bart DeLorenzo asserts that, at its core, “Hir” is really “a classic American play,” with all the familiar elements of the gritty, “kitchen sink” dramas written by such 20th-century playwrights as Arthur Miller.

“It’s set in a family home,” he explains.  “There’s a family with conflicts, with secrets; there’s a son who’s coming home from the war and everything is changing.”

From there, however DeLorenzo says the play takes the formula and “sets it spinning.” He is also quick to point out that, despite its old-school roots, “Hir” is up-to-the-minute contemporary.  “It’s about the future of America and how we might break into the next moment.”

He continues, “This country, in its defining documents, was seeking to transition from autocratic rule to individual rights, but how far did we get?”  He says the play’s argument is “the opposite of the ‘Make America Great Again’ slogan – unless you’re willing to overlook and ignore quite a lot, this country has never been great, it has never lived up to the promise of its constitutional freedoms. But, from this point on, many voices contend, it will have to.”

In the course of the play, Mac covers a lot of topics that are at the center of the “culture wars” in today’s America; not surprisingly for an artist known for challenging gender norms, some of the most prominent themes have to do with queer identity and the need to move beyond binary understanding.

Key to this aspect of the production is Puppett, a non-binary actor who plays Max – the newly transitioning teen-ager who gives voice to a lot of its edgiest ideas – and who says “Hir” couldn’t be more timely.

Non-binary actor Puppett portrays Max in Odyssey Theatre’s LA premiere of Taylor Mac’s “Hir” (photo courtesy Puppett)

“Where we’re at right now,” they say, “is the breakthrough into the mainstream of talking about the existence of transgender people – which is good – but it’s mostly been from a binary standpoint, of transitioning from one gender to the other.  The play introduces the conversation that there are more than two genders.”

Puppett believes that Max’s position in the play’s family dynamic is an essential part of getting the message across.  “Paige [the mother] gives a lot of importance to Max’s ideas about the ‘doing away’ of binaries,” they say, “and that allows for the audience to hear them more than they would otherwise.”

“Max is in a place in their life that makes sense for a seventeen-year-old,” they continue, “where they have a lot of ideas that are ‘facts’ for a couple days and then everything changes – everything feels like it’s the ‘truth’ but the ‘truth’ is always changing.  That’s true of everyone in the play but I think it’s the most age-appropriate for Max.”

Puppett says this youthful perspective provides a comedic element that is crucial to opening minds.  “There’s importance in looking at who Max is,” they say, “but also there’s a lot of humor in the extreme of them and the things they say, and I think that people who identify with Max will also be able to laugh at themselves through the things that Max says.”

“It’s a really great comedy,” they continue, “which is not always obvious from the synopsis.  It’s really funny, and it gives equal weight to the absurdity of each character.  That makes things more accessible, so I’m hoping that people who are less familiar with some of the topics will be able to have it as an easier access point.”

That doesn’t mean “Hir” makes light of the difficult questions it raises.  Puppett says, “There’s a lot left for you to chew on after the play’s over.  I think it brings up more questions than answers, which is ultimately useful.”

They add, “The play does a good job of teaching the audience through the characters being taught, without placing all the burden on the queer character – which I think is really smart.  All of the characters are exploring and changing, and it pushes the audience into the same space by the end.”

That doesn’t mean Puppett doesn’t feel some weight on their shoulders.  “It’s a role which can be seen as representing a large portion of the queer community,” they say.  “One role can’t speak for everyone, but some people in the audience might perceive it that way, and that does feel like a large responsibility.”

Asked whether it’s intimidating to take on such a key role in a play by one of America’s most original and important contemporary voices, Puppett stops to consider.

“That part of it hasn’t occurred to me yet,” they say.  “But if I think about it hard enough, it might be, so I’m gonna try not to.”

 

“Hir” runs January 19 – March 17 at The Odyssey Theatre (2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West Los Angeles, 90025).  For exact performance schedule, reservations and information, call (310) 477-2055 or go to OdysseyTheatre.com.

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First Trans Amazon introduced by DC Comics In ‘Wonder Woman’

DC Comics-Warner Brothers became more LGBTQ+ inclusive with the introduction of the character of Bia, a Black trans woman

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Courtesy of DC Comics-Warner Brothers

BURBANK – The world of DC Comics-Warner Brothers became more LGBTQ+ inclusive this weekend as the venerable comic book franchise of Wonder Woman expanded with the introduction of the character of Bia, a Black trans woman, in the first issue of the series Nubia & The Amazons.

Earlier this month on National Coming Out Day, the canon of the Superman series changed for the life of Jon Kent, the Superman of Earth and son of Clark Kent and Lois Lane, taking a bold new direction. After initially striking up a friendship with reporter Jay Nakamura, he and Jon become romantically involved, making Kent an Out bisexual character.

In this latest offering, Stephanie Williams and Vita Ayala, writers and creators confirmed that Bia is a Black Trans woman. They stressed that she “isn’t a box to tick … [she] is important to her community. Just as Black trans women are important to us in real life.” 

Of special significance to the introduction of the character in the DC Comic worlds was the endorsement of actress Lynda Carter who played the title role of Wonder Woman on television based on the comic book superheroine, which aired on ABC and later on CBS from 1975 to 1979. Earlier in the week Carter tweeted her support of Trans women;

Writing for the DC Comics-Warner Brothers website blog, co-creator Stephanie Williams said;

It’s been a dream to work with the likes of Vita Ayala, a non-binary Afro-Latinx comic writer who has been making quite a name for themselves. And then there is the illustrious and widely talented and dedicated Afro-Latina artist Alitha Martinez who is already in the comic hall of fame for all-time greats. Her passion for Nubia is unmatched. It shows in every cover and panel from Nubia’s Future State story written by L.L. McKinney, her Infinite Frontier #0 story written by Becky Cloonan and Michael Conrad, and now the Nubia and the Amazons miniseries written by myself and Vita Ayala.”

Courtesy of DC Comics-Warner Brothers

I’m so excited about the history we’re creating, adding to, and remixing. The foundation has always been there, but needed some TLC. As Nubia embarks on this new journey as Queen of Themyscira, I hope her rebirth will be met with open arms and the desire to keep her always at the forefront. Nubia, now being queen, is poetic in so many ways, but one that stays on my mind is the very personal connection I feel. As I help to add to her legacy, she’s opened the door wider to my own,” Williams said adding:

Long may Queen Nubia reign, forever and always.”

Nubia and the Amazons #1 by Stephanie Williams, Vita Ayala and Alitha Martinez is now available in print and as a digital comic book.

Along with co-writing Nubia and the Amazons, Stephanie Williams writes about comics, TV and movies for DCComics.com. Check out more of her work on Den of Geek, What To Watch, Nerdist and SYFY Wire and be sure to follow her on both Twitter and Instagram at @steph_I_will.

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Notables

Ebony Power 100: Deputy White House Press Sec. Karine Jean-Pierre

Her position is historic as the first Black Lesbian who is speaking for the nation’s chief executive as Deputy Press Secretary

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Deputy White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre courtesy of EBONY Magazine Power 100 awards

BEVERLY HILLS – Ebony Magazines’ iconic annual Power 100 awards ceremony, honoring those individuals who have had a positive impact on the African-American community is making its 2021 post coronavirus pandemic return airing Saturday, October 23 from Los Angeles and hosted by Wayne Brady.

Brady, a television personality, comedian, actor, and singer, will also give a special performance during the broadcast, and he is slated to receive Ebony’s Vanguard Award for his decades-plus career “as a consummate, all-around entertainer and performer.” 

Included in the distinguished list of honorees is principal Deputy White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, who is listed in the magazine’s category of ‘Ceiling Breakers.’ As the principal Deputy White House Press Secretary Jean-Pierre conducts the daily press briefing in the Brady Press Room in the West Wing standing in as needed for White House Press Secretary Jennifer Psaki and also she conducts what are referred to as ‘gaggles.’

“Gaggles” refers to informal briefings a White House press secretary conducts with the daily press pool rather than the entire White House press corps.

President Joe Biden’s selection of Jean-Pierre was a first in the history of presidential administrations. Her position is seen as historic from the perspective of being the first Black Lesbian to hold forth behind the podium of the James S. Brady Press room in the West Wing speaking for the nation’s chief executive.

Jean-Pierre has been with the Biden administration since she joined the Biden-Harris campaign in May of 2020 and then accepted the position of Chief of Staff to Senator Harris in August. In late November of 2020, then President-elect Joe Biden named seven women to his incoming White House Communications Team to include naming Jean-Pierre as the Deputy White House Press Secretary.

The daughter of immigrant parents from Haiti, Jean-Pierre was born in Martinique and later raised in Queens, a borough of New York City. A longtime activist and communications specialist, she has a Master’s in Public Affairs conferred on her by New York’s Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs, where she has taught as an adjunct professor and lecturer in international and public affairs since 2014.

During the first Obama admkistartion term, Jean-Pierre, 43, served as the regional political director for the White House Office of Political Affairs.

Speaking with the Advocate magazine in June of 2011 Jean-Pierre reflected on her tenure working for the Obama Administration as an openly LGBT staffer. “What’s been wonderful is that I was not the only; I was one of many. President Obama didn’t hire LGBT staffers, he hired experienced individuals who happen to be LGBT,” she told the Advocate. “Serving and working for President Obama where you can be openly gay has been an amazing honor. It felt incredible to be a part of an administration that prioritizes LGBT issues.”

Speaking with NBC News journalist Tim Fitzsimons; “The sun was setting and the lights got much more prominent,” she said, referring to late June 2015, when she watched the White House lit in rainbow colors to mark the historic Supreme Court Obergefell v. Hodges ruling that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. “People had signs and people were crying, and there was just so much joy.”

“I remember thinking how proud I was of this administration, that I had worked for that,” Jean-Pierre, said. “It really brought together, in that one moment, how important LGBTQ rights were and how much that administration fought for our rights.”

In 2016 after her White House stint, Jean-Pierre served as a Senior Advisor and National Spokesperson for Washington D.C. based MoveOn, a progressive non-profit public policy advocacy group and political action committee. Her primary portfolio at the non-profit was addressing President Trump’s rhetoric and platform of hate, violence, racism, immigrant-bashing, and women-bashing.

She also served as the deputy campaign manager for former Democratic Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley’s 2016 campaign run for the Oval Office.

Jean-Pierre received national recognition after a June 1, 2019 incident during the MoveOn Big Ideas Forum she was moderating in San Francisco, when 24 year-old Aidan Cook, a member of the animal right activist organization Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), rushed the stage grabbing the microphone out of then California U.S. Senator Kamala Harris’s hand. The Senator was a candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination at the time of the incident.

Jean-Pierre, who had jumped in between Cook and the Senator after he took the microphone kept the activist away from Harris until security arrived and removed him. At the time of the incident, Harris, like most other candidates in early stages of the primary process, didn’t have a U.S. Secret Service detail for protection.

Jean-Pierre, her partner, CNN correspondent Suzanne Malveaux, and their daughter reside in Washington D.C.

The EBONY Power 100 ceremony also is marking the culmination of Ebonys 75th anniversary year. 

For the complete list of honorees please head over to here. (Link)

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Events

West Hollywood Halloween Events 2021

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Courtesy of the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce

WEST HOLLYWOOD – The West Hollywood Chamber of commerce has released its annual Halloween events guide available here.

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