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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.

Sports

Blinken criticizes FIFA over threat to fine World Cup team captains with ‘one love’ armbands

Qatar criminalizes homosexuality by death

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

DOHA, Qatar — Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday criticized FIFA over its threat to sanction European soccer teams if their captains wore “one love” armbands during the 2022 World Cup.

“It’s always concerning from my perspective when we see any restrictions on freedom of expression. It’s especially so when the expression is for diversity and for inclusion,” Blinken told reporters during a press conference with Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani in Doha, the Qatari capital. “And in my judgment, at least, no one on a football pitch should be forced to choose between supporting these values and playing for their team.”

Seven European soccer teams on Monday announced their captains will not wear LGBTQ+ and intersex armbands during the 2022 World Cup after FIFA threatened to sanction them.

The captains of Belgium, Denmark, England, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Wales had planned to wear the armbands in support of the LGBTQ+ and intersex community during the World Cup. The teams on Monday in a joint statement said they would not wear the armbands because FIFA had threatened to sanction them if their captains did.

The World Cup began in Qatar on Sunday.

Qatar is among the handful of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain punishable by death. A report that Human Rights Watch published last month noted several cases of “severe and repeated beatings” and “sexual harassment” of LGBTQ+ and intersex people while in police custody from 2019 and September 2022. 

A State Department official last week acknowledged to the Washington Blade that the U.S. raised LGBTQ+ and intersex rights with the Qatari government ahead of the World Cup.

The U.S. men’s soccer team while in Qatar will have a redesigned logo with the Pride flag in its badge. Blinken attended their match against Wales on Monday.

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Events

Annual Garras fashion show & fundraiser held

The transgender organized and run event was hosted by President and Chief Executive Officer of the Trans Latina Coalition, Bamby Salcedo

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Photo by Simha Haddad

WEST HOLLYWOOD – The annual Garras fashion show fundraiser took place Saturday, November 19th, at the Pacific Design Center to benefit The Center for Violence Prevention and Transgender Wellness, a program of The [email protected] Coalition.

Throngs of glamorously-dressed members and allies of the queer community gathered on the plaza of the modern blue building, a Los Angeles staple known for boasting over one hundred showrooms for events like this one. People from all walks of the entertainment, design, and media industries gave filmed statements of support for the event and the transgender community at large. 

The VIP reception featured two red carpets, passed hors doeuvres, two cocktail bars. Some VIP guests seated in the fashion show’s front rows along the glistening white runway included a myriad of TLC sponsors, including Bank of America, Keck Madicine of USCm, Gilead, SoCal Gas, Glamazon, Amazon, Kaiser Permanente, Glux, Loud, Walmart, and City of West Hollywood. 

The show featured designers Yaisel, Mars Wright, Elder Patricio Arita Perex, Gaby Garcia and TLC Board Members, Cecilia Martinez, Jessie Alvarado, Claudia Abundis, Jose Huizar, Robert Oriz, Eruvey Tapia, Lluvia Guzman, Fernando Vasquez, and Lidia Talavera and their transgender models and muses. Collections included everything from haute couture to streetwear to shoes.

The transgender organized and run event was hosted by President and Chief Executive Officer of the Trans Latina Coalition, Bamby Salcedo, and Vice President & Chief Operation Officer Maria Roman. Both ladies wore a variety of couture gowns throughout the evening and called for continued support for the [email protected]’s mission to support and amplify the voices of transgender and gender nonconforming people. 

The Garras Vocational Scholarship of ten thousand dollars was also awarded to a student in the medical field to support their continued academic ventures. 

“To those of you who purchased tickets,” said Salcedo, addressing the audience, “to those of you who believe in our work and sponsor us, thank you.” 

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Sports

European soccer teams won’t wear ‘one love’ armbands after FIFA sanctions threat

World Cup began in Qatar on Sunday

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Iran plays England during the 2022 World Cup in Qatar on Nov. 21, 2022. (Screenshot via FS1)

DOHA, Qatar — Seven European soccer teams on Monday announced their captains will not wear LGBTQ+ and intersex armbands during the 2022 World Cup after FIFA threatened to sanction them.

The captains of Belgium, Denmark, England, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Wales planned to wear “one love” armbands during the World Cup. The teams in a joint statement said FIFA threatened to sanction them if their captains wore them.

“We were prepared to pay fines that would normally apply to breaches of kit regulations and had a strong commitment to wearing the armband. However, we cannot put our players in the situation where they might be booked or even forced to leave the field of play,” read the statement. “We are very frustrated by the FIFA decision, which we believe is unprecedented.”

“As national federations, we can’t put our players in a position where they could face sporting sanctions including bookings,” added the statement.

The World Cup began in Qatar on Sunday.

Qatar is among the handful of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain punishable by death.

Human Rights Watch last month published a report that noted “arbitrary” arrests of LGBTQ+ and intersex people between 2019 and September 2022 and several cases of “severe and repeated beatings” and “sexual harassment in police custody” during the aforementioned period. World Cup Ambassador Khalid Salman earlier this month described homosexuality as “damage in the mind” during an interview with a German television station.

Peter Tatchell, a British activist, on Oct. 25 protested the country’s LGBTQ+ and intersex rights record while standing outside the National Museum of Qatar in Doha, the country’s capital. A State Department official on Nov. 18 acknowledged to the Washington Blade that the U.S. raised LGBTQ+ and intersex rights with the Qatari government ahead of the World Cup.

The U.S. men’s soccer team while in Qatar will have a redesigned logo with the Pride flag in its badge. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will attend their match against Wales on Monday.

England played Iran on Monday. The Netherlands on Monday will play Senegal.

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Photos

PHOTOS: NGLCC National Dinner

The LGBT Chamber of Commerce held its 20th annual event at the National Building Museum

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The 20th annual NGLCC National Dinner was held on Friday at the National Building Museum. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON — The National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) held its 20th annual National Dinner at the National Building Museum on Friday, Nov. 18. Honorees included Erik Day of the PRIDE Employee Resource Group, Betsy Cerulo of AdNet/AccountNet, Casey Oakes of Google, the Twin Cities Quorum and Bank of America. Speakers included NGLCC co-founders Justin G. Nelson and Chance E. Mitchell as well as community advocates Dennis and Judy Shepard. Entertainment was provided by Debbie Gibson, Pepper Mashay and the youth performers of the Be A Friend Project.

(Blade photos by Michael Key)

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Movies

A queer screen roundup for the holidays

Hotly anticipated films like ‘The Whale’ and a Whitney biopic are just around the corner

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Brendan Frazier stars in ‘The Whale.’ (Photo courtesy of A24)

Thanksgiving is less than a week away, and we all know what that means.

No, we’re not talking about digging out all those saved recipes for using leftover turkey. We mean, of course, that it’s time for the Blade’s annual Holiday Entertainment Preview, when we round up all the new LGBTQ viewing options coming our way during the upcoming season. No, they’re not all themed for the holidays (because, let’s face it, sometimes everybody needs a little escape from all that seasonal cheer), but they’re all definitely worth spending a couple of hours’ worth of your time in between shopping, planning, partying, and going to the gym to work off all those giant meals and decadent sweets.

“She Said” (in theaters Nov. 18)
Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan star as New York Times journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey in this true-life drama about the investigation that led to the bombshell 2017 report exposing Harvey Weinstein’s decades-long history of sexual misconduct against women. There’s no direct LGBTQ connection here, per se, but the #MeToo movement inspired by the revelations is cause enough for us to include it on our list, simply in the name of solidarity. The fact that it’s female-written and female-directed (by Rebecca Lenkiewicz and Maria Schrader, respectively) bodes well for the messaging in this one, which also stars Patricia Clarkson, Andre Braugher, Jennifer Ehle, and Samantha Morton.

“Wednesday” (Netflix, Nov. 23)

Again, there’s no direct LGBTQ connection within the content here (at least as far as we know, yet), but surely none is needed to explain why this new supernatural comedy/mystery series from Executive Producer Tim Burton and creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar – detailing the crime-solving adventures of now-teenaged Wednesday Addams as she navigates her high school years at Nevermore Academy – has our recommendation. The goth daughter of Gomez and Morticia has long been a queer fan favorite, after all, and there are plenty of other reasons to look forward to this new iteration of “The Addams Family” and its “creepy and kooky” world. Starring Jenna Ortega in the title role, with Gwendoline Christie, Riki Lindhome, and Jamie McShane – and Catherine Zeta-Jones, Luis Guzman, and Fred Armisen making guest appearances as Morticia, Gomez, and Uncle Fester, respectively.

“The Holiday Sitter” (Hallmark, Dec. 11)

This one not only has LGBTQ appeal, it’s an actual holiday movie. From the notorious-but-beloved Christmas universe of the Hallmark Channel comes the network’s first holiday rom-com about two men (a queer couple was featured in 2020’s “The Christmas House,” but it wasn’t about them falling in love) starring out “Mean Girls” star Jonathan Bennett as a workaholic bachelor who finds himself overwhelmed while babysitting for his out-of-town sister and her husband and recruits a handsome neighbor to help him. We’re sure you’ll know where things will go from there, but it should be a cozy seasonal watch, anyway. Also starring George Krissa and Chelsea Hobbs.

“Spoiler Alert” (in theaters, limited Dec. 2 / wide Dec. 9)

December’s awards season push kicks off with this adaptation of Michael Ausiello’s bestselling memoir, in which a young gay couple meet, fall in love, and build a life together for over a decade – only to be faced with a terminal cancer diagnosis for one of them. We know it doesn’t sound like holiday cheer, but it takes as light an approach with the subject matter as possible; that doesn’t mean you won’t cry, of course, but this Michael Showalter-directed tearjerker is hoping you’ll get the point that love is worth it even when you know there’s going to be a sad ending – and you can’t ask for a more appropriate seasonal message than that. Starring Jim Parsons, Ben Aldridge, Sally Field, and Bill Irwin.

“Framing Agnes” (in theaters, limited Dec. 2/Dec. 9)

Not quite a documentary, not quite a fictional narrative, this innovative cinematic exercise from director Chase Joynt takes the story of Agnes – a pioneering transgender woman whose participation in an infamous UCLA gender health study in the 1960s allowed her to gain access to gender-affirming healthcare – and blends it with other stories from long-shelved case files to “widen the frame through which trans history is viewed.” Promising “vividly rendered” re-enactments of vintage trans history, collaboratively created by an all-star cast of trans performers, artists, and thinkers, this one is only getting a limited theatrical release, for now – but even if it doesn’t screen near you, keep your eyes open, because it looks like it’s worth waiting for. Angelica Ross, Jen Richards, and Zackary Drucker are among the featured stars.

“The Whale” (in theaters, Dec. 9)

Another award contender surfaces with this buzzy new drama from the ever-intense Darren Aronofsky, adapted by Samuel D. Hunter from his own play and featuring the long-anticipated return of former Hollywood hunk Brendan Fraser – who stars as an obese middle-aged man trying to reconcile with his estranged daughter after abandoning her and her mother to be with another man. It’s won awards already, at Venice and other film festivals, and if the advance praise we’ve been hearing – both for the film and for Fraser’s comeback performance – is to be believed, it’s probably going to get several more. But that’s not why we recommend it; we just know you love Brendan Fraser as much as we do. Also starring Sadie Sink, Hong Chau, Ty Simpkins, and Samantha Morton.

“Babylon” (in theaters, Dec. 23)

“La La Land” filmmaker Damien Chazelle returns with this original period epic set in 1920s Los Angeles, and he doesn’t skimp on the star power. With Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie and Diego Calva leading an ensemble cast, this lavish look at early Hollywood traces the rise and fall of several intertwined characters to spin a tale of “outsized ambition during an era of unbridled decadence and depravity.” We’re told there’s a queer storyline involved, though there are no details yet – but regardless of that, we’re in based on that description alone. Also starring Jean Smart, Jovan Adepo, Li Jun Li, P.J. Byrne, Lukas Haas, Olivia Hamilton, Tobey Maguire, Max Minghella, Rory Scovel, Katherine Waterston, Flea, Jeff Garlin, Eric Roberts, Ethan Suplee, Samara Weaving, and Olivia Wilde, this is bound to be another awards favorite, and probably a whole lot of opulent fun, too.

“I Wanna Dance With Somebody” (in theaters, Dec. 23)

Finally, this eagerly awaited biopic of Whitney Houston – directed by Kasi Lemmons and written by Oscar nominee Anthony McCarten – shows up just in time for Christmas to deliver “a no-holds-barred portrait” of the iconic pop star, following her life and career from New Jersey choir girl to one of the best-selling and most awarded recording artists of all time. Starring BAFTA winner Naomi Ackie as Houston, it promises to take us on “an inspirational, poignant – and so emotional – journey” through the late singer’s “trailblazing life and career,” with “show-stopping performances and a soundtrack of the her most beloved hits as you’ve never heard them before.” That’s a lot of hyperbole, but frankly, we’ll be disappointed if it doesn’t get real about Houston’s long-obscured sexuality. Even so, it gets our tentative recommendation on the basis of diva interest alone.

Happy holidays!

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Celebrity News

David Archuleta tells Jennifer Hudson his experience of coming out

Archuleta opens up to his fellow “American Idol” alum about his experience growing up in the Mormon religious faith & his journey

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Screenshot/YouTube The Jennifer Hudson Show

BURBANK, Ca. – In a recent episode of the Jennifer Hudson show, David Archuleta opens up to his fellow “American Idol” alum about his experience growing up in the Mormon religious faith and his journey to coming out.

The 31-year-old-old singer tells JHud how he almost got married several times to different females and shares how he’s learning to love himself.

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