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Acting up and acting out with “Nancy F***ing Reagan”

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Colbert Alembert, Debi Tinsley, Mark Sande, Kiff Scholl, and Greg Ivan Smith star in the world premiere of “Nancy F***ing Reagan.” Photo credit: moses [@algaimaging on Instagram]

Anyone who walks into a play called “Nancy F***ing Reagan” has to expect that what they’re about to see is probably going to be controversial, left-leaning, and at least a little bit shocking.

That’s a good thing, because the people who would be put off by the title are the same ones with whom any conversation about some of the topics raised in the play would be as virulent and divisive as, well, some of the conversations that take place on stage.

Playwright Daniel Hurewitz’s biting, iconoclastic comedy takes place shortly after the passing of the titular First Lady, while her remains are lying (laying?) in state.  Just a few blocks away, in the Palm Springs home of college dean Maggie Lessing (Debi Tinsley) and her husband Richard (Mark Sande), old friends are convening at a birthday celebration for David (Kiff Scholl), a gay, nebbish-y history professor for whom the only thing worse than turning 50 is the thought of having it overshadowed by Nancy Reagan’s funeral.

The timing is admittedly unfortunate for this particular gathering; Maggie, David, and his longtime “frenemy” Jason (Greg Ivan Smith) are veterans of the eighties’ culture wars, and their shared history – much of which centers around the AIDS crisis – resonates with ways in which Mrs. Reagan could be seen as an arch-nemesis.  The occasion stirs up old memories, along with buried secrets and not-so-hidden resentments, and things are only made pricklier by the presence of Jason’s millennial boyfriend Kenny (Colbert Alembert), whose youthful perspective serves to exacerbate the tension, and the uninvited arrival of a student named Allison (Safiya Quinley), who demands that Dean Maggie hear her grievances about racism on campus.  With his party falling apart, David’s long-seething anger at Mrs. Reagan – and his longing to rekindle the passion of his lost radical youth – inspires him to come up with a way to make his birthday meaningful after all.

There’s a lot in the soup that Hurewitz has mixed up, and it might seem like too much if it weren’t for the fact that it ends up being so delicious.

To be sure, it might be rough going at the start; there’s an acerbic, self-loathing quality to the wit of these characters that evokes – not accidentally, I’d guess – “The Boys in the Band,” a play which is also about a birthday party for an aging, bitter queen.  Add to that the seemingly standard trope of the young boyfriend interloping among old gay friends, and you’re dangerously close to a tiresome formula.

But the playwright has put these pieces into place by shrewd design; while the cattiness of “The Boys” was rooted in the closet, for David and Jason – and even straight cis female ally Maggie – it springs from the bitterness of being freed from that closet only to watch half their generation die of a plague while Nancy and Ronnie responded with nothing but deafening silence.  That makes all the difference.

Nancy’s close post-mortem proximity to the proceedings makes for a particularly apt catalyst in stirring up intergenerational discussions about the dark years of the epidemic; but just when it seems the play is going to content itself with the rehashing of ancient (if still important) history, it blindsides us with the I-will-not-be-ignored urgency of the here-and-now. By introducing an emissary from the front in today’s culture wars, it forces us to spot the differences and draw the parallels between the causes (and the activists fighting for them) of both the past and the present – and it challenges us even further to confront our own conflicted viewpoints by introducing race into the equation.

Safiya Quinley faces off with Debi Tinsley in “Nancy F***ing Reagan.” Photo credit: moses [@algaimaging on Instagram]

It’s significant that Maggie, the very dean being challenged for being part of a racist institution, is here played by an actress of color; it underscores a key point being made in Hurewitz’ sly scenario – that these bruised social warriors of yesteryear have grown complacent after their hard-won victories, and by now contenting themselves to complain over cocktails about the issues of today while quietly toeing the line at their jobs inside the system, the have effectively become collaborationists with the very institutions they once rebuked.

How they all deal with that – both from the older and the younger side of the equation – is what makes “Nancy F***ing Reagan” a fun ride. With all these heavy issues whirling around them, its characters respond by immediately finding their own stake in the game and making it all about them; that’s exactly what humans do, of course, and that’s why Hurewitz’s script can be so laugh-out-loud funny while still getting its points across about unrelentingly dire issues.

Buried under all the satire and snark, too, there is an exploration of the uncomfortable (for some, anyway) notions that, no matter how heinous a person’s actions may have been, forgiveness is necessary if we want to move forward (though sometimes, maybe, we have to make one final, dramatic statement before it happens), and that when it comes to changing the system, sometimes the choice between two courses of action should be “both.”

Such deceptively centrist-seeming viewpoints don’t distract, however, from the enjoyment we get from watching these characters spar throughout the action – and the actors who expertly play them.  Scholl, as David, is the hub of the show, and cannily crafts his performance to highlight the constancy in his persona, the steadfast refusal to let go of something that matters to him – even if that means he spends a lot of time whining.  Hilariously whining, to be clear; he does a great job of personifying that guy we all know, who we might even pity in some way because he always seems so damn miserable under all those quips and barbs, and letting us laugh both with and at him.  Then he takes us along on a redemptive journey in which he allows himself to be as surprised by it as we are.  It’s a funny performance, sure, but its deeper than it seems, and braver, too.

Tinsley, as Maggie, is an excellent counter to his energy, yet entwined with it, too, as she establishes a strong, grounding presence that somehow manages to persist even as a few setbacks (and a few more drinks) reveal a tempest within. Smith, as Jason, brings an archness that gives a touch of meanness to his wit, but he also brings a warmth that makes us like him anyway; Alembert, as his younger flame, makes it clear from his first entrance that he’s not just there to pose shirtless and say clueless things – he’s a passionate, intelligent, independent man, and it elevates this potential cliché of a character into a welcome and integral part of the action.

Sande – as hubby Richard, a recent retiree now diving into a writing career – gets to serve as a sort of chorus to all the turmoil, both part of and somehow removed from it, and delights us with his charm and authenticity as he comments on (both literally and through the contrast of his freshly-revived lust for life) the goings-on throughout; representing the generation on the other end of the spectrum, Quinley, as Allison, delivers a solid portrayal of a strong and impassioned woman of color that avoids turning her into a stereotype by showing us the not-quite-sure-of-herself young person underneath.

Add in unflappable TV reporter Erica (played with surgical skill by Amy Kersten), whose broadcasted new segments pop in every so often to keep everyone up to date on the status of Mrs. Reagan’s body, and you have a tight, talented, and hilarious ensemble cast; under the experienced directorial hand of L.A. theater veteran Larry Margo, they make “Nancy F***ing Reagan” a hilariously confrontational joy that is worthy of the boldness of its title.

 

“Nancy F***ing Reagan” runs through August 4 at the Secret Rose Theatre in North Hollywood.  For details and more information go here.

 

 

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Events

Pansexual Visibility Day 2022 is May 24

Days like Pansexuality Visibility Day are perfect for educating people about the various ways people experience sexual & romantic attraction

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Graphic via Project MORE

NEW YORK – The Trevor Project is honoring Pansexual and Panromantic Awareness and Visibility Day on May 24, noting that it is a day to celebrate the pansexual and panromantic community and educate others on the community.

As part of creating awareness for the pansexual community, The Trevor Project’s 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, captured important data related to the experiences of pansexual youth, who made up 20% of the survey sample.

2022 National Survey Data on Pansexual Youth

  • 53% of pansexual youth reported that they seriously considered suicide and 21% reported they attempted suicide in the past year.
  • 66% of pansexual youth reported experiencing symptoms of anxiety and 79% reported experiencing symptoms of depression.
  • 36% of pansexual youth reported that they have been physically threatened or harmed due to their sexual orientation.
  • 69% of pansexual youth reported that they had experienced discrimination based on their sexual orientation.

The Project MORE Foundation, a leading nonprofit service and support provider to the Northern California Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Questioning (LGBTQ+) and Ally community explains what it means to be Pansexual:

One common misconception that even members of the LGBTQ+ community have is that pansexuality and bisexuality are the same. Bisexuality can loosely be defined as attraction to more than one gender, but many define it with the more narrow definition of attraction to both genders, i.e,: men and women.

Pansexuality differs in that it includes sexual attraction inclusive of ALL gender identities, which means that people can also be drawn to those who are gender fluid or genderqueer. It is similar for people who are panromantic. When a person identifies as panromantic, it means that they can feel romantically towards anyone of any gender identity. 

When people come out as pansexual, headlines often emphasize that it’s different than being bi, and while that’s true, somebody who is bi may also identify as pan and vice versa. The bisexuality umbrella term includes those who feel attracted to two or more gender identities. Pansexuality refers to people who feel sexual attraction to any gender identity, but because their preference includes two or more genders, they could also consider themself bi. Being pan doesn’t mean that a person is going to be attracted towards everyone, but simply that gender identity doesn’t play a role in that attraction. 

There are many people who identify as pansexual or panromantic, such as Jazz Jennings, the famous 20-something LGBTQ+ rights advocate who came out as trans as a child. Authors Dana Mele and Caitlin Ricci identify as panromantic. Miley Cyrus, Janelle Monáe, and Brendon Urie are also among famous celebrities who identify as pansexual. 

It is quite common that people who are pansexual go on a journey of self-discovery to figure out their true sexuality. Some, like Bella Thorne, initially identified as bisexual, but then grew to realize that gender plays little to no role in their attraction, so her definition of her sexuality changed to reflect that. 

Miley Cyrus, who came out in 2015 as pansexual, is among one of those who went down the path to self-discovery when it came to her sexuality. In an interview with Variety, she said that an interaction with a non-binary individual helped her understand that she felt attraction towards them regardless of how they expressed their gender. In that moment, she didn’t feel gay, straight, or bi, because she wasn’t.

Because definitions can be held loosely, one of the most important takeaways is that how a person identifies their sexual or romantic attraction can differ from one day to the next, but celebrating and respecting a person for who they are is what matters most. Days like Pansexuality and Panromantic Visibility Day are perfect for educating people about the various ways people experience sexual and romantic attraction.

About the 2022 National Survey

This survey is one of the largest and only surveys of its kind, representing the experiences of nearly 34,000 LGBTQ young people ages 13-24 across the U.S. It’s also one of the most diverse surveys of LGBTQ youth ever conducted – with 45% of respondents being youth of color and 48% being trans or nonbinary.

Lastly, The Trevor Project has a guide, “How to Support Bisexual Youth: Ways to Care for Bisexual, Pansexual, Fluid, and Queer Youth Who are Attracted to More than One Gender” that offers best practices for those looking to support the youth who are attracted to more than one gender in their lives.

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Sports

Mavericks’ Reggie Bullock, finalist for NBA award for LGBTQ+ advocacy

The NBA announced this week the guard-forward is one of the finalists for its 2022 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion Award

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Reggie Bullock (Dallas Mavericks/YouTube)

DALLAS – While San Francisco is celebrating the Golden State Warriors’ huge Wednesday night Game 1 victory over the Mavericks in the NBA Western Conference Finals, LGBTQ groups in Dallas are cheering on Dallas’s Reggie Bullock for his work off the court. 

The NBA announced this week the guard-forward is one of the finalists for its 2022 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion Award, which honors players who have made strides in fighting for social justice and advocating for equality.

Other finalists include the Milwaukee Bucks’s Jrue Holiday, the Memphis Grizzlies’s Jaren Jackson Jr., the Minnesota Timberwolves’s Karl-Anthony Towns and the Toronto Raptors’s Fred VanVleet.

The NBA said Bullock’s push for LGBTQ equity stems from the 2014 murder of his sister, Mia Henderson, a transgender woman.

“Bullock has focused on acceptance of all people by working to create truly inclusive communities through neighborhood engagement and national efforts around the LGBTQ movement, including participating in the NYC Pride March, the GLAAD Media Awards, and NBA events for LGBTQ youth and allies,” according to an NBA news release. “Most recently, as part of the Mavs Take ACTION! initiative, Bullock participated in a courageous conversation as part of the HUDDLE series to uplift the trans community, amplify community organizations who are working to support and protect LGBTQ individuals, and create opportunities for allyship.”

Since joining the Mavs a year ago, Bullock, 31, has teamed-up with groups that include Abounding Prosperity, Dallas Southern Pride, House of Rebirth, The Black-Tie Dinner, the Resource Center, as well as the Muhlaysia Booker Foundation. That organization was founded in memory of a trans woman murdered in Dallas.

On this year’s International Day of Trans Visibility, March 31, Bullock joined the founder of the Muhlashia Booker Foundation, Stephanie Houston, and Leslie McMurray, Transgender Education & Advocacy Associate for a session titled, Voices Unheard, Uplifting Trans Perspectives. 

He shared memories of his sister Mia and how her murder motivated him to use his platform as an NBA player to fight for equal rights and visibility for the LGBTQ+ community.

Bullock has also started his own charitable organization, RemarkaBULL, which provides housing and support to members of the LGBTQ+ community in need. Through RemarkaBULL, Bullock wrote an open letter to the NCAA protesting Idaho’s anti-trans student-athlete House Bill 500, which was signed into law by Gov. Brad Little in March of 2020. The law is on hold pending a review by a federal court.

The winner of the Social Justice Award will be announced during the Western Conference Finals, now underway. The winner receives $100,000 donated to the charity of their choice, and the other finalists receive $25,000 donations for their organizations. Bullock’s charity of choice is Kinston Teens, which empowers young people to engage in activism and community development.

In Wednesday night’s Western Conference Final game 1, Bullock scored 12 points, shooting 3/10 3-pt and 3 rebounds in the Mavericks’ 87-112 loss to the Golden State Warriors. Game 2 is set to tip off Friday at 9 p.m. ET, Golden State leads 1-0.

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Television

New trailer gives first glimpse into new ‘Queer as Folk’

The highly-anticipated return looks poised to make some welcome improvements as it reinvents the beloved series for a new era

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Courtesy of PEACOCK

HOLLYWOOD – Depending on who you ask, the soon-to-be-dropped reimagining of “Queer as Folk” could well be the biggest LGBTQ television event – or the biggest mistake – of the year.

The groundbreaking original British version of the series, created and written by Russell T. Davies in 1999 (decades before his recent triumph with “It’s A Sin” introduced him to a new generation of queer viewers), has already had an American adaptation in 2000, and each of these installments has its own legion of fans – many of whom have expressed their qualms (to put it mildly) over the entire idea of a new reboot.

That, however, hasn’t stopped Davies from joining forces with writer/director/creator Stephen Dunn (“Closet Monster”) to executive produce one for Peacock. 

Shade from old-school fans aside, the highly-anticipated return of the franchise looks poised to make some welcome improvements as it reinvents the beloved series for a new era. This time, the story promises to deliver a much more diverse assortment of characters than the group of predominantly white gay men featured by its predecessors, with a story centered on a group of LGBTQ friends in New Orleans as their lives are transformed in the aftermath of a recent tragedy.

The new iteration also scores points by employing queer actors to portray all its queer roles – resulting in an impressive lineup of names on its cast list including Ryan O’Connell (“Special”), Johnny Sibilly (“Pose”), Devin Way (“Grey’s Anatomy’), Jesse James Keitel (“Alex Strangelove”), Fin Argus, Candace Grave, Benito Skinner, and Juliette Lewis, and even Kim Cattrall as a “martini-soaked, high society Southern debutante with trailer park roots.” 

Of his reason for getting on board a new adaptation of his show, Davies says, “I’m very proud of what we achieved in 1999, but in queer years, that was a millennium ago! As a community, we’ve radicalized, explored, opened up, and found new worlds – with new enemies and new allies – and there was so much to be said.

Stephen pitched a brand new version of ‘Queer as Folk’ with so much imagination, insight, and crucially, joy, that I simply couldn’t resist. I thought it was about time the title belonged to a whole new generation. The 2022 show is more diverse, more wild, more free, more angry – everything a queer show should be.”

As for Dunn, he explains, “I wanted to create a new groundbreaking version of this show for this moment. Our new ‘Queer as Folk’ is set in New Orleans — one of the most unique queer communities in North America – and I am immensely proud that the new series is comprised of an electric ensemble of fresh characters that mirror the modern global audience.

If there’s one person who is able to see ‘Queer as Folk’ and feel less alone, or who now feels more supported and seen, our job is done. In the true spirit of the original, our show doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of our community, but above all else, the series is about people who live vibrant, vital, unapologetically queer lives.” 

Jacklyn Moore, who co-wrote the new series with Dunn and Executive Produced alongside him and Davies, adds, “I believe deeply in the power of storytelling to make people feel seen, but all too often I feel as though queer and trans representation in art is limited to extremes. We are either shown as saintly heroes bravely surviving a bigoted society or two-dimensional queer-coded villains that feel airdropped in from some previous era. With ‘Queer as Folk,’ we aimed to depict queer characters who live in the messy middle. People who are complicated. Who are funny and caring and flawed and sometimes selfish, but still worthy of love. Still worthy of narrative. As a trans woman, I’m excited to take steps to move past telling stories that seem to just be arguing for our basic humanity. My hope is that Queer as Folk is one such step.”

We’re sure we speak for the rest of the eagerly-waiting fans when we say that we all hope that, too. We can all find out together when Peacock begins streaming the new “Queer as Folk” on June 9.

Queer as Folk | Official Trailer | Peacock Original

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