Soundout • July 31, 2009

By David Taffet

5 questions with Shelley Knight


Shelley Knight was recently appointed to be liaison to the LGBT community for the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department. An 18-year veteran of the department, she recently took over the liaison position from Chief Jesse Flores and is the first openly gay person in that position. She is the department’s senior sergeant for planning and research.

How did you become interested in law enforcement?
I have always been interested in law enforcement. When I was little I would pretend to be a cop and arrest all of my friends for being bank robbers.  I joined the Marines 10 days after graduation from high school, attended basic training and then was in school in Millington, Tenn., for air traffic control. I served 11 months and was kicked out for being gay. After I was discharged from the Marine Corps I found my chance to be the real thing. 

What are your regular duties in the sheriff’s department?
I am assigned to the Strategic Planning and Research Division. This makes me responsible for creating, revising and correcting the policies and procedures for the Dallas Sheriff’s Department.  I teach classes on cultural diversity and code of conduct, and I coordinate community events for the department such as the Kids and Cops program and career days at local schools.  

As liaison to the LGBT community, who will you be working with?
As liaison, I will be working all over Dallas County. This includes the unincorporated areas of the county, cities within the county, and any issues relating to the jail and housing LGBT prisoners. Transgenders are given their choice of where to be housed. Where they are in transition, though, limits what we can do. We have homosexual tanks but you have to ask to be placed there for fear of something happening. I haven’t heard of any problems since taking this position in March, but I’m available in case any issues arise.

How did you take over the position of liaison from Chief Flores?
I made a request to the Sheriff and Chief Flores to become the liaison.  Since I am more active in the community, they both agreed that it would be a good thing. 

What would you like to accomplish as liaison?
My goal as liaison is to improve the communication between the LGBT community and the Sheriff’s Department.  I’ve met with groups such as Youth First Texas and GAIN. Last Tuesday, I talked to Valiente and LULAC. I want the community to know that we are here to help and that we want to work together to make the community a better place to live.

Soundout is a weekly column featuring people whose jobs and interests have an impact on the daily lives of members of the LGBT community. It features those who often go unnoticed by the press and community. If you’d like to recommend someone to cover in this column, editor@dallasvoice.com­.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 31, 2009.

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Pet of the Week: Angel

Angel is a 5-month-old reddish-tan shepherd mix with some pretty amazing ears and an awesome smile. She’s a happy girl who’s friendly, playful and always ready to meet new people. Angel won’t get too big; she weighs about 30 pounds now and should top out at less than 40. She’s fun-loving, eager to please and bonds instantly. Angel has a sister, Angie, who’s just as loving and lively as she is.

Angel, Angie and many other dogs, cats, puppies and kittens are available for adoption from the Dallas Animal Services Adoption Center, located at 1818 N. Westmoreland at I-30 on the northeast corner. The shelter has new adoption hours and is now open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and Sundays from 12 noon to 5 p.m.; closed Mondays. The cost to adopt is $85 for dogs and $55 for cats and includes spay/neuter surgery, vaccinations, microchip and more. All dogs are negative for heartworms, and cats have been tested for FeLV and FIV. For more information, visit www.DallasAnimalServices.org or call 214-671-0249.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 31, 2009.

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Speaking without words

By Rich Lopez Staff Writer

North Texas’ gay visual artists exercise their freedom of speech — and voice their social activism — through the power of the image

ART PROJECT: The falling 8s in Robb Conover’s ‘Requiem for Silence,’ above, imagine the defeat of Proposition 8, while Mark Stokes’ fighting rainbow fist, below, symbolizes a defiant attitude toward recent LGBT injustices.

This summer will surely go down in the annals of gay history. Coming off the disappointing ruling over Proposition 8, obstacles for the gay community have snowballed into a sizable opposition that have united people to rally and protest to advance the LGBT community toward equal rights. If the community isn’t fighting for same-sex marriage, then it finds itself battling homophobia with the likes of the Rainbow Lounge debacle in Fort Worth where a gay bar was raided just like the Stonewall Inn, 40 years — to the day — earlier.

But while some have taken to the streets to make their voices heard, others in the LGBT community have let their art be their voices.

My current pieces reflect how I feel as a gay man in this world and the responsibility I have,” says Robb Conover, founder of Luscious Art Studios and the annual Art Conspiracy event. “I feel that it is part of the journey as an artist to provoke thoughts. A revolution has to start somewhere, so it might as well be one canvas at a time.”

He hopes provocation will remind newer generations to appreciate their history.
“It’s amazing how many young people go to a gay bar and don’t even think about what had to happen before they could have that freedom. This culture takes so many things for granted,” Conover says.

Cathey Miller takes a more subdued approach. She recently received attention as one of the muralists for the Live Oak corridor of the DART rail being built through Deep Ellum, has shown in numerous exhibits and has contributed denim jackets to DIFFA.

But her colorful paintings, evocative of pulp fiction cover art, are less about direct response but more societal. Miller doesn’t have the intention of advocacy but it manifests nonetheless.

“I paint what I know. It’s more about painting my world than trying to make a statement. But if I do paint my world, it ends up making a statement,” she says.
Lately, though, she has gotten more work and exhibitions due to social issues.
“It’s always been difficult to get shows and recognition, especially in Dallas. But now, people are seeking out my art and talking about it. The more people are out there marching around actually makes it easier,” she says.

Miller’s art is portraiture with a sense of humor. It may not convey an immediate impression of advocate art, but Miller believes in alternative viewpoints.

“Artists have a way of looking at society from the outside. Some of what I try to do is make paintings that make people think. I subtly introduce lesbianism into my paintings. Maybe show them how things are from a different viewpoint that makes it easier than getting yelled at while marching. It’s a difficult endeavor to pick up a sign and march. It takes bravery. That’s something I think about,” she says.

Miller also considers her advantage as an artist to say something.

“I don’t think people get the sadness of the situation when watching the march go by. For me, I can slip in the back door and say the same thing in more of a quiet time,” she says.

ABSTRACT PERSPECTIVE: Cathey Miller and Debra Gloria address social issues with subtlety. Miller, above, creates pulp fiction art with a lesbian twist, while Gloria celebrates the lesbian community with her ‘Sensuality’ photography series, right.

On a different note, artist Mark Stokes mixes his humor and social statements much more brazenly. Stemming from childhood doodles to editorial cartoons in his high school years, Stokes connects to the community with his works often found in Dallas Voice as the Drawing Dallas feature.

As LGBT people face a new wave of adversity, Stokes credits his “high level of bullshit intolerance” to be a voice of his own. “God granted me some ability and I have a personality that doesn’t sit well with authority. Satire is something I’ve always enjoyed. I like to take something people are familiar with and twist it all around to make a point,” he says.

Some of his targets have included Ann Coulter, Constable Mike Dupree and most recently the officers involved in the Rainbow Lounge incident in Fort Worth.
Before coming out, Stokes had a sense of standing up for the right thing.

“I never shied from defending a person’s right to be who they are. If someone doesn’t like gay people, what gives them the right to treat them as less equal?” Stokes asks.

Stokes speaks with passion, but it’s not his own voice he intends to speak with — not at all.

“Art is a voice. It can be loud, obnoxious, or quiet and inflective. Artists pour it out just because they have to or it needs to be said. Once it’s out there, you can’t apologize for it and if it’s worthwhile it will hold up,” he says.

Although he might be more known for his editorial cartoons and Drawing Dallas caricatures, his latest creation is an original piece of oil on canvas he intends to be right in viewers’ faces.

“We’ve seen the fist raised in defiance before, but I wanted to convey something a little more ‘in your face.’ The fist coming at you is meant that as single LGBT individuals we are like solo digits on a hand, but when we come together — POW! — we can make an impact. It’s an image I just couldn’t shake,” he says.

It’s clear cut for Stokes. He responds to that which rubs him the wrong way which lately, has been a few things. “I guess when someone bends my nose about something I want to bend theirs right back,” he says.

Approaching her art with more tenderness, photographer Debra Gloria has a sense of duty to capturing images of love that so happens is between two women. Seeing that women together was always interpreted as pornographic in nature, she takes a respectful approach to shatter negative conceptions of two women in love.

“I think we’ve had a bad rap for years: Same-sex people together is porn. It’s every bad verb, noun, adjective you can come up with,” she laments. “Our relationships are real. I am trying to say that in my work.”

It’s almost accidental that her work has such relevance now because same-sex marriage is a hotbed issue again thanks to Prop 8. Her work “Sensuality” has been an ongoing project for the past four years consisting of more than 80 pieces and counting.

“We’re evolving as a society I hope. What’s happening in the world is affecting me and us as a whole. Even more so I feel strongly about showing the work. Let’s open our minds and see the photograph for the beauty that it is. I think if we can do that there wouldn’t be that much hate in this world,” Gloria says.

A photographer for 20 years, Gloria is working to publish “Sensuality” as a book. She’s also explored the ravages of the human body with her work “Underneath My Clothes,” an astonishing yet disturbing exhibit of three lesbian women taking on three different body issues — cancer, self-mutilation and eating disorders.

“‘Clothes’ isn’t about causes but everyday things. As an artist, it’s my responsibility to educate on what’s happening with us. Whether we have cancer or somebody abused us and this is how we deal with it. These women were incredibly brave,” she says.

Gloria’s perspective may be somewhat peripheral in the advocate sense but she proves that a different eye can bring to light different issues — even the ones that people aren’t necessarily fighting for all the time. With “Sensuality,” Gloria has found that her straight audience responds overly positively, denoting the works, aesthetic over its subject. She feels she’s changing minds.

“I hope they are captivated in their heart by the work. The beautiful thing is we have a voice. With the more people who follow our work comes a bigger responsibility to talk to our audience,” she says.

Conover agrees that talking is viable but perhaps in a more assertive fashion.
“How much more as a community are we going to let happen? It is an artists’ obligation to let his or her voice be known. I want people to start listening to mine. No more silence.”

Which could perhaps be these artists’ masterpieces.

1. Cathey Miller with some of her works. 2. Art by Cathey Miller. 3. Art by Cathey Miller. 4. Mark Stokes’ editorial cartoon ‘HomoPhoboCop’. 5. Stokes with his work. 6. From Debra Gloria’s ‘Sensuality’ collection. 7. From Debra Gloria’s ‘Sensuality’ collection. 8. Debra Gloria. 9. Robb Conover with his ‘Requiem for Silence’

Art from Robb Conover’s series, including the piece pictured, will be exhibited at Buli Café, 3908 Cedar Springs Road, throughout August.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 31, 2009.

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Fever for the flava

By Rich Lopez Staff Writer

Add Latina Kiki Melendez to the list of funny straight women gay men love

LATIN LAUGHS: Kiki Melendez and the Hot Tamales Tour, The House of Blues, 2200 N. Lamar St., Aug. 2. 7:30 p.m. $20.


CHOS AND GRIFFINS AND MELENDEZES, OH MY!: Kiki makes kicky comedy caliente.

Latina comic Kiki Melendez has no free time. Within hours of arriving in Dallas for her show this weekend, she began working the press circuit, going from radio station to TV appearances while taking recommendations for restaurants. No doubt she loves it.

"I have the worst job. It is not easy," Melendez says.

Melendez is in town to deliver her "Hot Tamales Live" comedy show of funny ladies. But don’t call it the Latina version of the Redneck Comedy Tour. Melendez has built this variety show for the past seven years as a platform for showcasing comediennes regardless of background.

"I didn’t want to do reverse discrimination. If I just did Latina women, other women would not get the opportunities. All women comics — Latina, Asian, lesbian, Jewish, anyone from every background — need a launching pad," she says.

One former Tamale did get launched into superstardom: Melendez created the original show with Eva Longoria who found big time fame with "Desperate Housewives."

Like a certain D-list redhead comic, Melendez also loves her gays. It’s no surprise she says they are her biggest fans. Which begs the question: what is it with gay men and funny women?

"Women with gay men and comedy is a natural thing," she says. "I think gay men love strong vocal women and that’s me. Plus, I think most gay men are very close to their mom, which fosters that admiration and worship even."

During some chatter about the Dallas gayborhood and LaDuni as a primo dining spot, she took another call. It was Longoria discussing Melendez’s San Antonio visit.

So much for taking a break.


FROM THE SLOPES TO THE SANDWICH


Comedians Marisa Diotalevi and Sherry Etzel have been cutting up North Texas audiences for years — Diotalevi in her one-woman show "The Consummate Woman," Etzel as part of the 4 Out of 5 Doctors comedy troupe, among many plays each. But it wasn’t until they went to Colorado for Telluride Gay Ski Week earlier this year that they teamed up as The Flannel Twins.

Apparently, the experiment worked — although in the Texas heat, flannel’s out, even for lesbians. The toothsome twosome are pairing up again, and you don’t need to head for the Rockies to see them.

Girls Gone Weird!!! is their new comedy show, playing late-night this weekend at the Pocket Sandwich Theater. (It won’t be just girls going weird, either — Gary Floyd will be making a guest appearance.)

With deep roots in improv, musical theater and sketch comedy, both are known for a wry satiric edge to their humor. Gone weird? You don’t know the half of it.


— Arnold Wayne Jones

Pocket Sandwich Theater, 5400 E. Mockingbird Lane. July 31 and Aug. 1 at 11:15 p.m. $10. 214-821-1860.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 31, 2009.

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Nerd vs. nerd

By Arnold Wayne Jones Life+Style Editor

Dallas’ Zeus Comics aims for viral video status with new Web series


GEEK TRAGEDY: ‘The Variants’ stars real-life Zeus Comics employees Joe, Richard, Keli and Barry.

Richard Neal is happy people are talking about "The Variants." But don’t tell him it reminds you of "Clerks."

"Everyone makes that comparison, but I’ve never seen ‘Clerks’ or any Kevin Smith movies," he confesses, adding that  admission often triggers gasps of disbelief. "And now I don’t want to watch it and be influenced by it."

Not having seen a movie isn’t such a big deal, unless you happen to be a comic book-obsessed store clerk-cum-budding filmmaker like Smith once was … and which Neal is now becoming. The owner of Zeus Comics on Lemmon Avenue, Neal has tapped into his inner nerd to create an online series inspired by his experiences as a shopkeeper and out-and-proud geek.

Neal and his friends, all of whom are working for free, have already shot and edited two episodes, and scripted another eight. Episodes are filmed before the store opens, "so if you drive by on a Sunday morning and see Barry in Spandex with people honking at him, you’ll know we’re filming an episode." (New episodes will debut the first Wednesday of each month.)

Neal was inspired by "The Guild," a failed TV pilot about online gamers that became a successful Web series. On "The Variants," Neal plays Richard, a gay store owner dealing with his sourpuss clerk Barry (employee Barry Fuhrman), forlorn hetero Joe (Joe Cucinotti) and aspiring actress Keli (Keli Wolf). So just how did Neal come up with the characters’ names?

"Ha!" he laughs. "When we first came up with the idea for the show, we built from the idea that it would be a reality series," but they decided a scripted version based on exaggerated versions of themselves worked better.

"Barry and I both play unapologetically gay characters, but extremes of ourselves," Neal explains. "Joe is the heterosexual who can be socially awkward, the nerd who pines for the girl he can’t have — that’s the Spider-Man story." Keli, meanwhile, assumes Joe is gay like everyone else, and ignores his lame flirtations.

"We’re working for comedy but not trying to be cliché," he says. "We’re not writing the gay characters any different than we would other characters. But we cover the wacky customer service moments. Barry plays the store clerk you like to watch but don’t want to encounter in real life."

Neal hopes to contrast both straight and gay nerd humor with lots of pop culture references in creating a series that appeals to a wide range of fans, not only from Dallas but throughout the online and comic communities.

"My goal is to make someone spit milk out their nose," Neal says.
Sounds like he’s seen "Clerks" to us.

"The Variants" debuts Aug. 5 on TheVariants.com and YouTube.com, with new Webisodes the first Wednesday of every month.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 31, 2009.

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Hear her roar

By Rich Lopez Staff Writer

Hard rocking lesbian Otep could be a hero to the new LGBT generation

I’M HOMO OTEP
Otep, The Loft, 135 S. Lamar St. Aug. 6. Doors pen at 7 p.m. $17.50. Theloftdallas.com

Rock music is out of control. We can’t just listen to "rock" anymore. It’s "grindcore," "electropop," "psychedelic" or "ska," among a slew of others. So when rock outfit Otep was lumped into the heavy metal genre, lead singer Otep Shamaya took issue with it.


NOBODY PUTS OTEP IN A CORNER: Shamaya says her gay fan base has grown, but her label had no idea how to market her first album to the gay community.

"We’re a fusion act. We have elements of punk, hip hop and hard rock and so we’re more fusion," she says via phone from California.

No one puts Otep in a corner, whether it’s the music or the core of who Shamaya is, which is a fusion itself of philosopher, poet, musician and activist. And she has much to say.

"I find myself most comfortable as a provocateur. I enjoy challenging autocratic authority that dictates morality in this country and around the world," she says.

The lesbian rocker uses big words in bigger sentences. She needs to because it’s clear she has a lot going on in her head, waiting to get out. In a raspy voice one would expect from a hard rock goddess, she has the ability to paint pictures with what she’s saying even when rambling into elaborate philosophical musings. And that is just while talking about the band’s latest single, "Smash the Control Machine."

"I imagine the control machine to be this monstrosity; a bulbous tick with lots of tentacles. Control machines would be bigotry, corporate sponsored greed, Wall Street, military industrial complex and even smaller machines we self-impose. Love is a control machine. Drugs, too. They tether us and keep us anchored from evolving," Shamaya waxes.

Otep’s music is muscular and forceful. Their fourth major release of the same name drops in mid-August but they’ve already taken to the road.

Otep’s LGBT audience has grown, but in the beginning that wasn’t the case. She mentions their first label didn’t understand how to get to the LGBT world, but now the audiences have broadened.

"The audience just wants to believe in the music and the message," she says.
Part of that message is in Shamaya’s activist nature that takes on today’s politics with fervor. Her voice is important to this new LGBT generation of protests and rallies.

"I am a proud citizen of the U.S.A. and I’m also a disappointed and outraged citizen of the U.S.A. Obama could put a pause on ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ but to have him ignore it is a slap in the face to every soldier still compelled to fight for their country," she says. "Right-wingers say gay is a preference when it comes to marriage, but when will they start legislating other preferences like religion? It’s up to us to not be silent." It’s a point she makes plain in the song "Rise Rebel Resist."

But mostly she sees her place in the crusade against control machines as a duty stemming from childhood.

"We were a meager family with violence in the household. I wished there was this hero that swoop in. If ever had that opportunity to be a voice or knight, then I would. If I can take those feelings away, I’m absolutely going to do it."


SLUMBER PARTY IN THE SKY


Just as Andy Warhol predicted, Samantha Ronson got her 15 minutes of fame — almost exactly that much. She was the lesser-known half the celebrity couple with Lindsay Lohan, until the two broke up last April. But Ronson is still riding her quasi-fame — the L.A.-based DJ will spin at Samantha Ronson’s Sleepover at Ghostbar Friday. We’ll be sure to bring pajamas.

Ghostbar, July 31, 9 p.m.–2 a.m. Women admitted free; men $20.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 31, 2009.

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HENLEY’S SWAN SONG

Local author’s online novel makes it to print — but the triumph is bittersweet



I first read A.C. Henley’s series of stories about lesbian private investigator Quin McKee online.

Henley — the pen name for North Texas resident Bridgette Wyman — posted each chapter to a fiction Web site, and later her own Yahoo group, as she finished them. The writing then was in rough form, but the story was engrossing, and I, along with many others, eagerly awaited each update.

This week, I read "McKee: The Return" in its final, paperback, published form. And even though I had been worried that I might not like it so much the second time, once again I found myself engrossed in a fast-moving, well-plotted tale.

Henley didn’t set out to remake the detective genre. Some things in the book will sound very familiar —  for instance, the characters. Quinlan "Quin" McKee is the typical hard-boiled, loner detective with smoldering good looks and a dark past. Vivian Walsh is a beautiful and dedicated yet distant cop with a past of her own. There’s Quin’s stable of devoted minions, and Vivian’s tough-on-the-outside/marshmallow-soft-on-the-inside partner.

The good guys and the bad guys are well defined. You’ll know the bad cop when you encounter him, and the crooks are despicable and easily hated. But the good guys have faults — not always on the right side of the law, even if always on the right side of justice.

The setting is familiar, too: lots of vintage cars, crowded offices, dank and smelly alleys populated with drug dealers and junkies and hookers and feisty grandmothers and handsome men and beautiful women and lost souls — all set to a bluesy soundtrack that’s heavy on the Etta James.

But it’s the plot that keeps you glued, with plenty of twists and turns and unexpected developments that will keep you guessing — and turning pages.

The online version included some events and characters that I didn’t see in the pages of "McKee: The Return." That could be because the online stories comprised three separate novels, and the published book includes just the first two. Whatever the reason, not having those characters in the published novel doesn’t take away from the story. If you never read the online versions, you won’t even know they are missing.

And you might not miss them even if you read the Web version; not having those characters included keeps the plots more condensed and moving along at a much faster clip.

Henley, who was also working on a separate science fiction series and some other stories, stopped updating the McKee stories online some time back. She was diagnosed with stage four metastatic uterine cancer in the fall of 2005, and her battle with the disease since then often left her without the energy to write. (See an interview with Henley, "Bridgette Wyman’s final message," on DallasVoice.com/Instant-Tea for more about the author’s fight against cancer.)
She has bounced back more than once, but recently doctors told her the end was very near, and so it doesn’t look like there will be any more McKee stories, unless her partner, Sherry Barker, and some of her fellow online novelists join together to extend the series. That might not be too far-fetched, since Henley said that Barker and some friends "with similar writing styles" are planning to complete a different novel she had started.

It was, in fact, some of Henley’s friends and online fans who worked to get "McKee: The Return" rushed through the publishing process so that they could get the book published in time for Henley to see it and enjoy that success before her death.
But even if there are no more McKee stories, even if none of Henley’s unfinished novels are ever completed, she has left behind a legacy in "McKee: The Return" and in her online work, that she, her family, her friends and her fans can be proud of.


— Tammye Nash

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 31, 2009.

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What are you laughing at?

By Arnold Wayne Jones Life+Style Editor

If you’re in a theater watching ‘Funny People,’ the answer is ‘not much’

Funny People • D
Director: Judd Apatow Cast: Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Eric Bana, Leslie Mann
Opens today in wide release • 2 hrs. 25 min. • R

Would that movie titles were as subject to the same truth in advertising and forced disclosures as prescription drugs. That way, "Funny People" would be compelled to change its name to "Unpleasantly Unfunny People," and be accompanied by warnings such as "may cause drowsiness" and "do not operate heavy machinery while watching." It could save lives!


THE MYSTERY OF ENDLESS RUDE: Adam Sandler, left, plays a dying comedian in more ways than one (pictured with humpy Eric Bana, center, and the unnervingly Shrek-like Seth Rogen).

Or at least save the two and a half hours — yes, hours! — that is takes the latest penile-preoccupied Judd Apatow crassfest to play itself out. "Funny People" is both sophomoric and soporific. This is only Apatow’s third film as a director (following "The 40 Year-Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up"), but his factory has churned out or influenced as much as a dozen more, each going for hard-R gross-out gags and oneupsmanship as essential elements of comic male-hetero bonding.

It’s odd that Apatow has so quickly trained his sights on the mawkish quasi-drama: the sad-clown tragedy. Here, it’s George Simmons, an Adam Sandler-like movie comic played by Adam Sandler. George is fatally ill, and hires an aspiring comic, Ira (Seth Rogen, who even 20 pounds lighter still looks like a paler version of Shrek), to be his gofer.

The film ends up as conventionally banal as the comedies Apatow and company have tried to subvert with their snarky humor. Like the sitcom Ira’s roommate stars in, "Funny People" plays like "a very special episode" of a series that has already jumped the shark. There are music montages, bad sex scenes, predictable plotting.

That only adds to the fart-sniffing self-indulgence of these films. Apatow casts his vaguely untalented wife (Leslie Mann, who plays a petulant bitch) and daughters in key roles, and seems to develop his characters around his actors (lots of references to Ira’s weight-loss, which mirrors Rogen’s). The effect is one of a glorified home movie.

No doubt there are some people who find endless snot jokes scattered among dopey scenes of medical experiments sweet and sad. I pity them.
"I laughed and cried equally," someone said to me. "I did too," I responded.
Zero on both counts.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 31, 2009.

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Bedrooms and bullets

By Arnold Wayne Jones Life+Style Editor

Outrageous comedy is serious business in WTT’s ‘Unnecessary Farce’


A Scottish hitman (Sonny Franks), a mousy bookkeeper (Cara Statham-Serber) and a bumbling cop (Renee Krapff) generate outrageous antics in WaterTower’s amusing production of ‘Unnecessary Farce.’ PHOTO COURTESY MARK ORISTANO

So many theater companies trot out farces as part of their seasons, you’d think they are easy to do successfully. They are not. Even bad Tennessee Williams is still Tennessee Williams; what do you walk away with from a poor comedy with sketchy characters and nonsense plot, if not belly laughs?

What a relief, then, that WaterTower Theatre — which previously staged a kick-ass version of "Noises Off" (and an abortively chuckle-free "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum") — hits on all cylinders with Paul Slade Smith’s "Unnecessary Farce," a fast-moving and expertly crafted comic contraption.

The plot is surprisingly well-constructed, depending less on mistaken identity and patently unbelievable machinations than the usual rigmarole. Two small-town detectives (Mike Schraeder and Renee Krapff) are on a stakeout at a hotel, hoping to catch the mayor (Gordon Fox) admitting corruption to a city accountant (Cara Statham-Serber).

Romantic escapades, a loopy video camera, a conflicted body guard (Regan Adair) and a Scottish hitman (Sonny Franks) renowned for his "death by bagpipes" all work their way through the twists of simulated sex and slamming doors on the way to a happy ending (and the most entertaining curtain call in ages).

Things get off to a delightful start when a six-foot wall slowly folds down to reveal Clare Floyd DeVries’ door-slamming set, which makes full use of the tiered space at the Addison Theatre Centre. The director, James Paul Lemons, adds many wonderful physical flourishes, putting the talented cast through the paces.

Regan Adair once again proves himself an adept performer, who really knows how to commit to a bit. His milquetoast agent, looking vaguely like Borat with slicked-back hair and a porn-worthy moustache (complete with S&M codpiece), seems to be channeling the Cowardly Lion. Franks’ Celtic-heavy vocals are consistently hilarious. They, as well as Schraeder, Serber, Krapff, Fox and Ouida White, seem to get that good comedy is serious business. And "Unnecessary Farce" is grandly comedic. Seriously.

Addison Theatre Centre, 15650 Addison Road. Final weekend. Friday–Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. $25–$40. 972-450-6232.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 31, 2009.

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Bill giving federal employees partner benefits advances

U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin
U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin

I just received a press release from the congressional office of openly lesbian U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin saying that the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’s Subcommittee on Federal Workforce, Postal Service, and the District of Columbia passed the Domestic Partners Benefits and Obligations Act of 2009 (H.R. 2517) today on a 5-3 vote.

Baldwin’s statement said that under the legislation, same-sex domestic partners of federal employees living together in a committed relationship would be eligible for health benefits, long-term care, Family and Medical Leave, and federal retirement benefits, among others. The domestic partners of federal employees would also be subject to the same responsibilities that apply to the spouses of federal employees, such as anti-nepotism rules and financial disclosure requirements.

President Obama has said he “strongly supports” the measure.

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