From light to darkness

‘B’way Our Way’ takes it up a notch; ‘Language of Angels’ best left unheard

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

BOW-2011-Show-stills-592
PUTTIN’ ON THE GLITZ | Coy Covington and Drew Kelly display some sassy showmanship in Uptown Players’ annual fundraiser, ‘Broadway Our Way: Divas Rising.’

I kind of miss the old Broadway Our Way, Uptown Players’ annual comedy-musical showcase that served as a season-kickoff and fundraiser for the gaycentric theater troupe. When the company performed at the Trinity River Arts Center in a 120-seat auditorium, there was intimacy and love as local actors, musicians and directors volunteered their time with limited sets and costumes to put on a show the old-fashioned way.

Now that the show (like all Uptown shows) is performed at the historic Kalita Humphreys Theater, there’s more gravitas and less camaraderie. It’s not just a fundraiser; it’s An Event.

When you walk into the latest incarnation, Divas Rising, you can’t help but be impressed by the monster set, the use of the giant lazy susan stage, the many costumes and two-dozen performers. It’s a true production.

We can lament the all-in-this-together quality falling by the wayside, but we have to acknowledge how important it is for Uptown, in its 10th season, to have come so far so fast. This is slick theater — and still mounted, as a labor of love, by the talent onstage and behind the scenes — as usual, Andi Allen wrote and directed, with hip parodies of Glee and a swishy camp sensibility that plays well with the mixed audience.

Among the performers are some of Dallas’ best, who sing songs originally written for members of the opposite sex. That allows Wendy Welch to soar on the (now-lesbified) love ballad “Johanna” from Sweeney Todd and Rick Starkweather to jerk unexpected tears from my eyes on “I’m Not That Girl” from Wicked. It gives Natalie King a perfect-fit 11 o’clock number in “Memphis Lives in Me” and host Paul J. Williams free rein to vamp with the audience as Sister Helen Holy.

This year’s version of BOW is perky in Act 1, downbeat in Act 2, but then, like Glee, it ends with “Don’t Stop Believin’.” We believe guys;
we still believe.
If BOW keeps it light and gay, Language of Angels, in the appropriately cavernous space at Theatre Too, is dark as night.

The premise is intriguing: While out with friends, a teenaged girl disappears in the labyrinth of caves in the North Carolina mountains. Was she killed? Did she slip? Or did something else entirely happen to her? And why?

These kinds of mysteries are perfect grist for drama, from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to the new AMC series The Killing to Peter Weir’s allegorical film Picnic at Hanging Rock. It’s OK for these stories to luxuriate in the unanswerable, to raise existential questions and challenge us to understand.

Language of Angels does none of that, though it tries — oh, how it tries. It’s a muddle of naïve and conflicting ideas told out of time with deep pretension.

Playwright Naomi Iizuka is so fond of her own sense of language, she makes her characters say things they never would. (One beer-swilling mountain boy describes the “fuchsia” accents on his girlfriend’s tattoo; I doubt even the gay boys in Carolina say fuchsia, for crying out loud.) And it all takes place in near darkness. I doubt even the enhanced interrogation techniques usedat Gitmo to squeeze bin Laden’s location out of Taliban loyalists could be more excruciating than the first half hour of this play.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 13, 2011.

 


—  Kevin Thomas

Body & Fitness: Dirty britches

Clean for now, muddy buddies Rod Orta, Jeni Maldonado and Brad Bykkonen stretch it out as they train for the grueling DFW Mud Run. Through the same goal, the three with the author found a fellowship that helps get them past the intense training. (Photo by Jef Tingley)

While preparing for the daunting DFW Mud Run, four people found fun, fitness and fellowship with one goal in mind — to finish

JEF TINGLEY  | Contributing Writer

A year ago, I thought mud was only reserved for pigs and purifying facials. Never would I have guessed that I would be counting the days to run through 6.2 miles of it while also taking on a series of military-boot-camp-inspired obstacles. But then again, a year ago I never dreamed I would be surrounded by a group of friends with the same motivation — to conquer the mud if only to say we did it.

And on April 9, that’s exactly what we plan to do at a yet-to-be-disclosed location in Tarrant County. The DFW Mud Run is an annual event and one of seven throughout the country. It celebrated its 10th anniversary in North Texas in November 2010 with almost 4,000 attendees. A quick glance at the rules and regulations on the website reveals that this run can be as serious or as silly as you like, but one thing is for sure — you will get dirty. (And not in a Christina-Aguilera-wearing-chaps kind of way.)

Our group of seven runners (growing in number as we peer pressure others) met while working out at Booty Camp. Some were already in shape; others, like myself, were first timers. Somewhere during the months of waking up early, sweating during push-ups and running loops around Lee Park, a new level of friendship formed.

Jeni Maldonado, 29, and the official straight girl of our gay boy mud run group, shares the same sentiments about the camaraderie side effects of working out en mass.

“Through [group training], I have found a true love and passion for physical fitness and made some great new friends. Since starting in May of 2010, I even changed careers and am now a personal trainer focusing on children and childhood obesity.”

Mud runners can compete on the course in a variety of timed events and specified groups made up of all-men, all-women or co-ed teams. Or, there’s a category called DGAP, which stands for Division for Generally Athletic People or “Don’t Give A Poop.” This is our group. DGAP allows runners to wear costumes, run as a group or individually, and to generally enjoy the course as they see fit.

Rod Orta, a 39-year-old East Dallas resident, started working out in groups for almost four years. Since that time, he has formed lasting friendships with his fellow fitness enthusiasts, even going on vacations with them and hosting parties for the group at his home.

A first-time mud runner, Orta says, “I wanted to experience the activity and spend time with friends.” His training plan includes “strength workouts, cardio and a cute outfit.” He’s also quick to pass on helpful hints to his fellow runners. “Wear sensible shoes. No high heels,” he jokes.

The run will also make a first-time experience for 35-year-old Bryan Place resident Mark Doty. Inspired by other friends who have done it, he says it’s just something he has wanted to do. When asked if he had any words of wisdom for would be runners, Doty simply offered ups “Since this is my first time, I would just say ‘pray.’”

Topping off the dirt, the DFW Mud Run boasts more than 30 obstacles. Judging from videos from previous runs these include balance beams, rope swings and plenty of commando crawls. But it’s still not enough to keep Brad Bykkonen, a 39-year-old Highland Park resident, away.
“It sounds like fun,” he says. “I’ve met people who I know I’ll surely be laughing with during our mud run adventure.”

Booty Camp founder Dr. Eric Peay agrees that fitness can lead to friendship. A boot camp he attended in 1998 introduced him to someone who is now his best friend. A more experienced runner, Peay has run 5K and 10K races with a specific goal or time in mind. But this mud run is, “just for the sheer fun of it,” he says.

As for me, I’ll continue to count down the days, train and hope that I can find the perfect pair of combat boots and army fatigues to wear on my inaugural muddy voyage with the hope that the friendships I’ve formed will keep the physical fatigue at bay.

Registration for the April run is still open. For more information, visit DFWMudRun.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 18, 2011.

—  John Wright

We R Family: Rosie ex Kelli Carpenter keeps hope afloat with new take on queer cruise

CHANGE IN PROGRAMMING | The gay travel company R Family Vacations, co-founded by Gregg Kaminsky and Kelli Carpenter, above, is changing things up with its travel options. They are now offering bigger, mainstream cruise options for LGBT families, a Club Med week and new adults-only packages.

TAMMYE NASH | Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

R Family Vacations was born out of its co-founder’s desire to give her children — and the children of other same-sex couples — at least that one week out of the year when their families were the “norm.”

When Kelli Carpenter and Gregg Kaminsky founded the company in 2003, their primary focus was to provide a place where LGBT couples and families could enjoy a vacation experience with other families like their own. Carpenter and her former partner, Rosie O’Donnell, have four children themselves.

“Ro and I were searching for a place where our own children wouldn’t feel so alone,” says Carpenter, who was in Dallas recently to promote R Family’s 2011 line-up of vacation events.

“It’s hard to describe the feeling on one of our vacations,” she says. “I usually just leave it to the people who have been on one of our trips, and what they usually say: It is a sense of community, of, for once, being with other families like yours, that the children really look forward to. There is so much laughter and such a sense of joy and camaraderie that you can’t find anyplace else.”

“A lot of the families that come on board an R Family cruise live in the middle of Idaho or somewhere like that where there are no other families like theirs anywhere around. And their tears and their joy are so intense because this is the one place where they can actually feel that sense of family, that sense of knowing there are other families like theirs out there.”

All-women cruises for lesbians and all-men cruises for gay men were already common when R Family came about. But Carpenter and O’Donnell felt “That’s not what [our] life looks like. Our community has changed. If you are a woman, and you have two sons and you want to go on vacation with your best friend who is a gay man, an all-woman cruise or an all-guy cruise isn’t the place for that.”

And the community has changed even more since the first R Family cruise in 2004. Now R Family clients aren’t just same-sex couples with their children. More and more often, couples are bringing their straight parents and siblings along, as well as their chosen families. Even same-sex couples without children are opting for R Family vacations to take advantage of the family-friendly atmosphere where their straight family members will feel comfortable and welcome, too, Carpenter says.

That change, coupled with the recession that curtailed many people’s vacation plans, has prompted R Family to find ways to reach out to new clients.

“There were a lot of businesses that were really hard hit by the recession. Considering that we are a luxury product, I think we downsized at just the right time and in just the right way,” Carpenter says. “We had built up to two cruises a year, and then, as the economy started to go down, we went back to just one full ship a year. We were starting to run out of itineraries, and we were getting a lot of requests for something different.”

Last year, R Family offered something different: Instead of a cruise ship completely for R Family vacationers, the group started offering group trips on larger, mainstream cruises. Carpenter said while she had some reservations at first about taking a group of LGBT families on a cruise with mainstream families, her fears were soon laid to rest.

“I went in emotionally prepared for some issue to crop up, and there was none. It was kind of nice for our families to have each other to rely on and at the same time, to be able to look at the other families and realize that underneath it all, we looked just like everyone else on the boat,” she says.

Also last year, for the first time, R Family offered something other than a cruise: A week for LGBT families at Club Med in Ixtapa.

“The Club Med week was a tremendous success, and not just for our regular cruisers who wanted something different for a change,” Carpenter says. “This year, we are offering a week at Club Med Sandpiper in Florida, and I think it will be even more successful.”

Despite brighter prospects for the economy, many families are still cutting back on luxury expenses like vacations. Even though last year’s Club Med trip was less expensive than a cruise, it still required travel abroad, and airfare isn’t cheap.

That’s why Carpenter expects the “Summer Camp” Club Med Sandpiper week, July 9–16, to be even more popular. Families can make the trip by car rather than having to fly.

“The Club Med resorts always offer plenty of activities, but for the R Family weeks, we completely start over as far as entertainment and programming. We will have top-notch comedians and theatrical performances for the grown-ups. Every night there will be a different, unique performance. The company will also offer its first adult-only vacation this year, in response to the growing number of requests for something a little more adventurous from gay men and lesbians who want to vacation together.”

The week-long adults-only package aboard the Norwegian Epic sails from Miami to the Western Caribbean March 5. Other packages include a family vacation aboard the Norwegian Jewel Feb. 20, and the R Family cruise returns with a trip aboard the Norwegian Jade from Venice to four Greek islands departing Aug. 6.

“We are glad that we are able to offer all these options, and to do it in a way that doesn’t put the company at risk,” Carpenter says. “There are a lot of families with children that really count on these vacations every year. It’s a chance for these kids to see that they are not alone, a chance to get to see their parents be together and express affection for each other in public, and to have a safe environment to do that in.

“I think our company and the growth of our company is reflective of what I wish the whole world looked like — someplace the entire family can be themselves and be comfortable being themselves.

For more information, visit FamilyVacations.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 4, 2011.

—  John Wright

Frau wow

HOUSEKEEPER FROM HELL  |  Joanna Glushak’s Frau Blucher gets one of the best gay songs in ‘Young Frankenstein:’ ‘He Vas My Boyfriend.’

Joanna Glushak helps turn ‘Young Frankenstein’ into something rare: A tour that outshines the original

STEVEN LINDSEY  |  Contributing Writer
stevencraiglindsey@me.com

When Mel Brooks turned his iconic 1970s black-and-white comedy, Young Frankenstein, into a big-budget Broadway musical, it had all the components of a smash hit: Huge stars, a beloved story, spectacular production values. The result was a fun night at a New York theater, but it didn’t live up to expectations.

Then it went on tour and everything changed for the better. And Joanna Glushak’s delightful scenery chewing as Frau Blucher is a major reason why.

“I think a few things happened,” explains Glushak, who has portrayed Young Dr. F’s housekeeper since the show began touring in September 2009. “The cast is different in a good and bad way: The [original cast] was a very, very contentious cast because they had all these stars vying for attention and jokes and I think there was a lot of tension on that stage.”

Another change was scaling back the sets, which were competing with the actors themselves.

“The sets were humongous — we actually used those sets on the first leg of the tour. We downsized to a much smaller version, so we got rid of the big lab towers that flew up in the air. This gives you more focus on the actors and the humor. All that flying and all the mishegas kind of dwarfed the humor. We’re all sharing the stage now and playing with each other. I don’t think they were doing that as well on Broadway.”

The camaraderie among the new cast is apparent to anyone in the audience. There’s a gleam in their eyes and even moments when it seems that the actors are introducing new lines or jokes to make each other laugh. But in the end, they’re working from a classic comedy script, so some things will never change — even character traits from the original film. And Glushak had some big shoes to fill, following several notoriously campy icons on screen and stage.

“Each role comes to you differently,” Glushak says. “For this one, I watched Cloris Leachman’s performance [in the film] and tried to steal what she did. I’m not like her, but I could feel what she was doing. It made sense to me. I saw Andrea Martin [on Broadway], and it was different, of course, but it gave me a sense of freedom that I could take from both of them and still bring my own thing to it. So my feeling is you steal from the best and then you make it your own. You don’t turn your nose up at something that works.”

Glushak says the Frau Blucher role is a dream job for a character actress and one she’s thrilled to have landed.

“Mel Brooks writes with a rhythm, a very Jewish rhythm at times. Being Jewish, I get it. It’s in my blood. So I feel like I was born to play this role, I hate to say. It sounds so tacky, but in a way, I get it,” she says. “I come from the same background as Mel Brooks in a sense.”

One of the highlights of her stint in the show was the opportunity to meet Brooks.

“He’s been absolutely wonderful. That was the highlight of my life. I grew up looking at his movies, I never thought I’d meet him and talk to him and spend time with him, but I did. It’s amazing.”

Her favorite song, of course, is Blucher’s big number, “He Vas My Boyfriend,” which is very popular among gay audiences, probably due to the double-entendre laden lyrics about getting banged and plowed. Or maybe that her boyfriend won a three-legged race … all by himself.

“I don’t know if you know this, but the gay men’s choir [of Washington, D.C.] did a version of it,” she says. “I know it’s a big draw. It’s something new to sing at the musical theater bars!”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 11, 2011.

—  John Wright

Day of the living DIABLOS

Dallas gay rugby team wants you to go to Hell(fest)

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor jones@dallasvoice.com

GHOUL!  | Diablos Nick Hughes, Stephen Mitchell, Dustin  Abercrombie, Ryan Cavender, Will Padilla and A.J. Tello expect HellFest to be a scary fun time. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)
GHOUL! | Diablos Nick Hughes, Stephen Mitchell, Dustin Abercrombie, Ryan Cavender, Will Padilla and A.J. Tello expect HellFest to be a scary fun time. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

Every tournament has its hook, but for the Dallas Diablos Rugby Football Team, that hook comes at the end of a bloody stump.
Or maybe a fairy princess or Sarah Palin impersonator. Point is, it’s Halloween.

The Diablos didn’t really expect HellFest, their one-day rugby tourney to be held Oct. 30, to be such a hit, even though they knew they had a good idea.

“Originally, what we wanted was to have two or three teams come down, play some games, hang out for the [Cedar Springs] block party,” says Will Padilla, team captain and one of the organizers of HellFest. “We said, ‘Let’s try it out and see if we can get people interested in coming.’”

The interest was there and it grew exponentially. The previous year, an attempt to attract gay rugby teams from around the country resulted in only one attendee: the Minneapolis Mayhem. But word of mouth spread, “and more people asked to come, then more and more,” says Padilla. “I eventually had to cap it because it’s only a one-day tournament and we wanted everyone to get to play.”

Right now, 160 players representing eight teams from as many cities as far away as Atlanta are set to descend on Dallas for what looks to be one of the bigger gay rugby matches going.

“Austin, Houston and Dallas used to compete for a trophy called the Texas Pride Cup,” says Diablos co-founder and president A.J. Tello. But the Houston and Austin teams folded in recent years. “We haven’t had anything like that for a while, other than in Seattle, which has several teams in the area, and Bingham Cup every other year. We’re trying to get that back with an invitational with a national reach.”

“What I’ve found is that the majority of people on these teams have never been to Dallas,” adds Padilla. “Lots of them want to see what nightlife is like in Dallas.”

It’s an astonishing sense of camaraderie for a sport known for its aggressive play. But Padilla says rugby is one of the few sports where teams have no problem socializing with each other after the match is over.

“You play hard to party hard. Everybody who comes out is hyper-competitive and wants to win, but afterwards, we’re here to promote the game. You leave the anger on the pitch. After, you talk war stories and live it up with the guys. A lot of sports you don’t get a lot of commingling of teams; that’s not the case with rugby — not all.”

The openness is also true of the membership. “All of the teams are part of the IGRAB, the gay rugby union, and each is classified as openly diverse, but none of them are strictly gay,” Padilla says.

“We’re all inclusive. It’s not about who’s gay or straight — unless you want to date,” says Tello, who notes the Diablos have several straight players.

Still, that doesn’t mean there’s no difference between a gay rugby team and a straight one.

“We play other [non-gay] rugby clubs. After games, we go to the straight bars and the straight guys come to the Eagle,” Tello says. “We bring a little kick to it: We ask one of the members from the other team to get on the St Andrews cross, we get some paddles out and a whip and ask one of their girlfriends or wives to whip them. They have a ball and laugh.”

The tournament is intended to allow the players to enjoy a competitive round-robin of rugby, but there’s more motivation behind it. The Diablos  — both the men’s and women’s teams — want to spread their passion for the game throughout the community. (Although the women’s team is not playing, they have been instrumental in planning the tourney and will be active running it on game day.)

“I’ll judge its success by how well the teams receive the tournament, but we also wanna pull people in the community here, to come out to watch a tournament,” says Padilla. “There’s been nothing like this for rugby in Dallas.”

Those who don’t play are still welcome to come watch or even buy a “participant package” including tote bag and T-shirt, and come by the mixers or meet up with them during the block party.

Whether HellFest continues next year may also depend on the satisfaction of their sponsors, though Padilla says many were enthusiastic about helping out.

“It hasn’t been very hard — we’re promoting deeply within the community,” he says. “The host hotel is Hawthorne Suites and they gave us a good rate and helped us acquire shuttles to go to the venues. The Dallas Eagle is hosting our happy hour after the tournament and MGD64 is donating beer.”

That sounds like a sporting event all ghouls and boils can enjoy.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 22, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas

Author, author!

Mark Lee Kirchmeier and Alvin Granowsky add their gay voices to the Dallas literary community

RICH LOPEZ | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

MUTUAL ADMIRATION SOCIETY | Granowsky, left, and Kirchmeier peek at each other’s tragic tales. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

It seems unlikely that Mark Lee Kirchmeier and Alvin Granowsky had never met before this week, since both are in the niche market of gay writers in Dallas. But perhaps they represent a budding scene of out local authors. Dallas gays are claiming a presence.

When the authors finally met, a literary camaraderie took over. Kirchmeier had heard good things about Granowsky’s book, which delighted Granowsky. Several mutual acquaintances and writing comparisons later, the two seemed like old pals.

Kirchmeier published his first book, The Promise of Hope, four years ago; the story of his hero, Johnny, continues 10 years later in his second novel, The Open Pill Box.

“I intended it to be a sequel but it took on a life of its own,” Kirchmeier says. “It’s so much larger than the first. He’s psychotic as a young man in Promise, but now he keeps himself under control with meds but no safety net.”

He calls his first book more romantic, but in Pill Box, Kirchmeier fully knows the story is not pretty or romantic. Johnny is a gay bipolar man seeking the help of anyone who can get him meds. Without insurance, he’s close to being thrown away by society until he finds a reprieve from his ex and the Catholic Church. Pill Box is also Kirchmeier’s exploration and criticism of America’s healthcare system.

Granowsky explores social topics as well, though from a different perspective. In his 2009 book Teacher Accused, he addresses what happens “when homophobia explodes in a Texas town.” But he has added romance into the picture giving the reader a beacon of hope amid a tragic story.

“I see this story as a journey to pride,” he says. “I think people sometimes feel kind of defective because they are gay. I really want this to have a positive depiction so younger people can see there is a great life to be had — even if it’s in a homophobic society.”

That both books have dour, dire plots begs a curious question: Is gay tragedy an obvious outlet for an out writer? With the usual backgrounds of LGBT people growing up being bullied or shunned, the need to rehash such unpleasant environments for the authors was a catharsis, whether it was experienced first hand or observed.

“I’m bipolar,” Kirchmeier candidly admits. “This is an advocate book for the mentally ill who don’t have insurance and who are gay. I’ve felt thrown away and not wanted. This isn’t my story, but I am in there. Johnny and I are alike in many ways because of the things I’ve seen and life experiences.”

Granowsky, by contrast, writes from observation. As a former educator, he noticed the students who might be gay and the way they were treated by everyone else. He was pained by this memory that years later, and needed to get it out of his system.

“There is a catharsis talking about this,” he says. “It’s like cleansing one’s own sense of self. I needed to let it come out. My value system suffered. The funny thing is, I had no intention of getting published. I just wanted to write it down. It was a labor of love.”

That venting of ill emotions has its rewards. Each author sees his novel making an impact in the community, whether from an appreciative fan or an actually life changing moment. Both express compassion in their books that speaks to readers.

“I looked around and wanted to make a change, a statement,” Kirchmeier says. “I’m angry about the lack of universal healthcare. The way hospitals treat people without insurance. I wanted to speak out in anger and take a look at the social injustice that’s even based here in Dallas.”

He took a year and a half to write The Open Pill Box, and its darkness took a lot out of him physically and emotionally. It affected his hygiene, his health and even his teeth: He became so rapt he eventually had to have a root canal for ignoring his teeth.

That should change with book three.

“I’m currently writing My Best Pledge, which is a lighthearted romp through fraternity hood. And then after that, I’m writing The Paleta Man — a sequel to The Open Pill Box.”

Meanwhile, Granowsky is still reveling in having his book published. With people coming out earlier, he sees a shift in a new generation of pride. Something he didn’t have.

“Younger people are coming out earlier,” he says. “Sometimes they aren’t as prepared but now there are more solid role models for that. Plus, I think this book could inspire people to be proud of who they are and that life can be happy. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.”

Once the photo was done the authors exchanged books, spreading their message a little further. And each seems to know that they could be part of a homegrown trend of giving a voice to the gay community.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 02, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas