Man up

Glenn Close’s Oscar-nominated role as a gender-bending Irish butler with a secret fuels the fascinating ‘Albert Nobbs’

Glen-Close

HIDDEN LIFE | Glenn Close received her sixth Oscar nomination — alongside nominated co-star Janet McTeer, opposite — playing a gay woman living as a man in turn-of-the-century Ireland in ‘Albert Nobbs.’

Twenty-four hours before The Golden Globes ceremony, where she was in the running for best actress in a drama for Albert Nobbs, Glenn Close is doing some last minute press from her Four Seasons hotel room in Los Angeles. While she ultimately didn’t take home a statuette the next night, Close’s performance is a bona fide winner — and represents “closure and joy” for a passion-project 30 years in the making.

Playing a woman who for decades has camouflaged herself as a man to work as a hotel butler and survive in 19th century Ireland, Close, who also produced and co-wrote the film (and its Globes-nominated, Sinead O’Connor-performed original song, “Lay Your Head Down”), turns in a vulnerable, kindly, enigmatic and multilayered performance — quite literally so, with subtle facial prosthetics to butch up her features. Nobbs also co-stars Janet McTeer as Hubert, a swaggering lesbian whom also poses as a man, and Mia Wasikowska as Helen, a beguiling maid to whom Albert takes a romantic shine.

Albert represents a polar opposite of the role that has come to define Close in recent years: Iron-fisted, manipulative lawyer Patty Hewes on the DirectTV series, Damages, which wraps its fifth and final season this year.

Via telephone — before she learned of her Oscar nomination earlier this week — Close discussed gender-bending, wrapping up Damages, and a whole bunch of queer stuff.

— Lawrence Ferber

Albert Nobbs is now playing at the Angelika Film Center Mockingbird Station.

Dallas Voice: You first played Albert Nobbs in a 1982 off-Broadway production of the play and have toiled for years to bring a film version to screen. Do awards matter to you, both for this performance specifically and in general?  Glenn Close: In what way? It sounds kind of disingenuous when I talk like this, but I honestly think that you’re almost a winner when you’re nominated and the whole craziness around who wins and doesn’t win I just can’t buy into. For the winner, yes, it’s wonderful, and it would be wonderful to win everything, particularly because this is the most I have been invested [in a film] and it was an incredible journey for me. But the journey itself had great closure and was challenging and satisfying in every way. So I don’t feel like awards would change that. Of course, I would love for a lot of people to see it. That’s where the nominations are very helpful.

ALBN-GClose-JMcTeerWere you a fan of movies about gender-bending characters, like Yentl and Victor Victoria, before Nobbs?  Yeah. I remember seeing Yentl onstage with Tovah Feldshuh [in the 1970s]. It blew me away. But those were different from Nobbs. What was really important to us was to make the characters in the movie not seem oblivious for thinking this character is a man. I wasn’t convinced that Julie Andrews was a man, and I don’t think necessarily that Barbra Streisand was the most convincing of men. It was very important for us to be authentic and find ways of subtly changing Janet’s and my faces so that would be believable to the people within the story.

Did you and Janet have some fun with it when you were in your male drag?  Yeah. Janet accosted Brendan Gleeson, whom she’d played opposite as Lady Churchill in the HBO series Into the Storm, and he didn’t have any idea who she was! I tell you, it would have been fun to get all duded-up and walk through Dublin. But I just didn’t have time to. I liked being Albert. I liked surprising myself every time I passed a mirror, and to be on the set looking like a guy is different from just acting.

The scene in which Janet’s character Hubert, whom Albert initially thinks is a biological man, catches her and realizes she’s a woman is so painful. Albert looks so scared. Was that a tough scene for you to act?  No. I just had to think of how dire it would be for Albert if she was discovered and thrown out. She thinks her life is over and wouldn’t have a job. I think one of the hardest scenes for me was when I asked Helen out for a walk for the first time, because I didn’t know what to do with my face. Albert is starting to look up more than she ever had, but it’s still not comfortable for her to look into people’s eyes. The tricky thing about the whole part was the dilemma of somebody who has been stoic and behind a mask all those years — how much does she show on her face as she starts to look up and out at the world again?

Did you consider adding a new character, a young woman pretending to be a teenage boy, so you could cast Justin Bieber in it? Think of the box office dollars that would reap!  [Laughing] Ah, Justin Bieber. He’d probably be very good at that. I don’t know if it would be convincing in a period movie in Victorian Dublin, but you never know!

While researching the time period in which Nobbs takes place, did you learn whether living as a male was typical for lesbians to do back then?  My research mainly turned up women who did this either to fight in wars, have a job or go on adventure. And then there are cases of people who married women, and the women found out later [their husbands] were women and not men. So I don’t know. It was a mixture, and whether they were lesbians are not, homosexuality was against the law. I’m not sure whether lesbianism was also against the law, but it was certainly considered aberrant and something to hide.

You famously played lesbian military vet Margarethe Cammermeyer in the 1995 TV movie, Serving in Silence. When ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ was repealed, was it a big moment for you? And did you two talk about it?  Yes, it was, definitely. I was in touch with Grethe when that all happened and I would’ve loved to have gone to D.C. for that, but I just wasn’t able to. We talked about how proud we were that, back then, we did Serving in Silence and to think of the time that’s gone by since and the lives [military policy and DADT] affected in an unfortunate way. But thank God DADT doesn’t exist anymore. Not that everything’s going to change, but at least it has on the books. I think, ultimately, [gender and sexuality] shouldn’t matter. I’ve said this about our film. In some ways, gender should be irrelevant. It shouldn’t matter who someone is connected to and finds love and a life with. I hope [full federal equality] will come to be a reality for the LGBT world.

You’ve called Patty Hewes the role of your life. What can you tell us about this last season of Damages?  Oh, it’s a good, juicy season. Patty goes after a Wikileaks guy, like Julian Assange. She’s prosecuting him and Helen is defending him, so it’s pretty good.

Does the season come to a conclusive, all-tied-up end, or does it leave things open so there could be a Damages movie later down the line, a la 24?  I don’t know necessarily how our writers are going to end the season. We’ve had some general conversations about it, but knowing them I doubt it would all be in a tight and nice package with a bow.

If you were in a legal pickle, would you want Patty to represent you?  Absolutely! We couldn’t afford her, but I’d like her to represent me, yes.

You lost Oscars in the past to two other gay favorites, Cher and Jodie Foster. Are you hatin’ on them?  Funny, I didn’t think of that. I don’t hate them at all. Are you kidding me?

It would be great to see you three together in a project.  Oh, that would be wild. That would be good.

………………….

•online exclusive

For a review of Albert Nobbs — and to read more about the Oscar nominations — visit DallasVoice.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 27, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

REVIEWS: ‘The Hand,’ ‘Pippin,’ ‘Abe Lincoln,’ ‘Sexy Romp’

Mano a mano: The Hand

Two men — one showering naked — share an uncomfortable silence during their morning rituals in the bathroom. “When are you leaving?” one asks. Maybe it’s a trick gone bad.

But the other man — the poorer one — has no intention of leaving. Not without the rich man’s hand.

The Hand, a world premiere translation from Broken Gears Project Theatre, is a juicy, rather simple, short (45 minutes!) allegorical play, though what exactly it is an allegory for I’m still not quite sure: The poor man is missing his hand, having sold it to the rich man’s doctor three years ago for a transplant. Only now he wants it back. Class warfare? Obamacare? The idea of men touching each other with the same mitt but not being gay?

Actually, there’s an undeniable homoeroticism to the show as the men spend all the time wearing towels in bathroom. It’s especially apparent when Joey Folsom plays the rich man with a fey, continental air. (He and co-star Jeff Swearingen swap roles for each performance; during the final week, they will actually mount the show as a twofer: Act 1 with one cast, then followed by Act 2 with the roles reversed.) When Swearingen says to him, “I’ve come to ask for your hand,” you wonder if they’re living in Massachusetts.

(During the recent Horton Foote festival, Folsom appeared in a one-act playing a man who lost his arm to a thresher and demands justice from his employer. This is a weird companion piece to that.)

This is absurdist theater with a sickly twisted sense of humor: Waiting for Godot as directed by Quentin Tarantino. (Director Andy Baldwin even kicks it off with Tarantino-esque mariachi music.) It’s a deliciously evil mindfuck of a play, part Sleuth, part Bunuel film, where the concept of “a pound of flesh” takes on an odd meaning. It’s a great capstone to Broken Gears’ second season, where they have continued to reconfigure their space for a diverse slate of plays.

The three men involved here — Folsom, Swearingen and Baldwin — invest tremendous energy in this one-act, which gives it a momentum that is shocking and refreshing, like plunging your face in ice water. Give these guys a hand.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

3819 Fairmont. Through June 25. Folsom plays the rich man June 11, 14, 16 and 18; Swearingen play the rich man June 10 and 17; they will do two performances a night with each cast June 22, 23, 24 and 25. $15. BrokeanGears.weebly.com.

……………………..

 

Cirque du so lame: Pippin

The opening number of Pippin is called “Magic to Do.” Here’s thing: If it’s not magical, you’ve lost the audience for the rest of the show. (“Come and spend an hour or two,” is one of the lyrics; opening night got close to three hours. And still no magic.) It needs to wow you. But the circus-inspired production now at Theatre Three is played as if the entire cast had Epstein-Barre syndrome and had just decided to show up for a rehearsal. It’s on quarter-power at best. And with all the garish costumes and paste-white face paint, it feels more like the slo-mo feverdream on a mind-addled opium addict than a play.

It never recovers from the false start. Pippin is a part of a genre of musicals, popular in the early 1970s, that tried to take classical or historic stories from antiquity and gussy them up with Hair-like pop-culture relevance and a rockish score: Cyrano, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Candide, Godspell, Jesus Christ Superstar. They were all fine in their day, but once Chicago opened and turned a modern eye on the circus-atmosphere of the past, they immediately seemed dated, like a watching silent film in 1945 or making one in black and white today. With the possible exception of Candide, none are true classics (the latter two have staying power beyond their warrant). Despite a few passable songs (“Corner of the Sky, Just No Time at All,” “Spread a Little Sunshine”), Pippin really isn’t in need of a revival as much as a wake.

It feels like it is getting that. N. Wilson King, in the gender-bending role of Leading Player, is vocally unsuited for the part. She has a rich, gospelly voice, but not the Broadway-pop range to get the crowd going, as if Marlon Brando were playing a high school cheerleader. As Pippin, Max Swarner acts out every lyric with broad gestures, as if appearing in a children’s theater production of Green Eggs and Ham. It’s not his fault; director Bruce Coleman should have reigned in such limp choices, just as he should have tapped into King’s sense of fun.

Lee Jamison perks up Act 2; she has a strong comic sense that fits into the presentational style of the show. Bradley Campbell is fine as Charlemagne, and LisaAnne Haram gives a kicky rendition of a dotty grandma, but these are islands of competence floating in a sea of wrongheadedness.

A few weeks ago, Dallas Theater Center mounted a revival of Cabaret, creating a shabby, gaudy memory of a culture in decline that burrowed under your skin. There’s nothing intentionally unnerving about this version of Pippin — it’s just ugly and dull.

— AWJ

Theatre Three, 2900 Routh St. in the Quadrangle. Through July 2. Threatre3Dallas.com.

………………………

Planet of the Abes: Abraham Lincoln’s Big Gay Dance Party

Four score and seven years may be the most famous lapse-of-time reference in history, but two hours and forty minutes seems like a close second. That’s the running time (not including two intermissions) of Abraham Lincoln’s Big Gay Dance Party from Level Ground Arts. This is one really, really long comedy. But you know what? It’s filled with so many pleasures and moments of delicious subversiveness that, other than a severe case of numb-butt, it’s not a bad trade.

This is a bare-bones production, with set pieces made of foam core. That’s not a jab — these days, some people don’t feel like it’s real theater unless a chandelier comes crashing over their heads or Spider-Man stunt doubles go spiraling toward near-death. Sometimes less is more.

The show is enhanced by a skilled young cast. It’s all about solid performances, a daring, sometimes-moving script and some old fashioned experimentation. The plot is surprisingly intricate. It all starts with a children’s holiday pageant about Santa Claus getting a presidential pardon. When one of the children (apparently played as special-needs, which is completely unnecessary) spouts off about Abraham Lincoln’s love of another man, the teacher is vilified by the conservative Illinois town and put on trial for indecency.

What follows the setup is far more interesting. Big Gay Dance Party presents the same story from three characters’ perspectives. Through the democratic process (natch) an audience member is chosen to select which character’s version we see first. So, theoretically there are six different ways the plot can unfold. It’s fascinating. The entire third act, I found myself wondering what the show would’ve been like had that one been first, or even second. All in all, it’s an enjoyable mechanism that fills in plot mysteries like pieces fitting snuggly into a puzzle.

Between scenes, during set changes, and just about any time they feel like it, the cast busts a move—sometimes with elaborate choreography and matching stovepipe hats and beards. This is a big gay dance party, after all. Glow sticks, sadly, are not included.

— Steven Lindsey

KD Studio Theatre, 2600 N. Stemmons Freeway. Through June 25. Fridays–Saturdays at 8:15 p.m. $20. LevelGroundArts.com

……………………….

Logo, your next sitcom is ready: Outrageous, Sexy (Nekkid) Romp

Alejandro de la Costa’s Outrageous, Sexy (Nekkid) Romp, MBS Productions’ latest show, could well be a pilot pitch for a TV sitcom. They could approach Logo with Two Gays and a Girl, or maybe Our Fairy Dragmother … but as a play … well, it’s complicated.

De la Costa wrote a semi-complex farce about relationships for a cast of four. He pits male couple Casey (Andrew Bryan) and Keith (Philip Gage) into an emotional whirlwind of a night. Drag queen friend Lovely Uranus (Sonna) is moving in temporarily, and happens to have hitched a ride with Casey’s ex-girlfriend, Lara (Emily Murphy). Yes, girlfriend. Upon Lara’s arrival, Keith is confused by his attraction and constant hard-on when she’s around. Could he be straight? Bi? Do we care?

Well, yes and no.

Set in the couple’s apartment, we’re introduced to the boys waking up to coffee and some potential morning sex. It doesn’t happen as Lovely is early with her belongings and Lara. Sure the coincidence is unlikely, but easy to ignore as merely plot device. Other things weren’t.

For whatever reason, the cast was clearly off this night. They flubbed several lines or ad-libbed to maybe cover up some forgotten ones. These nights happen, I get that, but a week into the run, you expect more mojo.

The chemistry of the male couple never coalesces. Even that Bryan and Gage come off wooden, they were at least awkwardly convincing as an item in the first half, albeit minus any nuances. Those charms somehow devolve completely in the second act. In the blowout after Casey and Lovely discover Keith and Lara having sex, arguments ensued that played like an acting workshop rather than a fighting couple. The closed lip kisses and strange hugs didn’t help, either.

Lovely Uranus is not the most glamorous of drag queens, but Sonna made the most out of facial gestures, lots of makeup and some really short lingerie. It didn’t make complete sense that he’d be in drag while moving, but it wasn’t a distraction.

Lovely is the loud conscience of the show, but not always successfully. Sonna’s big monologue veers into a somber, dramatic moment, but he nails it with delicacy that doesn’t stray too far from Lovely’s outlandish persona.

Two things really kept the play afloat for me. Despite the flubs, de la Costa’s clever script is conceivably ready for prime time. The wit is there, as is substance. He wrote a play that ultimately isn’t just about a gay guy having sex with a girl and the shenanigans around it. He brilliantly weaved a story that looked at how relationships are defined and the fluidity that goes with them (or maybe needs to go with them). He fit in discussions on open relationships, gay/straight labels, single versus partnered and even the sex appeal of drag without stuffing it in. One political jab disturbed the flow, but otherwise, de la Costa created a gem.

The second was the luminous Emily Murphy, a stunning actress with a body to die for. She’s part sexual predator, part bitch, but she puts it behind a smile. Lara has ulterior motives but also doesn’t confuse sex with feelings. Murphy delivers on all fronts in commanding fashion.

Romp unexpectedly had something to say. While some of the acting didn’t make strong impressions, I couldn’t get a lot of what de la Costa had written out of my mind. And that made it worthwhile.

— Rich Lopez

Stone Cottage Theatre, 15650 Addison Road. Through June 18. $18¬–$22. MBSProductions.net.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

2011 was (will be?) one heck of a year!

Hardy Haberman Flagging Left

On New Year’s Eve, I sent out a “tweet” wishing everyone a Happy New Year and a “none too fond goodbye to 2011.” It only took a few moments before I was reminded that 2011 had not even started.

So, in the spirit of the strange time warp I somehow fell into, here is my “look back” on 2011.

It was quite a year, especially in LGBT politics. Even though the U.S. House of Representatives was dominated by Republicans, Congress still managed to move a modified version of the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) through. And after a few changes in the Senate, it was signed into law by the president.

The main provisions concerned religious organizations, and they were allowed to continue to be as bigoted as they want without government interference.

Meanwhile on the local scene, at least three openly gay candidates announced plans to run for judicial and city council positions. Most notable was activist and radio personality Jesse Garcia, who announced his run for mayor.

Nationally, the field of candidates for the 2012 presidential race narrowed when Sarah Palin announced she was ending her political career to focus on yet another reality TV show, “Real Housewives of Wasilla.”

Her daughter, Bristol, will headline her own dance review in Las Vegas next year at the new trailer park-themed hotel opening on the famous strip.

No word yet as to whether Levi Johnston will co-star.

Additionally this year, in a bold move, the LGBT conservative group GOProud changed their name to GOAway following yet another rejection by the Republican Party national convention as well as the Conservative Political Action Conference, which barred the group from attending its functions. A spokesperson for the group called the move, “a more rational way of stating the real agenda of the Republican Party while maintaining our group’s identity as supporting conservative values.”

In other LGBT news, another dozen homophobic evangelical pastors have been added to the growing list of “outed clergy.” It has been a bad year for closeted clergy since the escort web site “RightWingRentBoys.com” had their records released through WikiLeaks.

On the West Coast, since Prop 8 was overturned by the high court, LGBT couples are flocking to romantic wedding chapels in the Golden State. The boom in business has started a whole new honeymoon destination travel trend, as gay-themed resorts are cashing in on the influx of business.

The “Beary Marry Honeymoon” package from one Russian River resort offers a woodland wedding with party-sized “Bear Soup” hot tubs.

Though our state naturally lags behind, the Texas Legislature did manage to pass a civil union law awarding same-sex couples most of the rights of married couples.

Though the governor’s office denies any influence in the matter, most people assume the passage was a result of behind-the-scene bargaining and perhaps downright blackmail in a matter of a male escort who has yet to be named.

In tech news, the announcement late in the year of a public offering for Grindr has the stock market salivating. Many experts expect the smart phone app will exceed Facebook in revenues in the coming IPO.

The company got an extra boost after the heterosexual version was released last fall.

The publishing industry was rocked this year by the closure of the Dallas Morning News. Most media experts believe the publication’s ultra-conservative editorial policy and resistance to change was instrumental in the venerable institution’s demise.

Though it leaves Dallas without a major newspaper, niche publications like the Dallas Voice and Dallas Observer have seen circulation grow in both their online and print editions.

So as I bid a fond farewell to 2011, I just want to thank everyone who has written in complimenting me on my insightful and enjoyable columns over the past year.

Ok, well so much for fantasy! Now, I wonder if anyone will save this and see how close I came with my predictions?

Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a member of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas. His blog is at http://dungeondiary.blogspot.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 7, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas