The end of an era: Theatre Britain’s current season will be its last

Theatre Britain — the local company founded in 1996, and run by native Brits Sue and Ian Birch since 2002 — has grown and contracted its seasons over the year, and expanded to an impressive five-show season for 2017 (its first production of the new season, the comedy Will You Still Love Me in the Morning?, pictured, opens Friday). Things seem to be going well.

Except that that Birches have decided they miss Merrie Olde England, and are moving across the pond early next year. Since Sue was the creative force behind the company, this will be the final season.

“It’s bittersweet news!” Sue told me.

One of the staples of Theatre Britain’s season has been the traditional Christmas panto” — a comedy fable (Cinderella, Puss-in-Boots, etc.) aimed at children but with delightfully campy content for adults, including cross-dressing and double entendres. The upcoming panto — they have just announced that this year’s is the world premiere Three Musketeers — will be the final production of Theatre Britain.

On a personal note, the Birches are some of the most pleasant folks to deal with in theater. I’ll miss them as compatriots of theater.

You can get tickets for the new show, or sign up for the final season, here.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

My life with a Drag Racer: Willam Belli

A NEW pic of Willam, who didn't like how he looked in the last one.

I didn’t get a preview screener of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Season 4, which premiered last night on Logo… probably because last year, they were pissed that I spilled the beans a few days early that Dallas’ Shangela would be the series’ first returning contestant. Maybe to get back at me — maybe to toy with me — this season began with Shangela again jumping out of a box as if she’d be the surprise 13th contestant… only it was a fake-out: She was in fact booted instantly with Ru reminding everyone this is her show, her rules.

Fair enough.

The premiere was pretty good, with lots of other past queens returning as drag zombies. But what really piqued my interest was the appearance of my former roommate, Willam Belli.

I wrote about Willam living in my house for two weeks (scroll down) about three years ago, when he was in Dallas filming Ticked Off Trannies with Knives. Aside from the “drag bomb” that turned my guest room into a clothes hamper, Willam was a very agreeable roommate with lots of experience as an actor. (I remembered seeing him on My Name Is Earl.) But he has already become “the bitchy one” on Drag Race, irritating the other queens by, apparently, reminding them that he is not a club dancer, but a cross-dressing actor who has worked with Oscar winners. You really get a sense for how much he antagonizes the more insecure queens on RuPaul’s Untucked after-show.

Still, I have nothing negative to say about Willam. But it will be interesting to see how the series plays out. Watch the first episode after the jump.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Queer at the movies

Gay-themed art house films dominate the movie landscape in Dallas this week: ‘Gun Hill Road,’ ‘Toast,’ ‘Weekend’

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor

It somehow seems appropriate that  in the middle of October — Gay History Month — a trio of gay art films arrive simultaneously on movie screens in North Texas…. And there’s not even a film festival in town. From a youthful coming-out comedy-drama to an intense story of a trans kid in the barrio to oversexed gay men in Britain, the slate shows a panorama of gay experiences — all compelling in their way.


BOYS FITTING IN | A trans Latino teen (Harmony Santana, above left) worries about coming out to her violent dad (Esai Morales) in ‘Gun Hill Road

Gun Hill Road

Enrique (Esai Morales) has just been released from a three-year stretch in prison, planning to reconnect with his wife Angela (Judy Reyes) and teenaged son Michael (Harmony Santana). But much has changed since he was sent up. Angela has been emotionally if not physically unfaithful, taking comfort with a neighbor much more stable and affectionate than Enrique. Michael is terrified that his macho Puerto Rican father will discover that on the side, he identifies as trans; as Vanessa, he even performs in the local drag show.

Gun Hill Road is the kind of movie that, even as you are watching it, you cannot help but think, “How did this film get made?” I mean that in the best sense. With a cast of well known if not exactly bankable stars, it has some mojo behind it. But trans teens in Hispanic culture? This doesn’t exactly scream “box office bonanza.”

Which is part of what makes it so daring. Most coming out movies are distinct for being (a) silly comedies that are (b) about middle-class white folk. A drama set among Latinos, and one dealing not just with cross-dressing but a transgender teen protagonist? Well, such things are rarer than a cogent sentence out of Sarah Palin’s mouth. The scenes where Vanessa recklessly explores transitioning with untested drugs and procedures will make you squirm; it’s like pre-Roe v. Wade abortion movies, where people forced into shame become so desperate they put themselves in danger.

So much of Gun Hill Road is on the fringe, it is slightly disappointing that the story ultimately follows a well-worn path of discovery, recrimination, reconciliation. Last year’s La Mission with Benjamin Bratt trod similar ground, and was equally lacking in humor. La Mission was also more brightly lit and briskly paced.

Still, despite a few shortcomings, Gun Hill Road delivers a lot of what it promises, thanks to sincere performances by the three principals in telling a story with insight and understanding.


In ‘Toast,’ a British lad (Freddie Highmore, above far right) takes solace from his miserable home life in the kitchen on his way to fame as a chef.


There’s an unmistakable connection between love, sex and food in the mind of young Nigel Slater (Oscar Kennedy). His mother is not the best cook — indeed, she seems to barely understand the concept at all. She has never purchased fresh produce (“You don’t know where it’s been!” she clucks) and cooks canned goods by dropping the sealed cans in a pot of boiling water. Nothing ever turns out as anything close to edible, though Nigel’s dad (Ken Stott) doesn’t seem to notice. Most meals end with mom slathering some butter on toast and calling the effort a success. (“It’s impossible not to love someone who makes toast for you,” Nigel observes, though I’m not quite sure I see the connection.)

It’s become almost clichéd that great chefs grew up with mothers’ who couldn’t boil water; former Gourmet magazine editor Ruth Reichl documented her own mom’s incompetence in memoirs like Tender at the Bone. So it is no surprise that Nigel would grow up to be one of Britain’s most respected food writers and TV cooking show hosts.

But Toast — the film adaptation of Slater’s memoir of growing up in 1960s England with a distant father, a loving but unadventurous mother and, eventually, a blowsy stepmom who happens to be an expert cook — is more than a whimsical comedy about a kid’s love of food. Indeed, aside from the overriding tone, it’s not much of a comedy at all. There’s death, parent-child abuse, homophobia and assorted feelings of anguish heaped on young Nigel, who even at age 9 is beginning to realize he’s attracted to other boys and feels just as lost in those feelings as he is in his love for duck a l’orange.

Some of the comic tension comes about halfway through in the form of Helena Bonham Carter as Nigel’s lower-class stepmother, a cleaning lady who woos his dad with her unrivaled lemon meringue pie. As the two jockey for the dad’s affection, the kitchen becomes a sort of battleground of wills.

Kennedy plays Nigel in the first half with guileless charm; Freddie Highmore (Finding Neverland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) takes over as the teenaged Nigel, showing tenderness as he gets his first kiss from a puppy love crush. It’s portrayed as something as delicate and sweet as a caramel tuile — a fitting metaphor for a film that gorges you on its beauty and fondness for food. That’s something to raise a toast to.



YOU GOT THE HOOK UP | A one-night-stand becomes something more for Russell (Tom Cullen, left) and Glen (Chris New) in the raw English drama ‘Weekend.’

You get a very different view of Britain and the gay experience with Weekend, an edgy, almost shapeless gay romance that crackles with familiarity even as it paints a detailed, specific portrait of average men trying to connect.

Russell (Tom Cullen) is a crack-smoking, working class English bloke hangin’ and drinkin’ with his straight mates before hitting a gay bar for some quick action. He meets Glen (Chris New), an otter whom he assumes will be a one-night stand before heading off to work on Saturday morning.  But Glen wants to turn the hook-up into an art project, asking Russell to record his experience. When Glen’s probing questions make Russell uncomfortable (“Are you completely out? Do you wish my dick was bigger?”), Russell’s bourgeois sensibilities emerge.

Writer-director Andrew Haigh has captured an authenticity of the modern gay experience with an off-handed, sharply observed eye. He shows an extended segment of Russell toying with texting Glen to apologize, feeling pangs of guilt but also curiosity and self-reflection — a process that will strike a note of familiarity with anyone on the dating scene today.

Weekend conjures moments of early Gus Van Sant, like My Own Private Idaho and Drugstore Cowboy: It’s full of textures and naturalistic moments that feel unforced. Haigh is a master of long takes that are voyeuristic without seeming prurient. When Glen and Russell meet up again, their banter is both meaningless and confessional, which creates a palpable tension. Their body language points to hormones racing, but they are determined not to make this relationship only about sex, even though the sexual energy is undeniable. This makes the scenes romantic and erotic, and when they explode with passion, you don’t feel like the director has inserted a de rigueur sex scene, but encapsulated the dynamics of the hookup-turned-real-relationship dance (including the slightly scary obsessiveness of “Is this the one?” angst).

Cullen and New have great chemistry and an easy way with the rambling dialogue, but this is Haigh’s movie. Because it’s fairly raw (there’s lots of casual frontal nudity), it’s not the kind of film likely to be a crossover hit with straight audiences, but neither does it ooze “gay-ghetto movie,” the kind that assumes a small, lemming-like audience who can get titillated and forget about it. Like the Irish romance Once, it rings truth out of every frame.


• online exclusive

For more reviews of more films opening this weekend, including The Thing, pictured, and Incendiary, visit category/Screen.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 14, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

The Pimentoist

OLIVE THE ABOVE | Rocker-like painter Michael Godard (who, ironically, is a teetotaler) specializes in cocktail art, often with witty images — including the occasional cross-dressing garnish.

Michael Godard, rock star of the art world, brings his martini-soaked (and sometimes subversively gay) painting to Dallas

STEVEN LINDSEY  | Contributing Writer

Long hair, black nail polish, colorful tattoos, a soul patch, a bandana: It’s a look common to hard-living rockers … and maybe should be one you’d expect from an artist. Yet Michael Godard, sometimes criticized for creating work that is too commercial, still considers himself a rebellious outsider. He sees truth in the world around him and puts that truth on canvas. So what if the citizens of his universe are anthropomorphized olives, dancing strawberries and drunken grapes? Through his martini goggles, we are able to see life as a constant party — complete with its share of mornings after.

“I always say that I’m more of a storyteller than I am a painter. I like to tell stories with the paintings,” Godard says. “I like to mix a lot of humor into them. For me, rather than try to create something funny, it’s a lot easier to take life as it happens and turn it into a painting. To me, they’re like a giant diary and they have all kinds of things going on. No two are the same, that’s for sure.”

For somebody whose first book was titled Don’t Drink and Draw, and whose paintings almost exclusively deal with some form of alcoholic libation, it would be an easy assumption to peg this guy as a heavy drinker. But nothing could be further from the sober truth.

“It’s funny, I really don’t drink at all,” he laughs. “People ask if I’m a recovering alcoholic, but it’s not that. I was in junior high and my mom always had Kool-Aid in the fridge. I grabbed what I thought was Kool-Aid and drank a bunch of wine by mistake and got so, so sick. Ever since, the smell of alcohol sort of just turns me off. It’s really kind of ironic.”lead-3

His teetotaling even has the occasional professional drawback.

“Because I am so illiterate about alcohol, I’ll do a painting of a margarita and a gallery will call me up and say, ‘Mr. Godard, the painting is wonderful but actually it’s a salt shaker not a sugar shaker that goes with a margarita,’” he says.

But he continues to use the metaphor of martinis because of what it represents.

“The wonderful thing about alcohol is, it’s such a social magnet with people. We have a drink at a wedding and it’s a toast of good wishes; it calms the nerves on a first date; buddies share a beer together while playing poker. It’s a great thing that pulls people together when they’re stopping life momentarily to relax and enjoy themselves. And that’s why I think I chose to paint alcohol because there are so many situations that come from that. Humor is quite often there.”

His signature subject matter came about almost by accident, as a fulfilled promise to a friend who begged for a painting every year for five years for his birthday. Godard eventually asked the friend what he’d like to see.

“My friend said, ‘I love your sense of humor, I like to drink, martinis are my favorite, just have fun with it.” And so, the world of mobster olives, stripper olives and yes, even gay olives came to life.

“If you look at the painting I did from Fantasy Fest in Key West, which is a gay celebration, I have a cross-dressing olive standing on the street corner,” Godard, who is straight, lead-4proudly notes. “There’s one particular bouncer across from the place where I do my shows, the guy must be 6-foot-5. He loves to cross-dress and he’s one of the funniest people I know. There are gay people walking down the street holding hands. And, of course, in my world you know that a male olive has a pimento on top and a female has it strategically placed at the bottom.”

So naturally, if you ever see an olive with a pimento on top and a feather boa and high heels, you now know that’s an olive in drag.

lead-2Godard acknowledges that his work is popular with gay audiences, a relationship he cultivates; it’s easy to see why. His work if filled with subtle humor and witty observations (not to mention that some of the legs on those dancing strawberries can be pretty damned sexy).

“I have a lot of gay friends,” he says. “One of the neat things is that my gay friends seem to have a better and a more sophisticated sense of humor I must say, than a lot of my straight friends. Any time we can get together and do something for the greater good, that’s what it’s about. When you think about people that have lost their lives and wonderful people that we’ve lost to AIDS, it’s overwhelming. You realize it can happen to anybody, gay or straight.”
Godard, who recently lost his 16-year-old daughter to brain cancer, has always been dedicated to giving back through a variety of charitable organizations.

“There’s a lot of artists out there that are a lot more talented than I am, but I think the guy upstairs knew what I was going to do with my success,” he says. “I’m so about giving back and doing things for someone else. I’m in a very unique position where I have an opportunity to help a lot of people.”

Now that’s a true rock star.


Conover in sync

We’re used to seeing the bold and colorful Pop art of Robb Conover depicting comic book icons of late. Whether he’s giving his take on Wonder Woman or exploring a queer element to Batman and Robin as they kiss, Conover adds a definite punch to the local arts scene. His work has been seen in the gayborhood at Buli, Drama Room and Lucky’s.

He goes in a different direction, above, in Ro2 Art’s exhibit Synclines. Conover joins local artists Cabe Booth and Kevin Obregon, to present, what the gallery calls, new and unexpected works.

— Rich Lopez
Ro2 Art Downtown, 110 N. Akard St. Through Aug. 13.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 5, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

What’s Brewing: Craigslist congressman sought trans women; Maryland marriage bill in jeopardy

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. Republican Congressman Chris Lee, who abruptly resigned Feb. 9 after Gawker published his shirtless Craigslist photos, wasn’t only looking for cisgender women with whom to have adulterous sex. Gawker now reports that Lee had also posted an ad (above) seeking “passable” transsexual or cross-dressing women, which could explain why he resigned so quickly. It could also seriously complicate Lee’s efforts to smooth things over with his wife.

2. A marriage equality bill that passed the Maryland Senate last week is suddenly in jeopardy in the House, where it was once thought to be assured of passage. The Washington Blade reports that the bill is short of the 71 votes it needs, with at least one former co-sponsor having caved under enormous pressure from the religious right.

3. The King’s Speech was the big winner Sunday night at the Oscars, taking home five awards including best picture, best director and best actor. For a complete list of results from the 83rd annual Academy Awards, go here.

—  John Wright

The Nooner: Rebecca Drysdale, Log Cabin Republicans, next week’s deep freeze

Your gay lunchtime quickie from Instant Tea:

• Lesbian comic Rebecca Drysdale releases must-see, profanity-laden “It Gets Better” video. (Above, NSFW)

• Cross-dressing suspect charged in Houston-area bank robbery.

• Log Cabin Republicans welcomes 112th Congress: “The 2010 election was an historic victory for the GOP, and Log Cabin Republicans is committed to moving forward as part of a stronger, more inclusive Republican Party focused on the issues that unite us as Americans.•

Deep freeze headed to N. Texas: “Record lows aren’t in the forecast, but the frigid weather is expected to arrive Monday and stick around through at least Friday, with highs hovering near freezing and lows in the teens, said meteorologist Jason Dunn of the National Weather Service’s Fort Worth office.”

• Gay-friendly Dallas-based dating website sued over fake profiles.

—  John Wright

Princess Boy: Literally, a poster-child for acceptance

In light of all the anti-bullying interest in the last year, I was especially warmed by this story of a cross-dressing little boy and the acceptance of his family. His father’s attitude is particularly wonderful.

Watch this quick segment:

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

‘Things have changed, and it’s pretty wonderful’

Phyllis Frye appointed Texas’ 1st transgender judge by Houston Mayor Annise Parker

Brian Rogers  |  Houston Chronicle via The Associated Press

Phyllis Frye
Phyllis Frye

HOUSTON — Thirty years ago, Phyllis Frye, a longtime activist for LGBT causes, could have been arrested for wearing women’s clothing in the Houston City Council chamber.Frye, a transgender Houston attorney born as Phillip Frye, fought back tears last week as the mayor appointed her to a municipal bench in the same room where she helped repeal Houston’s “cross-dressing ordinance” in 1980.

“I almost started crying, because I remembered 31 years ago, in that very same chamber, I was subject to arrest,” Frye said.

The 63-year-old will hear traffic ticket cases and other low-level misdemeanor trials. Municipal judges are not elected, she noted.

Frye said she would be the first transgender judge in Texas. She knows of at least two transgender judges in other parts of the country.
Frye applied for the position several months ago and was vetted before being appointed by Mayor Annise Parker on Wednesday, Nov. 17, with seven other new associate judges.

“I think she’s a great addition to our judiciary,” the mayor said. “I’m very proud I was able to nominate her, and she agreed to serve.”
Frye joins 43 other associate municipal judges and 22 full-time municipal judges.

“I don’t want to underplay this, because I understand it is very significant,” Frye said. “But I don’t want to overplay it either. I don’t want people to think I am anything other than an associate municipal court judge.”

Three decades ago Frye volunteered at City Hall where she worked to repeal an ordinance that allowed police to arrest men in women’s clothes and lesbians wearing fly-front jeans.

“Things have changed, and it’s pretty wonderful,” Frye said.

A graduate of Texas A&M, Frye was an Eagle Scout and an Aggie cadet. She also was a husband and a father.

Frye has practiced criminal defense law in Houston since 1986.

She now heads a six-lawyer firm and has parlayed her expertise in LGBT legal issues into a storied legal career — the latest chapter of which is her representation of Nikki Araguz, the transgender Wharton widow embroiled in a legal battle to receive part of her firefighter husband’s death benefits.

Parker’s critics seized on Frye’s appointment to say the mayor, who is a lesbian, is promoting a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender agenda.

“Phyllis Frye is a very well-known radical transgender activist,” said Dave Welch, executive director of the Houston Area Pastor Council, which represents about 300 churches.

“We don’t think it is consistent with the values of the vast majority of the people,” Welch said. “We think it is an anti-family lifestyle and agenda.”

Her appointment, however, was applauded by Houston’s GLBT Political Caucus.

“Phyllis Frye is a true icon in our civil rights movement,” said Kris Banks, Caucus president. “She is an internationally recognized pioneer, and the mayor is to be congratulated for her choice.”

Banks noted that Charles Spain, an openly gay attorney and chair of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identification Issues of the State Bar, also was appointed as an associate municipal court judge. Josh Brockman, an openly gay attorney, was appointed as a hearings officer to resolve contested parking tickets.

New judges go through hours of state-mandated training. Frye said she expects to begin substituting for sitting judges in the spring.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 26, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

John Travolta likes well-hung Middle Eastern types. Join the club

It’s one of the best-kept, worst-kept secrets in Hollywood that John Travolta is gay (Scientology allegedly promises to “cure” you of your homosexuality) — a fact that, despite evidence (remember the candid lip-lock photographed on him kissing his late son’s male, umm, “nanny”?) that has been respectfully ignored most of the time by the mainstream press.

This is nothing new. I was at the Samar party last week, jawing with some straight male media friends, and all of them were shocked by my “secret” list of commonly accepted gay celebs … including Travolta. People believe what they wanna believe. It’s how Lindsey Graham is still in a leadership position with the GOP.

Anyway, the most salacious of rumors about Travolta have been published on Gawker, and the language used is surprising. Well, not to me, but most hausfraus out there will probably be astonished to find that the man who gained fame in musicals and had his last hit as a cross-dressing woman (in a musical!) likes to go to bathhouses and apparently has a penchant for Middle Easterns (guilty as charged, I admit it).

Some of the allegations made include that Travolta abused himself in a steam room and came onto the author; that he has both given and received oral sex from other men in public; and that he uses his celebrity to attract his type (which usually means well-endowed men of color).

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Phyllis Frye becomes Texas’ 1st trans judge

Phyllis Frye

It’s been a historic couple of weeks for the transgender legal community.

On Nov. 2, Victoria Kolakowski became the first transgender trial judge in the nation when she won a seat on the Alameda County (Calif.) Superior Court.

Then, just this morning, longtime Houston activist Phyllis Randolph Frye became the first trans judge in Texas, when Mayor Annise Parker appointed her as an associate municipal judge.

Daniel Williams at Legislative Queery reports:

Phyllis Randolph Frye, longtime legal advocate for the transgender community, was sworn in this morning as the state’s first transgender judge. Frye was appointed by Houston Mayor Annise Parker as an Associate Municipal Judge. The city council unanimously approved her appointment, along with a couple dozen other appointments, with little fanfare and no dissent.

The significance of the moment was not lost on Mayor Parker who fought back tears as she welcomed the appointees to the council dais. Council member Sue Lovell who, along with Parker and Frye, fought for years as a citizen to improve the lives of queer Houstonians, beamed as she spoke of how far the three of them have come. Several council members specifically thanked Frye for her willingness to serve.

It was only 30 years ago that Frye risked arrest every time she entered City Hall. At that time the City of Houston and most American cities had ordinances criminalizing cross dressing. Frye defied the law to fight for it’s repeal, which finally happened in 1980.

UPDATE: Here’s an e-mail that came across this afternoon from Frye:

Dear Friends, Family and Neighbors,

With humility, I wish to share that this morning, October 17, 2010, I was sworn to be an Associate Judge for the City of Houston Municipal Courts.  Considering the many and varied discriminations I have borne over the past four decades, this is an honor that has great significance both for me and for the OUT-Transgender community.

For those of you who are not familiar, let me assure you of what this means and what it does not mean.

It means that I an assistant judge for the city courthouse.  I will be scheduled to do night court dockets and weekend probable cause dockets in rotation with other Associate Judges.  And from time to time I will sit as Judge in a trial, substituting for an ill or vacationing Judge.  The types of cases heard in Municipal Court are offenses that can be ticketed in this, the 4th largest city in the nation.  This is a great honor.  I thank Mayor Parker for nominating me and the City Council for unanimously  confirming me through a scheduled Council vote.

(NOTE: Mine is the second position where an OUT-TG has been appointed to a City of Houston position.  The first was Jenifer Rene Pool on the city’s Buildings and Inspections Oversight Commission.  Jenifer has recently announced that she is running for City Council At-Large #2 — the incumbent will be term-limited — in November 2011.  If you desire to wish her well or to send her a contribution, she is at <> .)

(NOTE: Mine is not the first OUT-TG Judgeship.  I think there are a few other  appointed OUT-TG municipal judges across the country.  Last month in California, Vicki Kolakowski was elected to a Judgeship, and I think that she will be sworn in January.  Congratulations to Vicki.)

My being Associate Municipal Judge DOES NOT MEAN that I will give up my “day-job.”

I WILL REMAIN as senior partner of Frye and Associates at <> .

Our firm will continue to provide a variety of legal services for the LGBT and Straight-Allies community.  And our firm will continue to fight the Nikki Araguz case, of which many of you have followed.

I hope that my appointment and Vicki’s election encourage more Mayors or other appointive bodies to give OUT-TG lawyers a chance to be appointed to various judicial posts across the nation.  I hope that my appointment and Vicki’s election encourage more OUT-TG lawyers will run for elected Judgeships.


For more go to
Phyllis Randolph Frye

—  John Wright