The hurt locker room

Newcomer Lloyd Harvey shed 20 pounds, his dreadlocks, some insecurities and his pants to play a gay baseball stud in Uptown Players’ ‘Take Me Out’

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THE FULL HARVEY | Lloyd Harvey bares all — along with most of the cast of the baseball drama ‘Take Me Out’ from Uptown Players. (Photo courtesy Mike Morgan)

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

Lloyd Harvey has something to confess — an outing of himself, if you will.

He hates sports. Well, not hate, it’s just that “I’m more of a comic book nerd. I like movies. I never played sports so I never had the ‘locker room experience.’”

This might not be relevant, except that this week, Harvey will find himself not only in a locker room, but naked there. And pretending to be a god among athletes.

If one wasn’t frightening enough, together they are almost too much to take.

Harvey has the lead role in Take Me Out, the Pulitzer Prizewinning play about a mega-star of the baseball diamond who comes out as gay, setting the sports world — especially his diverse bunch of largely homophobic teammates — into a tizzy.

When Harvey auditioned for it, though, he didn’t really expect to get it — he’s tried out for shows at Uptown Players before without success. Plus, he was able to see his competition.

“I was looking around the room and seeing all these chiseled, fit guys and I’m thinking, ‘I won’t get it,’’ he relates. “Then I got a call-back, which was great, but now I’m seeing all these guys with six-pack abs and I’m the guy with a keg.” That’s when he told the producers he would lose 10 pounds. He even cut off the dreadlocks he’d been growing for three years to get the role.

To his surprise, they cast him — and took him up on his offers to cut and trim. That’s when the real work began.

“I started on P90X [workout] and stopped eating fast food that day,” Harvey says. “One of my friends is a personal trainer,  and he made a 20-minute workout to do on top of the P90X. It’s been a total physical change. I weighed 200 pounds in December and now I weigh 180.”

So focused was Harvey, he almost forgot to be nervous about stripping down for the famous shower scene of locker room grab-ass.

“Being an actor — or any kind of artist — you’re putting yourself out there for whatever you do. This is like putting yourself out there double-time. You’re trying not to break the fourth wall while there are a few hundred people watching us. But all you have to do is say ‘Fuck it!’ and have the confidence to go out there and put your heart and your body on the line … though telling my mother I had to do a nude role was an interesting conversation.”

She wasn’t the only one. Harvey has performed at Dallas Children’s Theater and had major roles in community theater productions of Rent and Sweeney Todd, but this is certainly his professional break-through. But it’s also the first time he’s been able to get his friends interested in what he does.

“Before I would do a show and not all my friends would see it. But as soon as I started saying, ‘Yeah, there’s gonna be full nudity in it, ‘every one of my friends bought tickets to see my penis onstage. Some of them threatened to bring cameras. I told them that’s a no-go. ‘Take a picture and I hope you get kicked out of the theater,’ I said. ‘And we certainly won’t be friends anymore.’”

He probably won’t have a hard time making new friends after this anyway.

………………….

Oh, ‘Pluck’ it

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Steven Walters will be the first person to admit his play Pluck the Day wasn’t the best. You can’t blame him for thinking that — he wrote it 10 years ago, when he already thought he knew everything. When an actor called wanting to submit it to a festival, he thought he was joking. “Sure,” he agreed, “for all the good it’ll do.”

Only it got in, and Walters realized something terrible: He was actually going to have to rewrite it. And re-rewrite. And then again.

It’s almost opening night and he’s still trimming and fixing, whittling down a 2-1/2 hours show into a tight 80 minutes with no intermish.

Pluck the Day was first performed by Second Thought Theatre, which Walters co-founded, in its inaugural season; a decade later, it kicks off STT’s 10th season. It’s like revisiting a long-lost friend. Or maybe frenemy.

“I have a healthy dissatisfaction for everything I do,” Walters says over a beer and burger. “The old script was not good — it was talky and too long. It had no point of view. Now it does.”

The biggest change in the revision, he says,  is in the character of Bill, who we learn is gay. Bill is the only man sitting on a lopey West Texas porch who actually develops; the others remain blissfully content to nurture their decaying way of life. But it’s still a comedy.

“It’s a farce,” Walters assures. “That’s one thing that hasn’t changed.”

— A.W.J.

Bryant Hall next to the Kalita, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd. Through Feb. 26. Second ThoughtTheatre.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 3, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Drama, queens

NBC’s hyped ‘Smash’ wants one thing: To be the next ‘Glee.’ It succeeds

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HELLO NORMA JEAN | The making of a stage musical about Marilyn Monroe creates a competition between two actresses (Katharine McPhee, Meg Hilty) in the aptly-named ‘Smash.’

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

Smash has one goal in mind: To out-gay Glee.

The much-hyped hour-long drama series (NBC is hawking it by tying in to the Super Bowl, even though the real singing competition The Voice airs after the game; Smash is on Monday) has musical performances interwoven with a melodramatic storyline about the next Broadway star. Forget competing against other teens at regionals: This is the whole enchilada. (Although no one in the cast looks like they have ever eaten an enchilada. Too many carbs.)

A musical theater team — gay composer Tom (Christian Borle) and fag-hag lyricist Julia (Debra Messing) — get suddenly inspired to turn Marilyn Monroe’s life into a Broadway musical. That’s usually a years-long enterprise, only hot stage producer Eileen (Angelica Huston) needs a new show to replace one tanked because of her divorce. Marilyn sounds perfect. The key, though, will be getting the right star.

It’s instantly a showdown between two women: Veteran belter Ivy (Meg Hilty) and fresh newcomer Karen (Katharine McPhee). The sleazy British director Derek (Jack Davenport) wants to sleep with one, which may skew the vote, but the thing is, you really want both to get it. This isn’t Black Swan, it’s A Chorus Line.

Creator Theresa Rebeck is an old hand at New York theater, and Smash oozes insider knowledge gussied up for TV: The catty personality conflicts, the references to other shows and composers, the cumbersome, do-we-know-what-we’re-doing rehearsal process. These routines sometimes devolve into cliché (episode 2 is less deliciously addictive than the pilot, but still entertaining), but the style of the series — with rehearsals magically transforming into idealized fantasy stagings of what the show can be — works, keeping the show visually interesting.

Rebeck also knows her market: Theater queens. When Derek snipes that he doesn’t like gay people, Eileen shoots back that he picked the wrong profession; every assistant and chorus boy seems like a friend of Dorothy, and Tom gets his princess attitude going. Smash is less over-the-top than Glee, as if these characters are the same high schoolers a few years after graduation. Add American Idol runner-up McPhee into the mix (she’s a good actress) and fallen-from-Grace Messing, and Smash has everything a gay boy could want.

Break out the Playbill and grab an orchestra seat — Smash is in for a long run.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 3, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

The Music Issue: A new gigness

Out singer Jackie Hall is the best Dallas diva you don’t know about … yet

music-gigness

QUEER HOMECOMING | In recent years, Jackie Hall has performed in venues from biker bars to blues clubs, but the lesbian singer is now turning her attention back toward her fellows in the gay community. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

To label your band an “experience” is gutsy, but if it’s true, why not? When the frontlady for The Jackie Hall Experience belts out a tune, people shut up and listen. Always.

So why are you just now hearing about her?

“The career is slower than I like, but I just see it as part of paying my dues,” Hall sighs. “I welcome it all in God’s time, but I know change is gonna come.”

Making it in the music biz comes with frustration, and Hall has had her share. But breaking onto the Sue Ellen’s stage has reinvigorated her two-fold: She’s got a gig that pays and she’s getting her name back out in the LGBT community, even though the response “Jackie Who?” remains a hurdle.

“I left the community because I couldn’t get paid or pay my musicians,” she says. “I had to branch out in different areas. If I could perform for free, I would, but my boys won’t.”

Hall reminisces about sweet gigs at Illusions and Joe’s. With a 13-piece band (yes, really), she prided herself on big shows and an audience that embraced what she was throwing down. But as clubs closed or moved on, Hall was left to figure out a new plan. So she ventured away.

“I was able to book myself at the old Hollywood Casino in Shreveport and I sang at Tucker’s Blues in Deep Ellum,” she says. “I even performed at a biker bar in Fort Worth. I’m still figuring it all out. I’m working on expanding my gigness.”

An old friend has helped her on just that.  Some years back, Hall would sing karaoke at the Circle Spur in Irving, where she met a shy singer named Anton Shaw. The two became friends and nurtured each other’s talents.

“Back then, we were the shit,” Hall laughs, “singing En Vogue songs in the ‘hottest place in Irving.’ But we really were there for each other and we both wanted to be stars. We lost connection for about 10 years, but she’s the reason I’m in the scene now.”

After taking in a performance of Shaw at Alexandre’s, the two reconnected; a run-in at an audition then led to Sue Ellen’s. Shaw books talent for the club’s live-music Vixin Lounge. Last November, Hall made her debut to a healthy crowd on Thanksgiving weekend.

“She hadn’t seen me perform live since back in the karaoke days,” Hall says. “That means she booked me on faith.”

Along with her band bookings, Hall has released original music teaming up with local musician Taylor Hall. In a strange way, his indie grunge and her soulful lungs were a match made in heaven. Coming together through former Edge DJ Alan Ayo, the two created Robinson Hall, a dirty blues outfit that released three singles online last year.

In addition to original works, Hall isn’t short on delivering her strong renditions of classic rock and soul covers.  She kinda loves it.

“I discovered my purpose in life early on and it’s music. It is the only thing that brings the world closer, brings out emotions, memories. Music has landed me homeless before, but it’s important, man,” she says. “So every time I walk onstage I expect to kill ‘em. When I sing I want people to take that ride with me. I want them to hold hands during love songs, bang their heads during the rockers and cry at the sad songs. That’s why I named it an experience.”

And it is. When Hall takes on any song, she embodies it. Her body is fully engaged on a classic like Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” and she turns delicate while singing Etta James, or her big hero, Gladys Knight. As she reflects on the highs and lows and the songs she embraces, Hall has an epiphany.

“Sitting here, this has been a revelation for me. I need to be more out in my own community,” she says. ”The gay community has a lot to offer and I have a gift that I’d like to share. I wish I knew more showtunes, though. The gays love those.”

Good for her. Half the battle is knowing your audience already.

The Jackie Hall Experience performs every second Saturday at Sue Ellen’s.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 3, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

ALBUM REVIEW: Canyons, Larkin Grimm, Rumer, The Asteroids Galaxy Tour and Chris Willis

These January releases go from blah to bliss while an overlooked 2011 album kicks ass

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

Canyons
Keep Your Dreams
Modular Recordings

Although they don’t want to be labeled as dance/electronica, electronica act Canyons provides multitudes of synth and drum machines in all 11 tracks of their latest album. Dreams starts off with a hip bass line and groovy beat in “Under a Blue Sky,” but that interesting minute is quickly put to rest with the inclusion of saxophone. Initially, it registers as fascinating, but quickly becomes abrasive, that they prove the point that saxes and electronica do not blend well and the song devolves into a melange of animal sounds, ethereal vocals and pretty much drivel.

The Aussie band fares better in “My Rescue,” a offering more focus with stronger beat with vocals. Then it regresses into the pedestrian “See Blind Through.” The album has major ups and downs that  aren’t worth the ride with the second half  merely a haze of irregular beats. Strangely, 11 songs are listed, but 10 show up. However, I doubt the missing song could have made the album anything better.

One and half stars (out of five).

—  Rich Lopez

Forging new Alliances

Giancarlo Mossi organizes a GSA Summit in Dallas so other students can have the lifesaving resource he never did

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Giancarlo Mossi (Photo illustration by Kevin Thomas)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Giancarlo Mossi said that after spending time in hospitals and institutions for destructive behavior such as cutting, the day he attended a Youth First Texas meeting in Collin County was the happiest day of his life.

Mossi believes he might not have attempted suicide if his high school had a Gay Straight Alliance where he could have talked to other students. He credits a Plano police officer with saving his life.

As a child, Mossi was raped and abused. By the time he reached high school, he said he couldn’t take it anymore and began “cutting,” making large gashes in his arms. He was hospitalized several times.

After one suicide attempt, the police officer handed him a card from the Youth First Texas.

“You’re like me, aren’t you?” Mossi asked the officer. The officer said he couldn’t answer but flashed a big grin.

In the hospital, a licensed therapist outed Mossi to his mother and recommended “reparative therapy” to make him straight. When it was time for him to be released, his mother refused to pick him up.

Although Mossi has since reconciled with his mother, he lives with a gay couple who took him into their home.

Mossi graduated from Plano Senior High School. He recently began acting classes and has a new job. He knows not every LGBT student can get to the YFT centers in Dallas and Collin County, so he wants students in high schools throughout North Texas to have access to Gay Straight Alliance clubs on their own campuses. And he wants existing GSAs to flourish.

To help accomplish his goal, Mossi is coordinating a GSA summit at YFT in Dallas on Feb. 4.

Andy Marra, a spokesman for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, said there were at least 360 GSAs in Texas when the last national survey was taken in 2009. GLSEN is in the process of conducting a new national count.

GSAs are especially important in a conservative state like Texas where, according to GLSEN, 88 percent of students who identify as gay or lesbian have been verbally harassed, 46 percent physically harassed and 23 percent assaulted.

Truett-Davis

Truett-Davis

Equality Texas Executive Director Dennis Coleman said GSAs let LGBT kids know they’re not alone.

“GSAs give them a support system, a safe place to be,” Coleman said. “Not just LGBT kids but their friends. And if they’re not getting support at home, they have a group they can turn to.”

But Mossi said starting GSAs in some schools isn’t as easy as it should be.

When he was in 10th grade at Vines High School in Plano, he spoke to administrators about starting one there. The principal told him he’d need a faculty sponsor.

Mossi said finding a sponsor can be tricky in a school whose principal opposes having a GSA. Teachers without tenure are afraid of losing their jobs. Others don’t want to make waves. And some are afraid that if they sponsor a GSA, teachers, parents and students will assume they’re gay.

But Mossi broached the subject with a number of teachers and found one willing to sponsor the group. So he proudly went back to the principal with the name.

The principal told him he would need 100 signatures from students stating they wanted to have such a group in their school. Mossi collected the 100 signatures and presented them to the principal. That’s when the principal told him it was too late in the year to start a new club and he’d have to wait for the next year. The principal knew Mossi would be leaving Vines to attend Plano Senior High for his last two years of school.

By the time he got to Plano Senior High, Mossi was active at Youth First Texas, where he made many new friends, and devoted his time to performing with Dallas PUMP!, a youth chorale.

Ray-Dawson

Ray Dawson

Although Mossi’s experience wasn’t unusual, some schools are more supportive of GSAs.

Dawson Ray said when he and his friend Shelby Friedman formed a GSA last year at  Greenhill School, a private K-12 school in Addison, they met with “zero controversy.”

He said two teachers immediately agreed to sponsor the group and the only question the administration had was “when we’d meet and what room we wanted.”

He said the group is called True Colors because the school has a rule against student groups having affiliations with national organizations. But he said True Colors is regularly referred to as the GSA.

Each week, 50 to 60 students — more than 10 percent of the 440 high students at Greenhill — attend the GSA meeting.

He said the group holds discussions on various topics, participates in events such as the National Day of Silence and brings in speakers. When British rugby star Ben Cohen was in Dallas for gay Pride Week last year, he spoke to the Greenhill GSA. Earlier this week Cohen sent the group a check for $2,500 for club activities.

Truett Davis attends Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in downtown Dallas. He said his GSA has about 40 to 50 members and was already in existence when he came to the school.

Davis said his group sets up booths at school activities. At one, the GSA officiated mock weddings and had students sign a petition for marriage equality that was sent to Congress.

Although Booker T. is considered a safe school for LGBT students, Davis said some students’ families aren’t accepting and the club is a place for those students to talk about their situation.

Both Davis and Ray are planning to attend next week’s GSA Summit at YFT.

“I hope to get some programming ideas,” Davis said.

Ray agreed. “I want to see what other GSAs in the area are doing,” he said. “What problems they face. Offer suggestions to us.”
While some students face little resistance in forming GSAs, other schools have openly opposed allowing the clubs on campus. Under federal law, that’s illegal.

The federal Equal Access Act passed in 1984 stipulates that any public secondary school that allows non-curriculum-related clubs to meet on campus cannot discriminate due to the content of the proposed discussions. To get around this, some schools have gone so far as to disband non-curriculum-related clubs, from the chess club to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

Some administrators don’t want the word “gay” used in a school group name — sometimes out of their own prejudice, sometimes out of fear of parent or community reaction. They require students to change the names of GSAs to a euphemism such the Tolerance Club. But this is also against the law. (Greenhill is a private school, so the Equal Access Act doesn’t apply.)

At R.L. Turner High School in Farmers Branch, students formed a GSA in April 2011. While they encountered no resistance from the school district, Farmers Branch Mayor Tim O’Hare attacked the group on Twitter saying, “Friday, R.L. Turner H.S. Hosts 1st meeting of the RLT Gay-Straight Alliance an org. that promotes homosexuality and transgender lifestyles,” and “To our children. It is sponsored by a teacher at Turner. Parents of CFB kids and members of the community: what do you plan to do about it?”

Although a mayor in Texas has no power over an independent school district, vocal opposition from an elected official can be daunting for a group of high school students.

But the Carrollton-Farmers Branch School District did respond to the mayor and made it clear what they planned to do about the GSA — they planned to support it. Angela Shelley, a CFBISD spokeswoman, told Dallas Voice at the time that the group had already met three times and that it wasn’t the district’s first GSA.

But she said, “The GSA met all the requirements, they have a great mission and a constitution, and they’re an active group.”

And she said that despite the mayor’s protests the district didn’t want to become another Flour Bluff. Earlier in the school year, when a GSA formed in Flour Bluff, a school district in Corpus Christi, it made national news.

When 17-year-old student Bianca “Nikki” Peet tried to start the GSA, the district denied her application. To keep the group from meeting, Superintendent Julia Carbajal announced she would disband all extracurricular clubs.

Hundreds of pro-LGBT protesters gathered at the school.

After the American Civil Liberties Union intervened, threatening to file suit against the district, the superintendent relented and allowed the group to form. The faculty sponsor backed out, however. Instead, the principal “monitored” the meetings and the ACLU promised to monitor the situation.

But once the group began meeting, there was little to monitor. Gay and straight students met and discussed issues of interest to them.

In Keller, a Facebook group appeared in October 2011 called Abolish the GSA, Gay-Straight Alliance, at Keller High School.

When the school district learned about the Facebook group, it issued a statement that said, “Keller ISD prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, national origin, disability, or any other basis prohibited by law.”

But discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity isn’t prohibited by law.

The founder of the Facebook group wrote that it was not intended to be a hate group and when he saw the reaction to it, he took it down. But he vowed to continue battling the GSA unless a conservative, straight group was also formed. Had he been serious about it, nothing would have stopped his group from finding a sponsor and petitioning the school.

As a result of the controversy, the Keller GSA grew and had to move from a classroom to a lecture hall to accommodate all of the students who wanted to show support or participate.

Meanwhile, Mossi is on a one-person campaign to bring students together for the Feb. 4 meeting. He has contacted restaurants and coffee shops about providing lunch, coffee and snacks. He pulled together a list of contacts and made calls. He sent fliers to schools he knows have GSAs. He contacted the media to help spread the word. And he researched topics and put together curricula to make the Summit a worthwhile meeting.

He said he expects about 40 to 50 students, representing almost as many GSAs across North Texas, to attend. Students who would like to participate don’t have to already belong to a GSA. He said he hopes some teens who attend have no clubs in their schools and will go back and form one.

GSA Summit

Feb. 4, 10 a.m.–3 p.m.
Youth First Texas
3918 Harry Hines Blvd.
To register, contact
giancarlo.mossi@youthfirsttexas.org.

…………………

HOW TO START A GSA

1. Follow Guidelines
Establish a GSA the same way you would establish any other group or club. Look in your Student Handbook for your school’s rules. This may include getting permission from an administrator or writing a constitution.

2. Find a Faculty Advisor
Find a teacher or staff member whom you think would be supportive or who has already shown themselves to be an ally around sexual orientation issues. It could be a teacher, counselor, nurse or librarian.

3. Inform Administration of Your Plans
Tell administrators what you are doing right away. It can be very helpful to have them on your side. They can work as liaisons to teachers, parents, community members and the school board. If an administrator opposes the GSA, inform them that forming a GSA club is protected under the Federal Equal Access Act.

4. Inform Guidance Counselors and Social Workers About The Group
These individuals may know students who would be interested in attending the group.

5. Pick a Meeting Place
You may want to find a meeting place which is off the beaten track at school and offers some level of privacy.

6. Advertise
Figure out the best way to advertise at your school. It may be a combination of your school bulletin, flyers and word-of-mouth. If your flyers are defaced or torn down, do not be discouraged. Keep putting them back up. Eventually, whomever is tearing them down will give up. Besides, advertising for your group and having words up such as “gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or questioning” or “end homophobia” can be part of educating the school and can actually make other students feel safer — even if they never attend a single meeting.

7. Get Food
This one is kind of obvious. People always come to meetings when you provide food!

8. Hold Your Meeting
You may want to start out with a discussion about why people feel having this group is important. You can also brainstorm things your club would like to do this year.

9. Establish Ground Rules
Many groups have ground rules in order to insure that group discussions are safe, confidential and respectful. Many groups have a ground rule that no assumptions or labels are used about a group member’s sexual orientation. This can help make straight allies feel comfortable about attending the club.

10. Plan For The Future
Develop an action plan. Brainstorm activities. Set goals for what you want to work towards. Contact Gay-Straight Alliance Network in order to get connected to other GSAs, get supported, and learn about what else is going on in the community.

Source: GSAnetwork.org

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

 

—  Kevin Thomas

Rawlings to meet with LGBT leaders

Protest planned outside City Hall over mayor’s refusal to sign marriage pledge

STRAINED RELATIONS | Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, shown during an interview with Dallas Voice last year, is under fire from the LGBT community for not only failing to sign a pledge in support of same-sex marriage — but also for his handling of the controversy. (Brent Paxton/Dallas Voice)

JOHN WRIGHT  |  Senior Editor
wright@dallasvoice.com

Activists from GetEQUAL plan a rally outside Dallas City Hall on Friday night, Jan. 27 to call on Mayor Mike Rawlings to change his mind and sign a pledge in support of same-sex marriage.

Meanwhile, Rawlings is set to meet privately Saturday, Jan. 28 with a group of 20-25 LGBT leaders to discuss his decision not to sign the pledge.

However, LGBT activists said this week that their beef with Rawlings, who took office last summer, now extends beyond the pledge itself.

They said they’ve been very alarmed by the language and tone Rawlings has used in defending his decision not to sign the pledge in the media.

Most recently, on Wednesday, Rawlings told WFAA-TV that the marriage pledge — signed by more than 100 mayors across the country, including from all eight cities larger than Dallas — was an example of “getting off track” and that the issue of marriage equality is not “relevant to the lion’s share of the citizens of Dallas.”

“Sadly, I think the more he talks about this in the press, the more he digs in as completely out of touch,” said Patti Fink, president of the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance. “He’s really pissing off our community. We really have a much deeper, more profound problem than this pledge. … This mayor is naïve. We’re not irrelevant, and we are a part of the lion’s share.”

Fink noted that DGLA issued a rare warning against voting for Rawlings in 2011.

“We certainly hoped that he would prove us wrong when we put a warning on him last year, but I fear that perhaps that warning was well justified, because it certainly appears from this encounter that he puts business before civil rights, which was the essence of our warning,” Fink said.

Paula Blackmon, Rawlings’ chief of staff, said he wasn’t available for comment Thursday. Rawlings told Dallas Voice last week that although he personally supports marriage equality, he didn’t sign the pledge because he wants to avoid social issues that don’t impact the city.

Daniel Cates of GetEQUAL, which is organizing Friday night’s protest, also questioned Rawlings’ handling of the controversy. On Monday, Blackmon told Dallas Voice that Rawlings was skipping a “Meet the Mayor” community meeting in Kiest Park because it would be unfair to subject other residents to an LGBT protest. “He just does not want to put them through that,” Blackmon said.

Cates called such language “damaging and destructive” and said it smacks of “thinly veiled homophobia.”

Rawlings’ decision to skip the Kiest Park meeting appeared to backfire when residents who showed up called him “cowardly” for dodging the protest.

“I think he’s got the worst PR team on earth,” Cates said.

Cates said Friday’s “Sign the Pledge” rally, set for 7 p.m. outside City Hall, will include speakers and a chance for people to address personal notes, including family photos, to the mayor. Cates said he planned to hand-deliver the correspondence to Rawlings at Saturday’s meeting.

“The goal is really for our mayor to finally have his policy match what he says his personal views are,” Cates said. “We are going to continue to apply pressure, and that can stop whenever he wants.”

Cece Cox, executive director and CEO of the Resource Center, organized Saturday’s invitation-only meeting between Rawlings and LGBT leaders.

Cox said she reached out to the mayor’s office last week after his explanation for not signing the pledge “sent up about 100 red flags.”

Saturday’s meeting, which is closed to the media, is scheduled for an hour and a half. In addition to the marriage pledge, Cox said she hopes to address other LGBT-related city issues including transgender health benefits, pension benefits for the domestic partners of employees, nondiscrimination requirements for contractors and mandatory diversity training.

Pam Gerber, one of Rawlings’ prominent LGBT supporters during last year’s campaign, said she’s willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and she hopes something positive will come out of the meeting.

Gerber noted that even though neither DGLA nor Stonewall Democrats endorsed Rawlings, he appeared at a gay Pride month reception his first day in office and later rode in the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade.

“If he absolutely will not sign it, then how do we leverage this opportunity to bring something good about for our community?” Gerber said. “I’m not 100 percent confident that he won’t change his mind, because he is a good man who is incredibly well-intentioned. But if that’s the case, then we need to be pragmatic about it and figure out how to move forward and make gains for the LGBT community, instead of looking at the whole thing as all or nothing.”

Fink seemed less optimistic, and she said no matter what, it’s unlikely the conversation will end this weekend.

“This is an education hill we must climb together as a community and engage him as much as possible,” Fink said. “He is not leaving us behind because we are going to be pulling on the cuffs of his trousers every step of the way, and he will not marginalize the LGBT community of Dallas.”

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

—  Kevin Thomas

Youth in revolt

College kid-slash-performance artist John Michael Colgin hopes to make a splash — one awkward moment at a time

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ABOUT FACES | John Michael Colgin goes from snobby private school gay-baiter to out-and-proud McDonald’s worker in his one-man show ‘Would You Like Guys With That?’ (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

For John Michael Colgin, homophobia is an easy term. Too easy. When people start using it as a label, Colgin sees it as losing its weight.

“It gets people off topic so easily,” he asserts. “That’s where the struggles begin.”

Colgin, just 22, is a ball of pent-up energy. He squirms in his chair trying to find that right comfort level and yet his enthusiasm when talking about his one-man show Would You Like Guys With That? keeps him on the edge of his seat. He punctuates his sentences with lively gestures and a multitude of facial expressions. He’s eccentric in personality, but passionate.

“The show is sometimes about transformation,” he says. “As a gay man, when you don’t have role models, the only thing you associate with ‘gay’ is what you’re shown. So from beginning to end in the show, the sexual identity thing is going on.”

In his piece, Colgin’s main character (himself, really) is a snobby kid, the product of private-schooling and a sense of entitlement; he becomes even more judgmental when he attends college in Stillwater, Okla. But then he goes to work at McDonald’s as a kind of social experiment, he begins to see the world anew: Just because he hates small-talk with his co-workers, he discovers that listening to different music doesn’t mean you’re not a human being.

“I did my research on people who seemed so different than me,” Colgin says. “After the first time I performed it, I learned that I could really reach people with my voice. Every thing is so authentically true in my head as in the show.”

He created the show while attending Oklahoma State, but had to convince the group there called SODA (Sexual Orientation Diversity Association) that he had a viable piece. In a shrewd move, he previewed what he said was a 70-minute show with a 10-minute micro-version. They were impressed, and he got a $500 grant.

Only he hadn’t actually created the remaining hour’s worth of material.  That’s when he got to writing.

Even now, he says, he doesn’t work from a fixed script, instead coming up with an outline and rehearsing it until the rhythm becomes second nature.

When he came home to Dallas, he had to start the process all over again.

“Going to theaters and spaces here, I was forced to convince people again that my work had value to it,” he says. “It was frustrating but part of my mission statement is to go to non-theater groups. My show doesn’t need perfection in lighting or stuff, it’s just about bringing the work to people who won’t get to see it.”

He performed Guys at Nouveau 47’s Theatre Appresh in November, a sort of guerrilla performance night. It got him some notice. One local critic called it “focused, fresh and engaging … with gritty humor, pathos and an honest, dark conviction fit to delight Lenny Bruce.” Someone from the Cathedral of Hope attended after reading Dallas Voice’s Instant Tea blog and liked it enough that Colgin was invited to perform there later this spring.

They were probably responding to the same charisma that makes Colgin a challenging interview. He bounces around so much — physically and narratively — that when he talks about coming out, it’s not always clear he’s talking about himself or his show … or whether there’s a difference. Maybe it doesn’t matter; for Colgin, performing is his reality.

“There is stuff that makes me ashamed and uncomfortable, but it’s worth telling onstage,” he says. “I learned the people who piss you off are usually the people who remind you about yourself. The self-realization is onstage.”

He even turns his breaks from the interview to do an impromptu segment from his play, he goes for it full-force. In a cramped office, as his character recounts the pleasure of sneaking a peek at his teacher’s breast (he hadn’t realized he was gay yet), Colgin simulates an orgasm.

“I’m freakin’ naked up there,” he exclaims. “I never felt more clear than right now.”

Still, Colgin’s performance isn’t just about coming out, but more a confession (he admits to being particularly hurtful to gay kids to mask his own feelings) and apology.

It’s about putting his young, confused life on display.

“You want other [gay] kids to see you can be happy,” he says. “I was ugly in the closet. I knew I was unbearable to some people. When I came out at 21, my writing started and now I can see the me I wanna be.”

Would You Like Guys with That? Davidson Auditorium — JSOM 1.118, 800 W. Campbell Road on the UTD Campus, Richardson. Jan 30. 5:30pm. Free. UTDallas.edu/womenscenter

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

—  Kevin Thomas

2 days in the Valley

… And a few in WeHo. Part 2 of our coast-to-coast travelogue. Now up: L.A.

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HOT IN THE CITY | The salsas at Light My Fire in the Farmers Market have provocative names like Anal Angst and Colon Cleanser, making them popular with a gay crowd. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

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

West Hollywood, The Castro, P’Town, Chelsea, Key West, South Beach: The names alone of these locales are synonymous with gay culture. But just as Dallas boasts two gayborhoods in Cedar Springs and Oak Cliff, so does Los Angeles claim two queer destinations. The Silver Lake district — east of WeHo and abutting the hills of the San Fernando Valley — is one of the most populous gay ZIP codes in America. And if you have a car, there’s no reason you can’t enjoy both on the same trip.

The car requirement isn’t merely a suggestion. L.A. has notoriously insufficient public transportation (watch Who Framed Roger Rabbit? for the backstory) and everything is pretty spread out — traffic is more congested than a kindergarten in January.

WeHo — centered mostly along a mile-long strip of Santa Monica Boulevard (the old Route 66) — deserves its reputation as queer central: Simply put, it is one of the gayest towns in America (its police cars are even decorated with rainbow colors). Crammed with shops, restaurants, gyms and clubs within two square miles, its population has remained fairly constant for 50 years (last census, about 34,000), but you could spend an entire day walking around without running out of things to do (while barely ever seeing a straight person).

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UNTIL THE SUN COMES UP OVER SANTA MONICA BOULEVARD | Well, actually it’s Wilshire. And the sun is setting. But L.A. is still a great place to visit, especially the gay enclaves of West Hollywood and Silver Lake. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

A big Starbucks (known as “the gay Starbucks”) has benches that look out on the strip for great people-watching opportunities. If you want more than coffee and a scone, though, Basix is an essential stop, with brunchy items available much of the day (try the delicious blackened ahi tacos).

For lunch (or dinner or even late-night bites), two unmissable eateries are right next to each other. Hamburger Haven is an institution a la Hunky’s: a burger joint with a devoted following. The buns are grilled on the classic “sassy cheeseburger,” and thick cut fries are must-haves; next door, Bossa Nova serves what it calls Brazilian cuisine, though its large portioned pasta dishes are the main staples with locals. Both are open well into the early morning hours, and for good reason: They are across the street from two popular gay clubs.

“Welcome to the fabulous Abbey, where the drinks are cheap and the boys are cheaper,” one local jokes. Now 20 years old, The Abbey truly is a legendary club.

Designed to conjure a cloisters, it attracts a wide range of types (including straight clubbers) caught up in its energy, shirtless bartenders and go-go boys and girls.

Next door, Here Lounge is a unique and fun spot, a sports bar where you don’t watch sports so much as fantasize about athletes. Even gay Angelenos marvel at their theme nights, like Hooker Casino on Saturdays and Stripper Circus on Wednesdays.

There are almost too many other clubs to count: Revolver, one of the oldest gay bars anywhere (it recently returned to its original name); Gym, a sports bar; Rage, where the young guys hang out; Trunks; and many more.

You can venture further out, though, and still have a great time. South of WeHo, The Grove and the abutting Farmers Market are great destinations, not only for shopping but for some history.

The Grove is a lovely, new, high-end outdoor shopping center (weekdays, Mario Lopez films exteriors for Extra here) with everything from Abercrombie & Fitch to Crate & Barrel. Next door, the Farmers Market — founded in 1934 — offers almost the opposite experience: Old-school charm. Stop by Loteria for some excellent tacos, or satisfy your craving for heat at Light My Fire, where hundreds of salsas (some with names like Colon Cleaner and Anal Angst) are for sale.

Into the Silver Lake area, a good pre-clubbing dinner stop is Malo along West Sunset Boulevard. For California Tex-Mex, it serves a super spicy house hot sauce with its chips (the sauce also accents the cheese chili rellenos), and the house infused tequilas are great. Try also the tres leches cake for dessert — one of the best anywhere.

Travel-3

ISLE OF PALMS | Even in winter, Los Angeles stays sunny most days, though at night you’ll want a jacket. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

When done there, haul over to The Eagle L.A., a predominant leather and Levi bar in town (emphasis on the word “dominant”). Skeevier than its Dallas counterpart but spacious and fun, it attracts an enthusiastic bearish clientele  (a surprisingly popular subculture in slick, Botox-happy L.A.). Incredibly crowded on big nights like Mr. Eagle, it’s a fun place even on an off-night with muscular, nearly naked bartenders. (In L.A., it’s legal for porn to play in bars, and while not all take advantage of that, The Eagle sure does.)
Faultline, not too far away, is a rougher leather bar, and the straight club Little Temple is a gay-friendly spot to see interesting live music.

You don’t need to get the totally “gay” experience to enjoy L.A., either. West of WeHo, Beverly Hills is the famous enclave of the wealthy, with pricey boutiques and lovely homes worth a drive. The city is also loaded with interesting architecture from the 1930 through the ‘50s, which you can enjoy in WeHo, Silver Lake or even the San Fernando Valley.

“The Valley” has a reputation as the pimply-faced stepbrother of central L.A., but there’s interest there, too … and even some celebrity sighting opportunities. Aroma Cafe in the Studio City area is a large, hipster-friendly outdoor bistro that’s ideal for hangover brunches, but just as good for a completely sober breakfast, especially for one of the huge omelets or an unusual but tasty version of chilaquiles. (It’s also across the street from the Italian restaurant where the murder Robert Blake was accused of took place.)

Tool around slowly in Studio City or Burbanks, and you can see some of the facilities where TV shows like Will & Grace were shot. You might even see some celebs walking around or getting their dry-cleaning. That’s Los Angeles for you.

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

—  Kevin Thomas

Teen-age dream

Imperial Teen sheds its skin (again) to reveal fresh genius on ‘Feel the Sound’

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IMPERIAL EFFORT | With two gay male members, Imperial Teen gets away with a lot of sassy lyrics without ghetto-izing itself as ‘queercore’ rock or Pride pop.

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

Spring comes early this year — at least it feels that way with Feel the Sound, the new CD from Imperial Teen. The disc dwells in a happy pop universe that is wonderfully tough to escape from. By the 11th track, Imperial Teen succeeds in conjuring up an aural place of magic that doesn’t skimp on deep lyrics.

Sound plays with the refreshing splash of a debut album, though it’s the band’s fifth. Optimism mixes with confidence and fun beats so brightly, it made me want to take the CD to everyone I knew to ask if they had heard of “this new band” … although the San Francisco quartet has been around for 15 years. But with each album, they seem to strip away a layer that brings up a newness that demands attention.

Imperial Teen’s 2007 album The Hair, The TV, The Baby and The Band had more hints of rocker attitude with a stronger emphasis on heavy guitars and acoustic ones amid a mod-pop landscape. Here, they haven’t lost their instrumentation, but the music shines without reliance on one over the other. They do love a stabbing beat, but the melodies rise up like a quilted blanket surrounding each member (all of whom sing vocals).

The opener “Runaway” plays like Mates of State with a rapid beat and falsetto-like harmonies. Nostalgia rings from the sound as if it might play over a Time/Life informercial for some ‘70s AM radio collection, but production is solid and it keeps a modern feel.

With two gay members (Roddy Bottum and Will Schwartz), there is a strong queer sensibility to the album without becoming distractingly Pride-crazy. Maybe it’s an unfair generalization, but really, who but a gay guy would write lyrics like Pumped up pecs and sticky skin / Floors unswept and walls are thin in the ridiculously enjoyable third track “Last to Know.”

Where the songs may sound simple and upbeat, the lyrics never falter in their hooks and every single track is a delightful listen. But the hand that feeds the bark / Affidavit after dark may not make sense in “Over His Head,” but they are interesting enough to keep you listening — that’s half the battle in any pop album.

For a band with strong alt-rock roots (Faith No More, The Dicks), Sound is a beautiful surprise. Their delivery goes from gentle in “All the Same” to sexy in “Out From Inside” surrounded by rich, up-tempo textures.

Imperial Teen somehow manages never to annoy, either. Usually, an album where song after song bleeds into each other seamlessly, the repetition can drown you. Here, the band tempers the breathing of its creation. Tracks ebb and flow with rapid-fire backdrops and easygoing grooves with variations on the same beat. They didn’t strive for the “album ballad” or “the dance song CD.” Rather, Feel the Sound succeeds magnificently as a strong idea that never veers from its intentions.

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

—  Kevin Thomas

COVER STORY: So big

Making a stage musical of ‘Giant,’ Edna Ferber’s iconic novel of Texas, has been a mammoth undertaking, but a powerhouse team resolved to bring this premiere to the Dallas Theater Center

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MAJOR PROPS | After almost five years, all the elements of the musical adaptation of ‘Giant’ have come together, from the final orchestrations of composer Michael John LaChiusa, pictured, to the massive set, dominated by a huge water tower. (Photos courtesy Karen Almond)

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

Let’s get this out of the way up-front: Giant is the gayest Hollywood film of all time.

No really, think about it: Rock Hudson, Sal Mineo and James Dean (all oiled up and rolling around), with Liz Taylor playing beard to all of them while Mercedes McCambridge lurks in the background? Gay, gay, gay, gay, gay. Why, it’s a wonder no one has made a musical about it already.

And now, they have. And you can thank the gays. Again.

“I never thought about that,” says Michael John LaChiusa, composer and moving force behind the new stage adaptation of Giant, which began previews at the Wyly Theatre this week. “There’s no getting around it. There were lots of butt shots in it. And they were damned sexy.”

Everyone can agree on that. Indeed, for Texans gay and straight, Giant — the film — has always been a unifying experience. Covering more than 30 years in the lives of old-school wildcatters, it has fame, fortune and failure; love, requited and un–; boom and bust; death and intrigue; big parties, sweeping landscapes and drunken oilmen.

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OUT OF HER COMFORT ZONE | Dee Hoty is playing the character least like herself in ‘Giant’ ... and she likes the challenge.

There’s even a gusher scene that forever created the myth of the “big strike.” That’s a lot to be proud of. Giant was Dallas before anyone heard of J.R. Ewing.
The movie, at least.

Today, the book doesn’t enjoy anything near the reputation of the film, even though author Edna Ferber was one of the most popular novelists of her day. Like Booth Tarkington and Pearl Buck, audiences and critics acclaimed Ferber’s work in the first half of the last century, but her works simply haven’t endured as literature. Though maybe they should have.

“I intentionally did not read the book [before seeing a reading of Giant] so I could go in without any preconceived notions,” says Michael Greif, the Tony-nominated director helming the massive new production. “After that, and the real excitement about moving forward with the show, I finally read the novel. It was an unbelievable treat — just a great read.”

In fact, in adapting the story to the stage, LaChiusa and librettist Sybille Pearson made the decision to follow the book, not the movie. That’s a daring move for a million-dollar-plus musical set to make its official world premiere in Texas.

“It’s a remarkable book that captures the beauty and sometimes cruelty of this great state,” says LaChiusa about that decision. “It spoke to me — the story of a marriage over the course of 25 years, and the oil [culture] and Mexican immigrants and who owned the land. I realize the iconic nature of the movie, but if people are gonna come to see the show and expect 10,000 heads of cattle [onstage], they aren’t gonna get that.”

Which itself raised an issue: How do you take a book (or a movie) with a name like Giant, renowned for its scope and ambition, and put it within the confines of a stage?

Certainly its length — at least initially — echoed its title. When LaChiusa first accepted the commission more than three years ago, the production originally mounted in Northern Virginia clocked in at close to five hours — even Hamlet has more down time.

“We’ve shortened it vastly,” LaChiusa says. “When I first dove into it, we went in without any restrictions. After that, we thought we wanted it to have a future life — a four-and-a-half hour musical with two intermissions appeals only to a certain audience who have time to invest in that.”

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TWO GENERATIONS | ‘Giant’ is so sweeping, Dallas native Miguel Cervantes plays two characters — a man and his own son — in the musical. (Photo courtesy Karen Almond)

It now runs closer to three hours (a 90-minute first act and 75-minute second act, plus just one 20-minute intermission), but LaChiusa doesn’t think it has suffered any loss.

Rather, he says it has been streamlined in terms of story and music. “It still maintains its epic nature and the sprawl is still intact,” he promises.

For actor Miguel Cervantes, in fact — who plays Angel (the Sal Mineo role for the film) and his father — the changes over the course of the nearly five years he has been associated with Giant have felt organic.

“Five or ten of us have been with it from the beginning and we just look at each other thinking, ‘Wow, it’s incredible how this thing has changed,’” he says.  “But I have the same lines basically since the beginning — well, there was another verse in some of the songs but my arc has stayed pretty much the same.”

Cervantes, a Dallas native who has worked in New York for about a decade, was not familiar at all with Giant — the book or the film — until the first audition for a workshop of Giant before it opened in Virginia (he was not in that actual production due to another commitment). It wasn’t until last week, however, that he’s heard the music with full orchestra, which will no doubt really impact his perception.

“Michael John has always talked about what an enormous part the music has to play,” Cervantes says. “You can’t put this huge sweeping land onstage so you have to do it through the music, and I’ve never really heard it! I can only imagine how it’s gonna change then.”

That’s one thing everyone seems to be in agreement on.

“The difference between a stage musical and a movie is that in theater, the [movie] close up is the song,” LaChiusa says. “The song provides the internal life of what the characters are expressing.”

In the case of Giant, though, it has to convey the vastness of Texas itself as well.

“Through the score, I can evoke that sky and the plains as well as the internal life of those people,” LaChiusa says.

“I think the grandeur is taken care of a lot by the incredible score,” adds Greif. He knows something about incredible scores: He directed the original Broadway productions of Rent and Next to Normal. LaChiusa “has written a spectacularly epic score that is about enormous emotions and expressions. It really takes care of that.”

As a director, it was when Greif started working with the designers that he knew he’d need to bring sweep as well. A huge water tower makes up a major set piece, and backdrops convey the breadth of the land. But ultimately, it’s the music that sells it.

“As an audience, we understand the epic nature and the importance of the land not from a visual depiction of it but through the characters’ perspective: The size of that struggle and the size is appropriate to that epic scale. This really feels like a great classic American musical — it really is in that canon,” says Greif.

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THE ORIGINAL J.R. EWING? | Broadway veteran Aaron Lazar plays Bick, a budding land baron and oil tycoon, in DTC’s ‘Giant’ musical, which is in previews until its world premiere official opening Jan. 27. (Photos courtesy Karen Almond)

But will Dallas audiences be convinced about the story’s essential Texas character? It’s a concern for many involved.

“I’ve always known we were coming here to open this,” says Aaron Lazar, a Broadway veteran who plays Bick (the Rock Hudson role). “When I did Light in the Piazza, I knew that if Italians come and see the show and don’t think I am Italian I’m not doing my job. So there was certainly an awareness on my part that we step it up and tell this amazing Texas story.”

Although they only got to town after the new year, Lazar says many of the cast have already sought out “a real Texas experience while we’re here.”

It’s the music, though, upon which the success of the show will likely hinge.

“Michael John is a genius and I don’t throw that word around lightly,” says Lazar. “There are very few people who can do what he does and this score is one of his absolute best. I’m so excited for him.”

LaChiusa himself is understandably more trepidatious.

“I can definitely say I’m nervous because it is such a story Texans take to heart. And I’m prepared to face that trial by fire from audience and the likes of you,” he jokes.
Still, he’s had plenty of time to prepare over these many years. But significantly, it all comes down to opening night.

The Giant Dallas audiences will see is very different from the one that started three years ago, but also different from what it was just three months ago. The process of mounting a show always poses its own challenges.

“Because we have actors and staging, those are all creative people who add their own element to the stew,” LaChiusa says. “If you can tell something with a gesture or bit of lighting, we can take away [a line or a lyric] or change the key to fit an actor’s voice better. You tailor the show for those things.”

Especially when you have actors of the caliber of Dee Hoty, a three-time Tony Award nominee at home in the American Southwest: She originated Betty Blake in The Will Rogers Follies and had the lead in the ill-received The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public. She was especially aware that Texas audiences would be looking for authenticity.

“Because of this iconic movie, I wanted to look at [Giant] but didn’t want to look at it too soon. The first thing I did was read the book, which was pretty spectacular. I got a sense for how huge it all really was. My character [played by Mercedes McCambridge in the film] is kind of an enigma: She’s the boss, but she’s not. She’s older and a maternal figure, but not [Bick’s] mother. It’s probably the most different role I’ve ever played from me — she is so contained. I am not in my comfort zone for this one,” she says.

Time for worrying is pretty much over now. After about a week of previews, the official opening night is Jan. 27, and everyone will see how the years of work have paid off, and if the scrappy Wyly Theatre can convey the hugeness of Giant. But LaChiusa is sure of at least one thing that will leave bigger than it started: Him.

“You have such good barbecue here,” he says. “I’m gonna gain like 10 pounds.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 20, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas