COVER STORY: On the fringe

WaterTower’s Out of the Loop Fringe Festival gets very gay

Dark-Play

STALKER TWINKS | ‘Dark Play or Stories for Boys,’ pictured, looks at online relationships with an eerie, gay twist.

Fringe theater festivals always push boundaries — that’s kind of the point — which often entails racy, “alternative” material … and that frequently touches on queer content.
We’re used to finding some gay-interest shows at WaterTower Theatre’s Out of the Loop Fringe Festival, but this year is something else — of the 22 artists and companies performing at the fest, more than one-third are members of or tied to the LGBT community. That’s a lotta gay in a short time frame.

And there is of course more than just gay content — dance and music and just entertaining performances from the likes of spotlight selection Charles Ross, whose one-man show encapsulates the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy in about an hour. (He previously did Star Wars in its entirety at OOTL.)

But here are the artists who will bring a little bit of gay to Addison next week and for 10 more days of theater after. There’s certainly something you’ll wanna see there.

Contributing writers: Arnold Wayne Jones, Steven Lindsey, Rich Lopez, Mark Lowry, Jef Tingley.

Highlights2-billbowers
One Man Lord of the Rings, March 1–4. $15.
• Amy Stevenson cabaret in the lobby, March 2 and 10. Free.
Sweet Eros, March 1, 3, 7 and 9.
Dark Play or Stories for Boys, March 2, 3, 4 and 10.
A Most Happy Stella, March 3, 7 and 11.
Strange Dreamz, March 3, 6 and 10.
Waking Up, March 3, 6, 8, 10 and 11.
The Screw You Revue, March 9 and 10.
Bill Bowers: Beyond Words, pictured left, March 9, 10 and 11 (movement workshop March 10).
WaterTower Theatre’s Out of the Loop Fringe Festival, Addison Theatre Centre, 15650 Addison Circle. March 1–11. All single tickets $10, except as indicated. Festival wide pass available. Visit WaterTowerTheatre.org for a complete schedule of events.

Sweet Eros

Interview with director Adam Adolfo
What’s gay about it: Everything. It was written by Terrence McNally “and provides people the opportunity to re-explore [his] work as contemporary dramatist,” Adolfo says. It’s produced by QLive!, the stage arm of Q Cinema. Sweet Eros is one of the featured presentations at OOTL.

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EROS-ION | Q Live!, the stage arm of Fort Worth’s Q Cinema film fest, makes its OOTL debut with ‘Sweet Eros,’ pictured at left; gay playwright David Parr, below, offers the Texas premiere of his comedy ‘The Most Happy Stella,’ a play on the title of the musical ‘The Most Happy Fella.’

How gay audiences can relate: “Sweet Eros is a slightly subversive play in the idea that it’s about a man who feels on the outside of society,” explains Adolfo. “He struggles with his demons to define a sense of place and hope for himself, [which] leads him to a self-awareness that is both revelatory and terrifying. We liken his struggle to what many gay men experience in their own coming-out process.

“Unlike most men, though, our hero takes a very dark, frequently erotic and unsettling journey to self-discovery, forcing us to question his choices and sense of self. I’ll say this for our hero: His sense of sexual virility and his heightened attention to fine detail makes him a very alluring aggressor and his predatory skill is both sensual and sadistic. He is a very complex young man. But then again, aren’t we all?”

Adolfo’s relationship to the Q folks goes back several years, after he cast founders Kyle Trentham and Todd Camp as a bumbling pair of soldiers in his production of Much Ado About Nothing. “Before that I had worked with Kyle as an actor, directing him as Bottom in my staging of Midsummer Nights Dream. That production hit upon gay marriage equality and coming-out issues in a very subtle way, and was my introduction to Kyle. The guys are just phenomenal to work with and when they started up QLive!, I was very glad to be a part of their inaugural reading of Spring Awakening, the play that inspired the hit Broadway show.”

Why Out of the Loop?: “This is my first time to be a part of the festival. I’ve come in years past and fallen in love with shows and companies whose work I had not been exposed to and being able to access it so freely,” says Adolfo. “It’s a cornucopia of talent, skill and artistry.”
Performances: March 1 and 7 at 7:30 p.m., March 3 at 5 p.m. and March 9 at 8 p.m.

Dark Play, or Stories for Boys

Interview with actors Adam Garst and Jacob Aaron Cullum

Cast and story: The five-person cast is headlined by Adam Garst and Jacob Aaron Cullum playing, respectively, a teenager who stalks other teens online, and his victim. The show features costumes by rising local star Justin Locklear.

Background: This is the first production by Outcry Theatre, another area theater founded by students of Waco’s Baylor University (others include Second Thought Theatre and Rite of Passage Theatre Company). In this case, Becca Johnson-Spinos, who directs Dark Play, received her master’s in directing at Baylor, worked in North Carolina and then moved to Dallas with her husband. Fort Worth’s Amphibian Stage Productions gave this play its area premiere in 2008, but it was written several years before that. It uses AOL instant messaging and chat rooms as its means of cyber-bullying, which already feels dated in a world run by Facebook and Twitter.

Gay cred: Clearly, the storyline, though Garst played the gay character Moritz in WaterTower Theatre’s Spring Awakening.

Garst’s view of his stalker character: “When I first read it, it seemed like Nick was extremely mean. But it’s been interesting making him a real person. Like everyone else, he’s desperate for something in the world. The thing he thinks he didn’t need was love.”

Cullum’s view: “It’s neat to play a character who is so naïve and gullible that he’s easily fooled by this character because he wants to fall in love. Behaviorally, he’s very similar to me.”

Performances: March 2 and 10 at 8 p.m., March 3 at 2 p.m., March 4 at 5 p.m.

A Most Happy Stella

Interview with playwright David Parr

What to expect: We could tell you about David Parr’s play A Most Happy Stella. But then he might shoot us.
“I want the audience to know as little as possible going in,” he says. “It’s become a gayer and gayer show as we worked on it and I didn’t realize how many elements were in it altogether. A gay audience will appreciate them and would help the show.”

Stella is made of six vignettes that riff on popular theater works mixed with camp and layered with a sophisticated jazz soundtrack. Parr’s not going for satire, he says — he really just has one intention: “To celebrate all these plays and theater in general,” he says.

Queerspiration: With His Girl Tuesday, Porn Yesterday, Long Gay’s Journey into Night, Alas Poor Yorick and the title piece, the inspirations for each scene is obvious — as is the queer appeal, whether comic or more serious.

“The gay theme [in Yorick] surrounds a bullied student who befriends a girl on the bus,” Parr explains. “The bullying issue wasn’t what I set out to do, but I felt that outsider element the character does and befriended this girl who’s been a good friend ever since.”

He amps up the queer content by turning the finale into a mini-musical version of A Streetcar Named Desire. With a complete emasculation of Stanley, the show turns the famous “Stella” yell into a chorus and flips the perspective around on the characters.

“That show is over the top anyway, but also a really disturbing play,” he says. “And Tennessee Williams’ writing style lends itself to music. The elements just needed a little tweaking to verge into camp territory. It’s kinda like standing on a ledge — we don’t wanna fall all the way off — that disrespects the original work.”

Living on the fringe: Parr thrives on creating works with a fringe element, as he did in his first success, Slap & Tickle, about a group of men coming out in a post-AIDS time and the tapestry of relationships they are involved in. Parr, though, is maintaining his focus on Stella, because he will just be seeing it all put together when he finally comes to Dallas from New York a week before the festival.

“I feel pretty good right now and the tone of it is playing how I want it to,” he says. “But then, we haven’t done our tech yet!”

Performances: March 3 at 2 p.m., March 7 at 7:30 p.m. and March 11 at 5 p.m.

Strange Dreamz

Interview with performer Kevin J. Thornton

Try to decide what to call Kevin J. Thornton, and you’ll probably come up as empty as Thornton himself. He writes, tells jokes, sings songs, performs scenes from his life … he might even bus your table if you asked nicely. So it is with his world premiere show, Strange Dreamz: It’s a little bit of everything.

Kevin-J.-Thornton-in-Strange-Dreamz

‘VULGARITY WITH A CHRISTIAN EDGE’ | For his world premiere show, Kevin J. Thornton recounts coming out to his fundamentalist family.

“I’m trying to blur the line between this show and my Podcast, which is also called Strange Dreamz. I say it’s about ‘love, sex and the meaning of life.’ But I also call it ‘dick jokes that are good for the soul’ and ‘an hour of vulgarity with a Christian edge.’ I’m truly a variety act — I guess the closest you could say is, I’m like a male Sandra Bernhardt.”

Thornton grew up in a deeply fundamentalist Christian household, so his journey to out atheist has been a long and difficult one, but all the more material to fuel his comic rants.

“If you read it on paper, my stuff may seem pretty filthy. But I have this boy-next-door charm that keeps people in their seats,” he admits.

That quality probably also landed him a job posing nude once for Unzipped, the gay porn magazine. So what was more difficult to expose: His body or his painful upbringing?

“Of course it’s taking off my clothes!” he says without missing a beat. “I’m very vain and have a small penis. Getting onstage and spilling my guts is a piece of cake to me now. The closer I get to embarrassing myself, the better the material is. It seems to resonate with people.”

Performances: March 3 at 5 p.m., March 6 at 7:30 p.m. and March 10 at 2 p.m.

Waking Up

Interview with playwright Kelsey Ervi

Only 22, Ervi’s play Waking Up will be the first of her works actually produced for the stage.

What’s gay about your play: “When I was writing this, I wanted to make sure to create a broad spectrum of characters. It’s important to me as a playwright and a lesbian to have gay characters, so we have a scene with two men in their struggling relationship and then two women who are physically and emotionally into each other, but it’s something they’re uncovering about themselves.

“I knew it would be a good fit into this festival. The show is neither a comedy nor drama, but, um … quirky is a good word. It has many different themes and storylines in small vignettes. The play revolves around 11 characters total and it’s all set in a bedroom. We set it in realism to look at things people wake up to, wake up for or don’t wake up at all. I think it can touch audiences in a different way.”

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Kelsey Ervi

Past gay cred? “I was accepted for GLAAD’s annual OUTAuction last November. I had a photograph accepted and was named one of the top five emerging artists in my medium. I was so happy to be a part of that. And I had a directing internship with ShakespeareDallas last fall under Rene Moreno working on Hamlet. That really pushed me to move to Dallas and I’ll be working with [the company] again this summer for Twelfth Night. I knew I didn’t want to wait in Waco any longer.”

One last note: “I wrote Waking Up after an intimate experience with a girl in college. She was an inbetweener. But I want the audience to be reminded how emotions can be scary but great. Besides, it’s short (30 minutes) and sweet. It’s something different ages can enjoy, especially young people.”

Performances: March 3 at 8 p.m., March 6 and 8 at 7:30 p.m., March 10 and 11 at 2 p.m.

The Screw You Revue

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McGeoch and Chaffee perform the sassy standup of ‘The Screw Your Revue;’

Interview with Douglas McGeoch, aka Miss Didi Panache
Imagine a Sonny and Cher-style duo with the in-your-face satire of Lisa Lampanelli and you have The Screw You Revue. Real-life partners Dewey Chaffee and Douglas McGeoch star as Wayburn Sassy (Chaffee), a bigoted curmudgeon who calls it as he sees it, and Miss Didi Panche, his lovely songbird accomplice, in this gay cabaret of hiss-and-tell humor.

Standup origins: The show began out of Chaffee’s standup comedy routine with a biological girl originally playing the role of Didi. Chaffee later convinced McGeoch to step into the heels and “now, he can’t tear the sequins from my back or the lashes from my eyes,” says McGeoch. For its Texas premiere, they will be adding three things. “One, lots of local Dallas flair and commentary on the city. Two, multiple digs at Texas’ Most Honorable Governor, Rick Perry. And the third addition will be … um … let me check my notes … I forgot. Oops!”

Fair warning: For those easily offended, best to stay at home. This audience-interaction experience does not discriminate. During one of their most memorable shows, Wayburn encountered a quadriplegic in the front row. Ignoring typical social norms he approached the gentleman and said, “All right, someone needs attention. I’ll bite. What the hell happened to you?” The audience went silent. The gentleman responded by saying that at the age of 12 he dove into a pool and broke his neck. Without missing a beat Wayburn replied, “So you’re not only a cripple, you’re an idiot, too.”
According to McGeoch, the gentleman and his party roared with laughter.

Performances: March 9 and 10, 10 p.m.

Beyond Words

Interview with mime Bill Bowers

Cast: Just Bowers, a professional mime who uses stories from his life growing up as a gay kid in Montana, then deciding to become a mime. Beyond Words is a personal story culled from Bowers’ own life, with narration and movement telling the story. It played last fall off-Broadway.

Ooh, daddy: Whether he considers himself one or not, Bowers is a daddy — for real! He recently donated his sperm to a lesbian couple and became a biological father to their child. Both Bowers and his partner will have active roles in the son’s life.

On how becoming a father affected his art: “We’re not the official parents, they’re raising him. But we’re a big part of his life and I see him regularly. It’s something I never imagined I would do, but they asked, and I became a father. So that is a huge part of this piece.”

On becoming a mime: “I was surrounded by silence when growing up,” Bowers says. “There was the silence of Montana, but although I was in a big family, I didn’t talk much. And then the silence of being a gay kid, there was no conversation about that when I was little. When I got into high school and realized there was an art form about not talking, it just came to me. I started teaching myself what I thought mime was.”

For those who wanna be mimes: In addition to his show, Bowers will also lead a movement workshop on March 10 at 10 a.m.

Performances: March 9 at 8 p.m., March 10 at 5 p.m. and March 11 at 2 p.m.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 24, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

The Oscar race!

Need a jump on the office pool? We handicap the year’s likely nominees

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GAY FOR PLAY | Christopher Plummer (center), as a man who come out in his 70s, is a sure-bet for a best supporting actor Oscar nomination Tuesday.

The Academy Awards will announce their nominations on Tuesday morning … and I’ll be there. Yep, after years of writing about the Oscars, I’ll finally attend them (in part) while watching from the Academy auditorium as this year’s crop will be winnowed down to five (and for best picture, perhaps more) in each category.

And while some seem to be sure things, in some ways it’s a wide-open year. No one film, or even two or three, seem likely to dominate, the way last year’s The King’s Speech, The Social Network and True Grit did, or how Avatar and The Hurt Locker looked to dominate in 2009… and did.

Will The Help manage multiple acting nominees in addition to best picture and even director? Will the excellent Girl with the Dragon Tattoo surge near the end and get more than its lukewarm reception so far would indicate? Could Ghost Protocol actually surprise people? (The last seems unlikely, except in craft categories.)

There are some promising gay-interest nominees in addition to Tattoo: Shame, J. Edgar, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Beginners (Christopher Plummer seems a lock to win), even My Week with Marilyn.

Here then are my predictions in the major categories (listed roughly in their likelihood of being among the nominees).

And look on Instant Tea Tuesday or follow me on Twitter @ CriticalMassTX, where I’ll live tweet the experience at the Academy.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Picture (up to 10 nominees this year): The Artist; Hugo; The Descendants; The Help; Moneyball; Midnight in Paris; The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; The Tree of Life; War Horse; Shame; Drive.

Director: Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist; Martin Scorsese, Hugo; Alexander Payne, The Descendants; Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life; Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris; David Fincher, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; Steve McQueen, Shame; Steven Spielberg, War Horse.

Actor: George Clooney, The Descendants; Jean Dujardin, The Artist; Brad Pitt, Moneyball; Michael Fassbender, Shame; Leonard DiCaprio, J. Edgar; Michael Shannon, Take Shelter; Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

Actress: Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady; Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs; Viola Davis, The Help; Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn; Tilda Swinton, We Need to Talk About Kevin; Charlize Theron, Young Adult.

Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer, Beginners; Albert Brooks, Drive; Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn; Armie Hammer, J. Edgar; Andy Serkis, Rise of the Planet of the Apes; Jonah Hill, Moneyball; Viggo Mortensen, A Dangerous Method; Patton Oswald, Young Adult; Jim Broadbent, The Iron Lady.

Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer, The Help; Berenice Bejo, The Artist; Carey Mulligan, Shame; Shailene Woodley, The Descendants; Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs; Judi Dench, My Week with Marilyn; Jessica Chastain, The Help; Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids.

……………………..

ONLINE EXCLUSIVE:

Read Chris Azzopardi’s exclusive interview with likely Oscar nominee (and this week’s Golden Globe winner) Meryl Streep at DallasVoice.com/category/Screen, and read Instant Tea Tuesday morning as Arnold Wayne Jones live blogs about the nominations from Hollywood.

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

—  Kevin Thomas

2011 Year in Review: Books

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THANK EWE FOR BEING CATHERINE FRIEND | In ‘Sheepish,’ an urbanite lesbian becomes an unwilling shepherdess at the behest of her partner, making for a charming memoir of rural life.

So the year has wound down and you’re ready to grab a hot cuppa and curl up somewhere with your Snuggie and a book. Or you’re heading to the beach and can’t stand to go empty-handed. Whatever your destination, you can’t go wrong if you take these books with you — for our money, the best gay-interest reads of 2011.

it's-all-relativeNow that the holidays are over and you can look back with a grin (or a growl), you can also safely read It’s All Relative by Wade Rouse. This funny, sad, makes-you-cry book is about holidays: Those you spend alone, those you wish you’d spent alone, and those you’d never in a million years be caught dead spending alone. I loved this book for its humor but the best part is that love — between parent and child, friends or partners — shines through every laugh.

Even though “Don’t ask, don’t tell” is history, this book can’t be dismissed like gay soldiers once were: The Last Deployment by Bronson Lemer, a funny, wry, all-around great story of one gay man’s reluctant service in the North Dakota National Guard.

Lemer signed up for the education benefits and never thought he’d serve overseas — but overseas he went, and not just once. While he was a soldier, he listened to buddies tease and talk trash about gay men but Lemer never came out to fellow soldiers, friends, or family… until this book hit stands. Even though you can now be loud and proud in uniform, it’s definitely worth reading.

If a weekend in the country sounds good to you about now, first read the memoir Sheepish by Catherine Friend. Friend’s partner, Melissa, always wanted to be a farmer. Friend grew up in the city, but she compromised … and hated it. But who can resist a sweet lamb?  Who doesn’t love baby animals?

Then again, who could foresee the backbreaking work and heartbreaking loss that comes from falling in love with a farmer and her flock?  Not you, so if you love a good yarn, you’ll want this book ba-a-a-a-d.

And if you’re looking forward to some sun, sand, and pampering this year, then you’ll want to take Concierge Confidential by Michael Fazio (with Michael Malice) along. This memoir is an intimate look at what goes on at those high-priced hotels and how the concierges will do anything to make their clients happy. I loved the gossipiness of this book, mostly because it packs sneaky-peeks but lacks snark.

Emily-&-EinsteinDo. Not. Miss. Emily and Einstein by Linda Francis Lee. It’s the story of a spoiled man who is killed on his way to tell his wife that he wants a divorce. When a scruffy angel greets him, he begs for another chance and is given it, though he’s warned that he won’t like what’s about to happen. This is a charmer, a book for dog lovers and anybody who wants a book that will make them say “Awwwww” when the last page is turned.

That’s our top 5, but these bonus books deserve a mention, too:

Beautiful Unbroke by Mary Jane Nealon is the true story of a nurse who spends her life running away from the one thing she always wanted to do, until she finds the very patients who heal the healer. Also, don’t miss The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstein, a fantasy set in a magical circus where love, distaste and danger are on the same merry-go-round.

There you are, a passel of pages you simply can’t miss, for your vacation, your evening alone, your weekend away — or just because you love a good book.

— Terri Schlichenmeyer

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 30, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas