Fops & freaks

‘The Temperamentals’ makes Hay of gay Pride; ‘Earnest’ errs with irony

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

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MAKING HAY | Gay rights pioneer Harry Hay (Gregory Lush, left) embraces his inner diva to the dismay of his lover Rudy (Montgomery Sutton) in Uptown’s thoughtful ‘Temperamentals.’ (Photo by Mike Morgan)

“Temperamental” was a code name in the 1940s and ‘50s for a gay man, like “friend of Dorothy” or “confirmed bachelor.” It was a way for one gay man to know he was talking to another outside a bar, and without wearing a green carnation as in Oscar Wilde’s day. The way American soldiers until recently lived in fear of being outed under “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the entirety of the gay community lived in the post-War period.

That is, until Harry Hay came along. Hay started The Mattachine Society, the first gay rights group, two decades before anyone had heard of the Stonewall Riots. He took the bold step of signing his name to his founding principles, coming out, albeit in a limited media environment, at a time when being labeled as gay was career suicide, no matter what your profession.

He may, however, be the gay hero you’d never heard of. The Mattachine Society eventually failed, a noble first volley in a war that has not yet been won. But it and Hay deserve a lot of credit they too often don’t get; like Niccolo Tesla, they were upstaged by the Edison-like sparkle of Pride marches, Harvey Milk and the rainbow flag.

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With The Temperamentals, about Hay’s triumphant effort (now at the Kalita courtesy Uptown Players) Jon Marans has masterfully crafted a work with a highly cinematic flavor. Scenes jump about quickly, like fast-cut editing, taking us from the bedroom of Hay (Gregory Lush) and his lover, fashion designer Rudy Gernreich (Montgomery Sutton) to the soundstages of Hollywood where closeted director (and Judy Garland spouse) Vincente Minnelli (Paul J. Williams) lends his checkbook but not his name to the cause.

But Marans’ real victory is in capturing the textures of gay life 60 years ago with a subtle, almost literary flair. You feel the prickly hesitation when a gay man asks for Rudy’s last name, and the self-hating aversion to seeming “too femme.” There’s a conspiratorial aura that feels absolutely authentic: Hay and his compatriots were conspirators, lurking in the shadows because that’s where society insisted they reside. The bravery it took to turn on the light astonishes you even today.

Director Bruce C. Coleman and multimedia designer Chris Robinson convey the cinematic quality with minimal sets and extensive use of video components both to place us in a host of settings and suggest their nature (a seedy urinal speaks volumes), as well as provide historic context with vintage photographs, although that can get heavy handed, especially a montage at the end which, while gratifying, goes on too long. (Coleman seems devoted to the notion, why suggest something when you can spell it out in capital letters.) Still, the abstractness of the production gives it an airy, timeless sensibility.

The cast is solid — Williams, Kevin Moore and Daylen Walton all succeed in multiple roles — with Lush holding the center steady as he escorts us through the halls of gay history.

If it sounds as though The Temperamentals is more educational than entertaining, that’s unfortunate; it is both. If you want to feel a real sense of gay Pride, watch how a few men paved the way.

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Nobody captured the grandeur and foolishness of society as pungently and affectionately as Oscar Wilde. He was a living paradox, someone who turned a satiric eye on the superficiality of the upper classes, yet passionately and unapologetically loved everything about them. “How useless are people who have no actual jobs!” he seemed to say. “Why can’t I be one?”

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WILDE TIME | WingSpan’s production of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ aims for irony. (Photo by Lowell Sargeant)

The apotheosis of his social manifesto is The Importance of Being Earnest, a comedy of manners so sharply wrought that more than a century later, it seems as fresh and witty as a Jon Stewart bit. The script overflows with wordplay and repartee as Ernest Worthing (Andrew Milbourn) confides in his chum Algernon (C. Ryan Glenn) that although he intends to marry Algy’s cousin Gwendolen (Lisa Schreiner), with the approval of her abrasive mother, Lady Bracknell (Nancy Sherrard), his name is not, in fact, Ernest but Jack. This seemingly minor fib sets off a cascade of adventure and verbal slapsticks involving mistaken identity, money, sex and … well, just about everything. It’s a great play.

But WingSpan Theatre Company’s production, now at the Bath House Cultural Center, is not a great version. The dialogue is intact, and two performances in particular (the lovely Schreiner and Jessica Renee Russell as the comely young Cecily) capture the capricious, exuberant drama of silly people involved in silly behavior with very serious consequences perfectly; by the time Act 3 arrives, they are at full comic gallop, and the men eventually almost catch up with them.

Alas, that’s almost too late. The first act is saddled with an ugly set that lacks the requisite glamour of the era, and heavy, ill-fitting costumes that look like someone pulled them off the windows at the Von Trapp household, added a clunky bodice and washed their hands of further responsibility.

Another drawback is Sherrard’s interpretation of Lady Bracknell. The character, one of the funniest in all literature, is an imperious matriarch whose institutional arrogance rivals the monarchy itself. She cannot conceive that she is ever wrong — even when one of her beliefs directly contradicts another belief — because to acknowledge a mistake would be to undermine the social hierarchy.

But Sherrard plays her not as an aloof, self-justifying matron but as a sarcastic social climber. Seeing the first smirking roll of her eyes hits you like a 2×4 to the noggin: Is Lady Bracknell being… ironic? It hardly seems possible — she is a woman entirely bereft of irony. It’s as if she’s been modernized and lost her way entirely.

Still, there’s the music that is Wilde’s gift for the bon mot. There would never have been a Frasier without an Earnest, so if you’ve never seen a production before … well, even mediocre Wilde is better than none at all.

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

—  Kevin Thomas

Scenes from Tarrant Gay Pride on Oct. 1

Photos by Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice

—  John Wright

DRAG you

Comedian/drag queen P.T. may look like Wendy Williams, but his message to queer youth is no gimmick

Drag-You
HOW YOU DOIN’? | P.T.’s spot-on impersonation of talk show host Wendy Williams got producers’ attention and could be a step toward the comedian’s dreams.

 

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

Dallas drag queen P.T. has his sights set on one thing: The Wendy Williams Show. He has a good reason: His spot-on take on the talk show celeb was so successful, Williams’ own TV show took notice, asking him to produce a video of his work as her doing celebrity news. Now, he’s vying to be the first female impersonator on her show.

“That is my goal,” he says. “She’s had gay people on her show, but no drag.

I would love to be the first to sit with her for ‘Hot Topics.’”

P.T. just turned 50, but that doesn’t hold him back from big ambitions.

He’s worked the talk show circuit before, appearing on Maury Povich. His video made it to Williams’ producers, though was not selected. Still, he hopes to use this exposure as a springboard to get his message out.

“I’d love to do radio one day and report celebrity news,” he says. “I could still do it here in Dallas, but if the money and time are right, I’d move as well. I’d love to, even.”

People can see P.T. in action Thursday and Sunday nights at Havana. He’s been the headlining entertainment there for seven years with his sass intact. He threatens to read a queen if they get out of line during his show, but mostly, his act is sort of the Oprah of drag: When people walk out that door, he wants them to feel better inside and leave a bit more educated.

“My job is not to put someone down, but to make them feel good,” he says.

“I use my comedy for that as well as to encourage people to do unto others. I believe in that. And I will try to teach where I can. Every chance I get. So many younger folks just don’t know what gay Pride is about.”

If P.T. has one thing to say, it’s to know your history. And when it comes to Pride, he finds that much is getting lost as younger generations develop into the community. He won’t separate gay Pride from black Pride — which kicks off this weekend in Dallas — because to him it’s all the same: A struggle to be better.

“To see where we come from is to see how our rights developed,” he says.

“Kids don’t know where this Pride came from. Just because we have parties and parades, there’s a reason why I can be a drag queen or why [same-sex couples] can hold hands in public. There’s something to be grateful for.”

He knows Pride will always have the parties to go with it, but the spectacle of celebration, in his eyes, can’t overshadow the mere reason for Pride.

There’s history there, and P.T. wants to talk about it.

“I think it’s sad that some don’t know what Stonewall is,” he bemoans.

“When I went to New York, the first place I wanted to go was the Stonewall Inn — I needed to see that for myself. You only get what you fight for and you only fight for what you know about. We’re all in it for the same thing and we know it’s not gonna come to us easily.”

P.T. expounds on the history of black Pride in Dallas, crediting Ray Dyer as starting the celebration at the old club The Metro, now Club Elm and Pearl Street. This is also where the then-Lady P.T. started his work in Dallas, coming from Austin.

Initially, The Metro wasn’t a hotspot for drag, so he performed more as a host and entertainer, starting in 1994. That changed as Dyer saw the importance of it as well as the revenue it could bring. Lady P.T. was back on track, but it wasn’t until 2001 that he officially incorporated stand-up into his act — in and out of drag. He put in time at the Improv to hone his new skill, but it was also a sort of therapy.

“I had a tragic incident that made me look at life different,” he admits.

He doesn’t go into details over what changed his life so much. But that incident redefined his outlook on life. For P.T., he knows tomorrow doesn’t show up for everyone.

“If I did not have that wake up call, I wouldn’t be reaching for myself,” he says. “I see some gray hairs but life doesn’t feel different. This is the only time I get to do what I wanna do.”

He’s living proof of that. Fifty is a milestone birthday, but P.T. proves that no age is too old to still aim high. Only now, he has the wisdom to be patient.

“It took me about four years trying to get Wendy’s attention and she finally acknowledged me,” he says. “That told me not to give up.  Everybody deserves a chance.”

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

—  Kevin Thomas

Caraway, Davis absent from gay Pride

Eleven of 15 councilmembers appeared on the city float.

Dallas City Councilmembers Carolyn Davis and Dwaine Caraway were absent from Sunday’s Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade, despite having RSVP’d affirmatively for the gay Pride celebration.

Eleven of 15 councilmembers, including Mayor Mike Rawlings, rode in the parade, sources at City Hall confirmed this week.

“He enjoyed it and looks forward to next year,” said Paula Blackmon, chief of staff for Rawlings, who became the third mayor in Dallas history to ride in the parade.

Councilmembers Sandy Greyson and Vonciel Jones Hill were the only two who indicated in advance they wouldn’t make the parade — Hill due to religious objections and Greyson because of a scheduling conflict.

—  John Wright

PHOTOS: Winning entries from the 28th annual Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade

The following were the winning entries from Sunday’s 28th annual Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade:

THE SPIRIT OF OAKLAWN AWARD, BEST OVERALL ENTRY: EXKLUSIVE/KALIENTE

—  John Wright

Pride festival changes called a success

There was more green at the Festival in Lee Park this year — both in terms of open space and money raised for the gay Pride beneficiaries. (Chuck Dube/Dallas Voice)

Ultimately it might be impossible to say by how much attendance was down at Sunday’s gay Pride Festival in Lee Park.

But according to Michael Doughman, executive director of the Dallas Tavern Guild, we do know this: Approximately 5,300 people paid $5 each to get into the festival.

Beyond that, Doughman estimated there were 700 unpaid attendees who received complimentary wristbands through festival vendors or groups that marched in the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade, which would bring the total crowd to 6,000.

In previous years, about 7,500 people attended the festival, according to Doughman, which would mean a 20 percent drop — in line with what organizers predicted after they decided to fence in the park and charge admission for the first time.

But Doughman said precise attendance figures for previous years — or even this year, since we don’t know how many who received complimentary wristbands actually showed up — simply don’t exist.

And even if they did, he added, they wouldn’t really matter. In Doughman’s view, critics who predicted disaster for the festival as a result of the $5 admission charge clearly were proven wrong. And the Tavern Guild, which organizes both the Pride parade and festival, was vindicated.

“We got tons of compliments from people who were in the park, not only vendors but just from people who attended,” Doughman said. “It may have been less headcount, but we think the quality of event was highly improved.”

—  John Wright

Scenes from Dallas Pride — Part III

GO TO PART I  >>>

<<< GO TO PART II

Photos by Chuck Dube/Dallas Voice (MarceloMedia)


 

—  John Wright

Scenes from Dallas Pride — Part II

<<< GO TO PART I

GO TO PART III >>>

Photos by Chuck Dube/Dallas Voice (MarceloMedia)

 

 

 

—  John Wright

A few scenes from Dallas Pride

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings breaks us off some beads.

UPDATE: CLICK HERE TO VIEW MORE PICS

DV photographer Chuck Dube will be sending over about a gazillion photos from gay Pride shortly, and DVtv segment producer Brent Paxton will be along with video. We’ll post all that just as soon as we can, but for now here are a few shots I took of the parade from my vantage point — which was somewhere in front of Kroger. That’s where I went because that’s where I was told there would be an area set aside for media, which there wasn’t. So instead I got to take in the parade with the rest of the crowd, including a very friendly lesbian named Stacy, who agreed to give me a spot next to her along the barricades in exchange for posting her photo here, which I’ve done below.

Anyhow, as superficial as appearing in the Pride parade has become for politicians, it was good to see Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings riding prominently atop the city float (above). However, the overall turnout from city council members appeared to be fewer than the 13 who had RSVP’d (we’re working to get an accurate headcount). It was also good to see County Judge Clay Jenkins in the parade, riding with the Dallas Young Democrats.

After the parade I ran home to meet the BF, who had gotten off work at 3, and we headed to Lee Park. When we arrived at the festival around 5, the entrance near Rawlins Street was literally jammed with people (photo below) as the cashier apparently couldn’t keep up with the line. There was also a large crowd congregating on a sidewalk across the street — either because they didn’t want to pay to get in or they didn’t want to leave their coolers unattended. When we walked past, police officers were yelling at them not to sit on the curb.

Attendance appeared to be down significantly at the park, but as we noted last week, organizers expected this given the new $5 admission charge. Even my new friend Stacy from the parade told me in no uncertain terms that she didn’t plan to go to the park because she didn’t want to pay.

But we won’t know to what degree attendance was down — or other details about the parade and festival — till Tuesday. That’s when Michael Doughman, executive director of the Dallas Tavern Guild, says he’ll be available to talk.

This entrance to Lee Park at Rawlins Street was jammed with people when we arrived at about 5 p.m.

A few more of my pics are below. Check back shortly for others.

—  John Wright

Talkin’ gay Pride on The DMN site

The Dallas Morning News, which typically ignores gay Pride, went to the trouble of posting an item earlier today about Sunday’s parade and festival. And not suprisingly, the commenters are already quoting the Bible:

—  John Wright