REVIEW: John Waters’ ‘Filthy World’

John Waters1_0“I hate to tell you, but your cat hates you,” John Waters said before a packed house at the Kessler Thursday night. That observation actually came pretty late during the festivities, which saw Waters — lanky in a mismatched madras-style plaid suit — riff nonstop for about 80 minutes before taking questions from the audience.

It was about the tamest observation Waters made, for whom the word “taboo” appears to have no meaning. In between war stories about the making of his dozen-plus films as a writer-director, from Mondo Trasho (made when he was just 23) to his last film, A Dirty Shame, which came out in 2004. He lamented that he was not molested by his grade-school priest (what does it say to a kid who is not attractive to a pedophile?), expressed pleasure that Casey Anthony was acquitted (“I just wanted to see Nancy Grace’s head explode”) and offered suggestions about how to show appreciation (“If a friend gives you a book by your favorite author? Give him a rim job”).

For the most part, the eclectic crowd ate up the uber-gay standup set, where Waters opined about oddities of the sexual world. “Is it amazing that all gay men know what a bear is and no straight people do?” he asked. But even he exposed the audience to terms most had never heard before. (Example: “A blouse” = “a feminine top.” And don’t even ask what a “blossom” is.)

If you’re inclined to be offended by an unoffendable person, you’d best steer clear of Waters who, despite the wide-eyed enthusiasm of an ice cream truck salesman, shows a perverse interest in the unusual. “Trailers for summer movies aren’t coming attractions, they’re warnings,” he spat, lamenting that even indie films paled by comparison to the creativity of TV nowadays.

Peppered throughout were elegant but obscure pop culture references to, for instance, Fitzcarraldo, Diane Arbus and Joey Heatherton.

“Isn’t laughter the enemy of masturbation?” he noted. “Who laughs while masturbating except a schizophrenic?”

Maybe so. But laughter is certainly not the enemy of a John Waters audience. It’s its life-blood.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Applause: Stage pink

Queer highlights from the upcoming theater season

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer

Anticipation should be strong for the upcoming theater season in general. Ambitious shows like Giant, The Tempest, West Side Story and Hairspray all dot the stage horizon.
But we also like to see some of our own up there. As we look over the upcoming offerings from local theater companies, we always ask, “Where’s the gay?”  In addition to Uptown Players’ first  Dallas Pride Performing Arts Festival, here are some of the others.

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Fall

Although the Dallas Opera canceled the opera she was set to star in, lesbian soprano Patricia Racette will still perform at a TDO gala. (Photo Devon Cass)

Singer-songwriter Duncan Sheik gave an indie music flair to the musical adaptation of the 1891 play Spring Awakening. Set in 19th century Germany, Awakening follows a group of youths as they discover more about themselves and their rapidly developing sexuality.

The original Frank Wedekind play was controversial in its day, depicting abortion, homosexuality, rape and suicide. Now the show just has an added rock ‘n’ roll score. Along with Sheik’s musical perspective, Steven Slater wrote the book and lyrics in this updated version which debuted in 2006 on Broadway and won the Tony for Best Musical. Terry Martin directs.

WaterTower Theater, 15650 Addison Road., Addison. Sept. 30–Oct. 23. WaterTowerTheatre.org.

It’s almost un-Texan if you’re gay and not familiar with Del Shores’ tales of Southern discomfort.  Southern Baptist Sissies and Sordid Lives are pretty much part of the queer vernacular in these parts, but Shores got his start way back in 1987.

How will those northern folks take to Shores work (And by north, we mean past Central Expressway past LBJ)? Jeni Helms directs Daddy’s Dyin’: Who’s Got the Will for McKinney Repertory Theatre this fall. As the family patriarch suffers a stroke, the Turnover family gathers as they wait for his death. This family may just put the fun in dysfunctional.

McKinney Performing Arts Center, 111 N. Tennessee St., McKinney. Sept. 30–Oct. 7. McKinneyRep.org.

WingSpan Theatre Co. will produce one of the greater comedies of theater-dom this fall: Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, with Nancy Sherrard sparring over the gay wit’s price bon mots as Lady Bracknell.

Bath House Cultural Center, 521 E. Lawther Drive. Oct. 6–22. WingSpanTheatre.com.

Although A Catered Affair might sound a bit like My Big Fat Greek Wedding, it has the added flair of Harvey Fierstein’s wit. That’s because he wrote the book for the show alongside John Bucchino’s music and lyrics. The play is based on the Gore Vidal-penned 1956 film The Catered Affair starring Bette Davis.

When Jane and Ralph decide to get married, Jane’s mom Agnes wants to put on an elaborate spectacle of a wedding. The truth is, she can’t afford it and Jane isn’t all too thrilled about a huge affair. As in most cases, the wedding planning is more about the mom than the daughter and Agnes soon realizes the fact. Jane’s Uncle Winston — the proverbial gay uncle — is left off the guest list and is rightfully pissed. But as most gay characters, he rallies to be the voice of reason and support.

Theatre Three, 2800 Routh Street, Ste.168. Oct. 13–Nov. 12. Theatre3Dallas.com.

Lesbian soprano Patricia Racette was going to be featured in the production of Katya Kabanová but unfortunately the show was canceled by the Dallas Opera. But fear not. Dallas will still get to bask in the greatness that is her voice as Racette will perform An Evening with Patricia Racette, a cabaret show with classics from the Great American Songbook for a patron recital.

Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora St. Nov. 9. DallasOpera.org

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Spring

Nancy Sherrard will star as Lady Bracknell in WIngSpan Theater Co.’s fall production of Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Importance of Being Earnest,’ perhaps the greatest comedy ever written by theaterdom’s gayest wit.

Kevin Moriarty directs Next Fall for the Dallas Theater Center next spring. Written by Geoffrey Nauffts, the play centers on Luke and Adam, a couple with some unusual issues. What’s new about that in gay couplehood? Not much, but when Adam’s an absolute atheist and Luke’s a devout Christian, the two have been doing their best to make it work.
The comedy played on Broadway in 2010, garnering Tony and Drama Desk nominations. And now Dallas gets to see how, as DTC puts it, “relationships can be a beautiful mess.”
Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd. April 13–May 6. DallasTheaterCenter.org.

Perhaps the most surprising queer offering this next season is Theatre Arlington’s production of The Laramie Project. The show usually creates quite a stir — at least it did in Tyler, thanks to Trinity Wheeler — so how will this suburban audience handle it? Doesn’t matter. Props to T.A. for taking Moises Kaufman’s play about the tragic bashing and death of Matthew Shepard to its community.

Theatre Arlington, 305 W. Main St., Arlington. May 18–June 3. TheatreArlington.org.

Usually the question with MBS Productions is “what’s not gay?” Founder Mark-Brian Sonna has consistently delivered tales of gay woe and love that are sometimes silly and sometimes sweet, but always a laugh.

This season is no different. Playwright Alejandro de la Costa brings back drag queen Lovely Uranus in The Importance of Being Lovely. The last time we saw Uranus, Sonna wore the stilettos and pink wig in last season’s Outrageous, Sexy, (nekkid) Romp.  This time around, Uranus graduates to leading lady status as the show is all about her as audiences follow her through the changes she makes in her make-up, wigs and men.

Stone Cottage Theatre, 15650 Addison Road, Addison. July 16–Aug. 11, 2012. MBSProductions.net.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 26, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

‘Hairspray’ at Casa Manana tonight

What ozone layer?

Whether you’ve seen it onstage or at the movies (or both!), Hairspray is whole lot of delightful fun. Mixing social messages with drag characters is one thing, but to brighten it up with fun-loving tunes that feel like they popped right out of old-time radio is what makes the story work so well. Come on. How many times have we wished we could wake up singing “Good Morning, Baltimore” and feel that good about the day? Anybody? Just us?

Check out our piece on actor David Coffee who plays Edna Turnblad.

—  Rich Lopez

Coffee talk

Fort Worth actor David Coffee gets in touch with his feminine side as Edna Turnblad in the local debut of ‘Hairspray’

TJDavidCoffee_2862
HAIR APPARENT | Playing drag as Edna Turnblad is a first for David Coffee, but that didn’t keep him from wearing pumps during his entire interview. (Photo courtesy Robert Hart Studio)

MARK LOWRY  | Special Contributor
mark@theaterjones.com

From a young age, it was clear to everyone around David Coffee what he’d be when he grew up. In second grade in Fort Worth, he had to perform “some sort of talent” for his music class, so he lip-synched all the parts to the entire The Wizard of Oz soundtrack. Later, when visiting his grandparents at an old folks’ home in Oak Cliff, he’d act out the TV shows as the residents watched them on the tube.

He told everyone he wanted to be a doctor. But his second grade teacher and a double amputee at the home set him straight: Acting was clearly the path for him.

Remarkably, the 53-year-old Coffee says that he’s lucky that he’s been able to make a living as an actor, most of it in Fort Worth. Aside from brief teenage stints as a shoe salesman at an Arlington department store and a mail boy at his father’s business, Coffee has consistently worked onstage, beginning his professional career in The Wind in the Willows at what was then called Casa Mañana Children’s Playhouse, in 1968.

“Since that time, I’ve either been playing a show, learning a show or forgetting a show,” he says in his dressing room, where he’s playing Edna Turnblad in Casa’s locally-produced premiere of Hairspray, which opens Saturday.

Coffee spent years touring the country in non-Equity shows in small towns (he’s now an Equity member), 20 years of returning to the Granbury Opera House, and of course, plenty of time at Casa. He has starred with such leading ladies as Cyd Charisse, Betty Buckley and Sandy Duncan. So far in 2011, his work has included Touchstone in As You Like It at Fort Worth’s Trinity Shakespeare Festival (it was his third year of making himself a standout as a Shakespeare clown at TSF); and as Herr Schultz in Dallas Theater Center’s revival-for-the-ages of Cabaret. In December, he’ll play Ebenezer Scrooge for the 19th time at North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, Mass.

But the panties role of Edna — played by Harvey Fierstein in 2003 Broadway debut and by Divine in John Waters’ 1988 source film — is historic for him: It marks his 75th show at Casa.

It’s no wonder he’s been able to make it. Character actors typically get more consistent work, and Coffee has been playing roles much older than him since he was a teenager. With a round face and bald head ringed by brown hair, he resembles the image of the wind, that man in the clouds blowing in the sky. When he started as Scrooge at North Shore, he was in his 30s — a part he says has only changed slightly as he has gotten older.

“I clicked into him even as a child,” Coffee says. “I never felt an affinity to Tiny Tim as a child, it was an affinity to Scrooge.”

All of the experience goes into Edna, a comedy role perfect for an actor who has become synonymous with comic relief, who knows how to be hammy without overdoing the pork. It’s the first time the straight actor has played a woman, although he understudied the role at North Shore in 2010. The actor playing Edna gave the advice to make sure that the fat suit has a zipper in the vaginal area, so he can relieve himself without taking off the entire suit.

“I’ve seen people play it soft and feminine, and I don’t do that,” Coffee says about the challenge of playing Edna. He seems to be in touch with his inner woman, though: He sat through the entire interview wearing a pair of pumps that we’ve requested for the photo shoot after the interview. “I don’t pull any big bones about it. The femininity will come through the physicalization, but I don’t do with it the voice. You just play what’s there and you’re OK. You don’t ignore the fact that it’s a guy in drag, because there are a couple of places in the show where they play it up; but other than that, you don’t worry about it.”

That’s just one thing Coffee doesn’t have to worry about, along with having to rely on a day job like almost every local stage actor. Now that’s some sort of talent.

Mark Lowry is a Dallas-based writer and co-founder and editor of TheaterJones.com, where you can read the full Q&A with Coffee.


This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 12, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Every inch a lady

INSECT ASIDE | Michelle Matlock forms part of a romantic triangle in Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Ovo.’

All abuzz over Michelle Matlock, the lady-loving ladybug of ‘Ovo’

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

Michelle Matlock is the female romantic interest in the Cirque du Soleil show Ovo — a role that, Hairspray aside, rarely befalls bigger girls. And girls of color? And openly gay? Well, she’s basically the only one. Like, ever.

“I think it’s pretty special,” she says from a break in performing under the grand chapiteau in Frisco. “Not only for me being a big girl but a black girl. You don’t see us being a love interest  much — even though I’m a bug.”

Yeah, did we leave that part out?

Matlock plays the giddy, delightful ladybug, wooed by a handsome housefly to the dismay of the other members of her garden of tight-knit insects. About 10 different acrobatic acts perform in the show, but Matlock is one of the story anchors, a clown who has her own share of tumbles, pratfalls and jumps.

Clowning might seem a far cry from Matlock’s classic training at the National Shakespeare Academy in New York, but she doesn’t see it that way.

“My base is theater, but over the last five, six years, clowning has dominated my career,” she says. “It’s actually a culmination of everything I learned [at the conservatory]. I used almost everything I’d ever experienced to help create the role. I had intensive clowning [there], and we had ballet and modern dance — a well-rounded program. I just never thought that seven weeks would actually be the kind of work I’d be doing the rest of my career.”

Not the entirety of her career, though. Matlock is also the creator of a one-woman play called The Mammy Project, about stereotypes of black woman, especially ones of size. The idea came about when Matlock was asked to audition to be the face of Aunt Jemima pancake mix. The play begins with the first woman to create Aunt Jemima, back during the 1893 World’s Fair, and goes up through Hattie McDaniel’s performance as Mammy in Gone with the Wind and Matlock’s own experiences. It’s one reason Matlock is so pleased that she could create the Ladybug as a romantic figure.

And create the role she did. She auditioned for Cirque du Soleil in 2004 after several years’ experience clowning in other circuses, but while the audition went well, they didn’t have a part for her at the time. “But we have some shows in the works,” they told her.

More than four years later, in November 2008, she became part of the team that created Ovo. She’s been touring with the show ever since and just signed to stay with it through 2011.

That schedule has taken its toll on her relationship with her girlfriend, who has remained in New York (she also works in theater).

“It’s been difficult, especially at the beginning, maintaining a long-distance relationship,” she says. “Fortunately, we’ve gotten over that. It has been nice for us. And now that I’m signed through 2011, she might come and join me on tour. She is a stage manager and very organized. She might work for Cirque. And then it’ll be another challenge: Working together.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 18, 2011.

—  John Wright