Fops & freaks

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

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

stage-1

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.

…………………

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.

…………………

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?”

stage-2

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

LGBTs join anti-Bush protest at SMU

Action timed to coincide with groundbreaking for Bush’s presidential library at SMU

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Bush protest
PROTESTING BUSH | About 100 people from around the country, including some local LGBT activists, turned out to protest during the groundbreaking for the Bush presidential library on the SMU grounds this week. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

While George Bush and Dick Cheney broke ground on the new presidential library at Southern Methodist University on Tuesday, Nov. 16, about 100 people from around the country gathered a few blocks away to protest.

Although only one rainbow flag was flown during the protest, members of the LGBT community were prominent among the protesters. That one flag flew from the wheelchair of Kay Lucas.

Lucas was director of the Crawford Peace House, which has since closed. That house was near the main intersection in Crawford, down the road from the Bush ranch. During Bush’s presidency, the property was the center of anti-war activity and where Cindy Sheehan staged her protests.

Sheehan became the face of the anti-war movement after her son, Casey, was killed in action in Iraq in 2004. She spoke at the rally at SMU.

Dallas gay activist Aaron Rathbun attended the rally dressed in his graduation cap and gown and held a sign on stage that read, “Bush failed us.”

“I didn’t have on any rainbow paraphernalia,” said Aaron Rathbun, “I went representing academia.”

He said he went to listen and was impressed by the array of speakers. He mentioned a CIA trainer who left the agency during the Bush administration.
Rathbun said he was impressed by the conviction of someone who would give up his career by saying, “I’m not going to do this anymore.”

He also pointed to another speaker, Col. Ann Wright, who spent 29 years in the military and another 16 years as a diplomat. She resigned her diplomatic post to protest Bush administration policy.

A march began at about 9:30 a.m. at Mockingbird Station along Central Expressway and ended on the SMU campus outside Ford Stadium on the corner of Mockingbird Lane and Airline.

Five different police forces kept protesters and counter-protesters apart. The march began in Dallas, crossed into Highland Park and ended on campus in University Park. Police from each of the three cities remained in their own jurisdictions.

SMU campus police also were on hand at the rally, which was on campus. Sheriff’s department officers guarded the groundbreaking and former administration officials in riot gear with helmets, shields and batons.

While Rathbun said he was pleased with turnout at the protest, he said it was underreported because camera crews and journalists were not allowed to come and go from the groundbreaking site.

“They were on lockdown,” he said.

Only pre-approved guests and media were allowed near the library site.

Colleen Rowley, who was Time magazine’s 2002 person of the year as one of the year’s whistleblowers and has since run for Congress, tried marching from the protest site toward the groundbreaking.

“The police looked as sad as we did,” Rowley said.

She wore all black with a white expressionless mask and the name of an Iraq War soldier killed in action hanging on a sign around her neck.

Radio host and QueerLiberaction activist Rick Vanderslice led some of the chanting and was one of the speakers. He echoed the event’s “Arrest Bush” theme.

He said that the policy institute was being built to justify the policies of the Bush administration. He said that cannot be allowed to happen and called them war criminals who should be arrested and brought to justice.

“We all know that this library is just a way for him to rewrite his own history until it becomes a fait accompli,” Vanderslice said.

He said he was struck by the age of most of the protesters.

“Everyone was middle age or older,” he said. The old anti-war hippies.”

He was curious about the absence of any SMU students at the protest, noting a few who had come from University of North Texas and even one who came to Dallas from Baylor. Only two SMU staff stood across the street to observe despite the large number who had signed a petition to keep the library off campus.

However, many SMU students who were interested in the groundbreaking ceremony were watching the event on a large screen TV truck set up nearby. Campus officials reported that a large number logged onto the Internet to watch.

Vanderslice said that the rally was a weeklong event to activate people.

“I still think there’s efficacy in protesting,” Vanderslice said. “Younger people look at protesting as an antique.”

He said the Bush administration was such an enemy of the LGBT community, more should have attended, but understood that the rally took place during the workday and a school day.

“There must be consequences for misconduct,” he said. “We must demand justice.”

“With the scope of the atrocities done, I’d like to see Bush held accountable to an international tribunal,” Rathbun said.

Many of the protesters held signs that said “Arrest Bush” and “Arrest Cheney First.” A few criticized Obama for continuing Bush’s war policies.

Code Pink founder Medea Benjamin listed a variety of Bush administration atrocities such as water boarding, denying global warming and “bombing Iraq into the Stone Age.” She said she was amazed that after he admitted some of these things in his new book, no investigation was taking place.

Sheehan explained why she had traveled to Dallas from her home in California for the protest.

“You can’t put a bloom on that lily,” she said. “He wasn’t a good person. He wasn’t a good president. We can’t let him rewrite history.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 19, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens