CTD concludes its Texas Trilogy with gay sensibility in ‘White Magnolia’
If you know the locale (West Texas) and the era (1962), it would be hard to hear the title of the play "The Last Meeting of the Knights of the White Magnolia" and not think: Racist bubbas. There’s something about the word "white" in the context of the South during the civil rights era that just seethes with bigotry masquerading as Southern pride. I’ve seen it up close, and the Confederate flag might as well have a swastika on it if you’re black and living in Mississippi. And I’m talking about today.
So it might seem like sitting through a play about these racist folk — and a comedy, no less! — is some kind of betrayal of good liberal values. It’s not. Dallas playwrighting legend Preston Jones, who wrote the scripts for his Texas Trilogy during lulls while working the box office at the Kalita Humphreys Theater, was chronicling the fin de siecle of the Old South mentality. Some of the characters are portrayed in a sympathetic light, of course, but "White Magnolia" doesn’t glorify or sentimentalize its subject. This is the "last meeting," after all. Good riddance, and don’t let the door hit you on the ass on your way out.
There is, however, a melancholy tone to the play, getting a more-than-serviceable production at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas. (CTD produced the first two plays in the trilogy, "Luann Hampton Laverty Oberlander" and "The Oldest Living Graduate," over the last two seasons, often with the same cast members.) Set in a rundown meeting hall of a faded hotel in fictional Bradleyville, Texas, it concerns the remaining motley members of a once-potent white supremacist group — one that broke off from the Klan, presumably, for being too tolerant.
Despite its roots, the group has largely morphed into a social club for henpecked husbands and stir-crazy milquetoasts, a place where they can drink bourbon and play dominoes once a week. Assuring the success of the Master Race is one thing, but getting drunk before coming home to the wife … well, a man has to have his priorities.
Certainly that’s why raging alcoholic Skip (Kevin Moore) comes. He drinks the booze provided by Red (Kevin Grammer), while Rufe (Bradley Campbell) and Olin (J. Rod Pannek) bicker away like a married couple. Senile old Col. Kincaid (John S. Davies) seems to be the only one who holds the old values dear — and they include hatred for folks from one town over, regardless of race.
(Ironically, the most appallingly racist aspect of the play is the portrayal of the one black character, the janitor Ramsey-Eyes. Why actor Kenne Sparks and director Rene Moreno decided on such a shuffling, Stepin Fetchit stereotype slaps you in the face from the first scene and rears its head awkwardly for the next 90 minutes. Yikes.)
The banal joys of male bonding are interrupted one evening with the addition of a new member, Lonnie Roy (Trey Birkhead, the nephew of Preston Jones, performing for the first time in one of his uncle’s plays). His initiation rite triggers the slow destruction of the club as the realization of its impending uselessness gets magnified. (For straight men, these knights wear a lot of silly hats.)
The style to the Texas Trilogy may seem old-fashioned, but its lopeyness captures a certain essential Lone Star quality. I wonder if the Tuna Tetralogy could have existed without its mix of reverie and the innate quirkiness of Texans, which these actors generally are well-equipped to convey.
Davies, looking and sounding eerily like Cotton from "King of the Hill," has mastered the tic of old age with disturbing accuracy, and Birkhead nicely embodies a weird innocence about the club. Moore goes for mugging more than the real desperation of dipsomania, but there’s also droll comic work from Grammer and Nye Cooper.
But the best performance is by Don Long as L.D., the grand poobah of the knights. L.D. is the one who gets that the club is through, although the real death came not from the loss of a meeting space but from the antiquated ideas of segregation and hatred its represented. It’s a fitting chapter-closer, wistful yet resolute. If only hatred was so easily snuffed out in real life.
Greenville Center for the Arts, 5601 Sears St. Through Sept. 6. $22â€“$32. ContemporaryTheatre ofDallas.com.
More gays infest cable reality — well, Bravo
If we ever decide to do some sort of weekly television gay watch, all we’d ever have to do is tune into Bravo. Thanks to that lone channel, we get more LGBT representation, good and bad, than any of the other "real" gay channels. Bravo has answered the call and gives us housewives we love, designers we hate and preps we want to spank. This week we see the return of the crying assistant as well as see who registers on the "Top Chef" gaydar.
Despite last season’s tension between style assistants Taylor and fey gay newcomer Brad, they seem to be peachy keen with one another on this go-round of "The Rachel Zoe Project," about the celebrity stylist, her team and the drama it takes to dress a star. Last season, Brad joined the team but cried every time he fucked up — and that meant a lot of crying. Taylor owned him every moment she could but her Nazi-like rule of Zoe’s empire, while bitchy, is something to admire.
In the season opener, they dress stars for the Golden Globes. With Brad’s penchant for tears, it should almost become a drinking game for every time he cries. Now that he and Taylor have kissed and made nice, will we get the waterworks as much? Time will tell.
"Flipping Out" started its third season last Monday seeing gay OCD houseflipper Jeff Lewis (pictured far right, with his ex-partner Ryan) navigate his business through the economic downturn. Lewis is an impossible character who can make nails on a chalkboard sound pleasant. When he starts whining his way through life exposing his neurotic demands and weird quirks it drives us up a wall. He’s bitchy, annoying and rude. Maybe he just reminds us of some of our friends (or — gasp — ourselves?) that we remain compelled to keep watching.
Although "Top Chef" had us at Colicchio, we can’t help but track down the gay and lesbian contestants among the chefs. This season’s Team Rainbow is made up of three. We learn right away that sous chef Ash Fulk is family by admitting "being gay in the kitchen can be difficult." Two lesbian contestants, Preeti Mistry, pictured left, and Ashley Merriman, bring their games to the chopping block as well. But hopefully they won’t suffer the same fate as last season’s when Team Rainbow fizzled out fast leaving Jamie to fend for herself just missing the final spot.
Could we see a family member take home the title of Top Chef this time? Stay tuned.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 21, 2009.