Pictured: Jason Michael Snow & Andrew Brewer with an audience member in a scene from 'Sex Tips for Straight Women from a Gay Man'| Photo by Jeremy Daniel
This is probably a minority opinion, but I feel that one of Meryl Streep’s finest moments was attempting to make love to a banana in the 2012 marital comedy Hope Springs. It was not only amusing, it was ultimately delicious—much more pungent than anything involving a dingo eating a baby. And as you’ll recall, the character only attempted that ravenous feat because she had picked up the 1997 book Sex Tips For Straight Women From A Gay Man, written by Dan Anderson and Maggie Berman. Well, that immortal epic of orally delightful advice (and then some) is now an Off-Broadway play, so people are practically lining up with bowls of fruit salad to find out what to do when they get home.
In the light-hearted show, Dan (played by the hilariously campy Jason Michael Snow) is being interviewed at a university auditorium, and with the help of a scorchingly hot male assistant, he encourages the initially uptight female moderator to learn the glories of satisfying a male (while, presumably, empowering herself). By the time the audience is rolling up their programs—on command—and learning how to give a handjob (“Up-twist-over-down”), you have to give this adaptation two wet thumbs up.
I moderated a talkback after a performance the other day, hoping to get my own erectile education, and this giant fruit wasn’t disappointed (though I was shocked to learn that Dan and Maggie had no idea Meryl was going to be reading their book until it actually hit the screen. They were hardly annoyed by that, especially when sales spiked.)
But I got my biggest load—of dish—when straight woman Maggie Berman told me her feelings about HBO’s various, let’s say, romance-driven shows. Fuming, she said Girls involves a parade of stereotypes: “The sexy, druggy person. The virginal Jewess who becomes into sex. And Hannah, who’s artsy fartsy and has no idea why her boyfriend is jerking off on her neck. Watching it, I had no idea how Hannah feels about it! I’d like to sit down and talk with Lena Dunham.” Hopefully joined by a gay guy.
But Maggie had an even more overarching list of what’s wrong with the culture. In fact, she’s completely flaccid over the clichéd way TV and movies have portrayed gays in the last 17 years. Said she:
“After our book came out, there was the witty friend—Rupert Everett in My Best Friend’s Wedding. Then the dear friend—Will & Grace. Then the arty person on Glee. And now, I’m so sick of these gay characters who are married and depicted with children. Soon they might as well be baking cookies for the PTA. Like my coauthor Dan says, ‘Where is the fun?’ What was fun about being gay? The flirting and the feeling that you were in an in club! Why was Woody’s [in Philadelphia] better than any straight club? Because people were having a great time, rubbing against each other and dancing to Taylor Dayne’s ‘Prove Your Love.’ No one even knew who they were going home with until last call.”
That sounds like last night for me, but again, I’m in a different category.
Oh, by the way, Maggie likes Looking. See, the show does have an audience!
From bananas, we go to “Raspberries!” (In case you’re young or straight, that was Carol Channing’s famous line from the 1967 movie musical Thoroughly Modern Millie). Last summer on Fire Island, promoter Daniel Nardicio produced a wonderful evening consisting of Justin Vivian Bond singing a set of love songs, then grilling saucer-eyed Broadway legend Carol Channing in a wacky Q&A, and the result put the island on Fire again. So they recreated it last week at NYC’s Town Hall, where, again, Justin was swell, crooning standards and riffing on life as “an aspirational white woman of elegance.”
And then Carol entered to a thunderous ovation from a crowd that included Sir Ian McKellen, Alan Cumming, and Sandra Bernhard, and settled in comfortably, knowing she was in well-manicured hands. (Last time, Carol started a tiny bit defensively, until realizing it was going to be such a total love fest the audience practically rolled her like a program.)
The mismatched yet perfectly fitting duo’s conversation had a delightfully absurdist edge, and though Carol occasionally needed to be prodded, most of the time she was putting on a ditzy demeanor a la Lorelei Lee, while masking that steel-trap mind that’s made her an enduring force. Videotaped tributes from Bernadette Peters and Chita Rivera were played, as well as pre-taped questions from fans around the world, no doubt so 93-year-old Carol was aware of the topics in advance. And though she still had no memory of her Alice in Wonderland song “Jam Tomorrow…” (just like in Fire Island), she did answer immediately when asked why the comedy Legends never came to Broadway. (“Well, it was a terrible show.”) At one point, Carol referred to Justin as a “girl,” then stopped and said, “No…” and nervously changed topics as the audience tittered. At another point, Mx. Bond remarked, “You must love performing to do it so much.” “No, I want to get paid and all,” replied Carol, as the house went wild. And then Carol did her “Let me go, Ephraim” monologue from Hello, Dolly! in a letter perfect fashion that led to a standing ovation that’s still left me hoarse.
In a reception onstage after the show, I told Carol how great she was that night. “They were great,” she said, meaning the audience. “You just have to stand there.” Spotting Justin, I quipped, “Carol didn’t seem to know what gender you are.” Replied Justin, “Well, neither do I, so that works out.”
FOOD TIPS FOR EVERYONE FROM A GAY MAN
NYC publicist Norah Lawlor is the go-to person to set the VIP crowd up for oinkily fabulous meals, so I called upon her to feed me, Drag Race’s Bianca Del Rio, and Glam awards creator Cherry Jubilee last week, preferably at a place that wouldn’t blink over a couple of rouged tuckers. We ended up at Ivy, a fancy shmancy Hell’s Kitchen bar/restaurant with top-notch shrimp sliders, hanger steak, and cheesecake (which is better than fruit salad any day), not to mention a sensible crowd that gave us free reign to carry on. And ears were burning like toast all over town! The gals and I dished two local drag queens who’ve part-timed as hookers, another one who’s lost it (“She’s not angry anymore,” griped Bianca. “She’s sacrificed her edge. She’s not funny!”), and any drag star who feels “Make some noise!” is a viable gambit for attention. Best of all was the story of how pencil-thin drag star Sherry Vine once had to bang on the door of her roommate, well-fed drag performer Gusty Winds and say, “Um, I need some utensils.” Not me—I shoveled in those sliders with every piece of silverware on the table, plus bare hands.
Lawlor also set me up for outrageously good beet salad, sirloin steak, and—yep—cheesecake at the swanky 50th Street branch of Bobby Van’s Steakhouse, as shared by one of my favorite Broadway stars, Orfeh (Tony nominee for Legally Blonde and a powerful singer/actor).
The woman might not have a last name, but she happens to be married to Andy Karl, the adorbs star of the imminent musical version of Rocky. They’re the Lunt and Fontanne of musical theater. And Orfeh’s not downing steak and cake very often these days because like her hubby, she’s immersed herself in a very serious fitness routine. Andy usually heads to Crunch at 6:30 A.M., before Rocky rehearsal, and feeling the crunch herself, Orfeh tends to go too. “When your husband’s becoming a chiseled Adonis,” she told me, “you don’t want to look like the pudgeball in the cute dress, trying to suck it in.”
Debra Messing in Outside Mullingar | Photo by Joan Marcus
WHATEVER WILL BEE WILL BEE
And now for some corned beef and soda bread: Outside Mullingar is a new Broadway comedy by Pulitzer winner John Patrick Shanley, who’s not in his intense ethical drama mode here, a la Doubt and Defiance, but is doodling in a lighter vein, creating an affable talkfest involving crusty but nice people in the Irish midlands. What it takes to be a man is one of the play’s central themes as various hurts and insecurities are worked out in rustic settings. References to faith are also sprinkled throughout, and it becomes clear that it’s important to have it in something, especially as the characters who are well played by Brian F. O’Byrne and Debra Messing find themselves catapulting towards each other, quirks and all. (“You’re not a bee. You’re a flower” is one of the key lines. Oh, honey!) It’s all very lilting, but to me it felt like Martin McDonagh-lite, minus the—sorry—sting. Even when Messing asks O’Byrne if he’s a homosexual or a “merphrodite,” I couldn’t laugh or even get offended, seeing as—like the whole play—it was way too cute for words. Sorry to give this bad buzzzzzz.
AND FINALLY, MY RANDOM OSCARS THOUGHT
Just like last year, it’s an earnest movie about slavery versus a 1970s crime romp with polyester and bad hair. This time, the earnest film will win. (But sorry, Meryl, no golden banana this time. Don’t worry, you’ll live.)