Friday and Saturday, Times Square is going to seem a lot like Rome. As part of the 2012 Times Square International Theater Festival, blogger and one-time reality star Joe Gulla will present GARBO, his tale of life as a gay American in Rome.
Out.com had the chance to chat with Gulla about the show, life in Italy and unrequited love.
What inspired you begin work on GARBO and where does it get its title?
The inspiration was simple. I was living in Rome for three months and ended up staying for three years. And while I was there, I sort of fell in love with a bartender at a bar called GARBO, so the trick of the show is its not about Greta Garbo at all. It’s the name of a bar in a small part of Rome. And I felt that the bartender had feelings for me and I had feelings for him. But what it turned out that he was in the closet, so I basically spent three years longing for this guy—and I think vice versa. It’s a gay story in that it involves two men but its very universal because I think everyone at some point in their life has dealt with unrequited love, which can be quite painful and dramatic.
Why were you in Rome?
I was born in the Bronx, in a very Italian neighborhood almost out of the Sopranos, so I felt it my duty to go spend some time in the homeland. And I thought it would be easy because I had spent time in Europe before, like Spain where its very out and very open. I thought, Oh cool, I can do the same thing in my Italian homeland and I can meet all my Italian brothers, my gay brothers. Only to find out it’s a very, very closeted city. That part sucked because it was an international city, obviously. I thought there would be a decent amount of openness. But it’s quite jarringly closeted. So I went there because I wanted to eat good food, as I say in the play, I wanted to eat some good plates of pasta and make out with some Italian men. That’s why I went.
How long have you been working on this project?
I was in Rome for three years, and [every] day I spoke to this Irish lesbian artist—she was like my friend, my buddy, my girlfriend. And then I night I was talking to this hot closeted Roman bartender. While I was there having these conversations and we were both talking about our situations I realized, This is a play. So I had to write it.
When I came home to New York, feeling very sad and depressed because things didn’t work out with us, I was sitting around a lot. My mom got ill and I went to take of her. But she didn’t always need me, so when I had some free time I said, Well, let me just write that play. It was funny because I was an American lost in Italy with no language skills. It just wrote itself. And this was about a year and a half ago. I submitted it to All Outs Inc. Fruit Festival just thinking maybe they’ll like it whatever and they loved it and invited me to close their festival last July with it. And it really was received very well so I put it in an envelope again and I submitted it to the Times Square International Theater Festival and they accepted it. So we’re in rehearsal right now we open Friday.
We’ve already been invited to do it in California in April, we’re going to London with it in the Harvey Milk Festival in November so this is a big shocking thrilling thing.
Are you the only play in the Times Square International Theater Festival to tackle issues facing the gay community?
Yes, and that is why I am so honored. I don’t mind doing gay festival of course, it’s a gay oriented show and I am a proud gay man. But I think it means a lot when something like this is amidst reputed ‘mainstream’ international festival so I was very proud of that.
So you wrote, directed, and star in your first play?
I wrote it and I thought who knows what will ever happen with it. Then when it got selected I thought, Well, this is about me and I have acted before, so let me take a stab at it. So I star in it. And because of the way the whole process works, I’m also producing it. I would rather just be acting in it but I am wearing all those hats. I don’t direct it, thank God, but I am the writer, producer, and the star—with two other actors: a hot bartender a sexy lesbian artist—and, at this particular event at the festival, we have a host because I was gonna pander to the low brow and the high brow.
How important was it for you to incorporate these other theatrical elements in your play?
I was young and in the closet and when I saw my first musical. It overwhelmed me. I thought, Oh, my God, what is this? What’s happening to me? And I had a love of theater and I think what gets lost sometimes is that people take theater too seriously. It can be serious. GARBO has its very serious moments and its profound and I think its deep, but also let’s have some fun. I’m all about fun and the parties after the show stuff like that. I like all thespians to be involved and they looked at me oddly when I first suggested that but now that we are getting closer and we’ve had the opera singer in rehearsing with us, everyone keeps saying, Oh, My God, it’s gonna be amazing.