Doesn’t it seem as if we LGBTs initiate a slew of social and cultural trends, which are later anxiously co-opted by the mainstream? Shouldn’t we get a finder’s fee?
After all, drag queens have perfected the art of lip sync since God created gloss, but now there’s a hit show called Lip Sync Battle (on Spike TV), which primarily involves hetero people moving their mouths to pop songs as if they were drag queens!
And what about drag queens? RuPaul’s Drag Race has become a sensation among all sexualities, leading to all kinds of bachelorette types running around squealing and saying things like “Sissy that walk!” and “Oh-kye?”
And what about those bachelorettes? Last time I went to Marie’s Crisis—my favorite piano bar—the long running West Village hangout was positively overrun with them. Whereas everyone always knew exactly what to do at this place, suddenly the staff had to make announcements, saying elemental stuff like “This is a piano bar. Feel free to sing along—and tip your piano player!” But the bachelorettes figured it all out soon enough. They were requesting either Disney shows or Rent, gleefully singing along to those highly disparate entities. Alas, when the pianist tinkled my personal request—“Another Hundred People” from Company—they stood there, mute, as if it were some foreign language song from the Stone Age. I guess a little education is in order before they totally take over our trend.
Meanwhile, in Hell’s Kitchen, there’s now a straight piano bar! Howl at the Moon is a two-floor bar—featuring a pair of pianos and other live musicians—that opened in January and draws crowds of aging frat boys singing along to “Come on Eileen” and other K-Tel favorites (not show tunes; not even Disney ones). It’s the ultimate in trend-co-opting—and it’s part of a chain!
What’s more, we often start trends in food, design, music, and other cultural arenas, and they ultimately get seized on, watered down, and commercialized, as we move onto the next thing. I’m not mad about this whole phenomenon, mind you—I’m flattered by the recognition of our community’s great taste and actually love the straight fans of drag, and welcome the gals who filter into piano bars; they’re nice people who are simply looking for a good time. But we were there first!
I’ve often wondered why it is that we groundbreak so much creative stuff, and I think it’s because as an oppressed minority (Yes, we’re still oppressed), you immerse yourself in the arts as a way to express yourself, lose yourself, and win approbation. Not knowing how to deal with being a young gay, I remember actively involving myself in every single available activity at school—from shows to chorales to the honor society—as a way of finding expression and catharsis. What’s more, we’re brave and bold (yes, I know I’m dealing with generalizations here, but bear with my gay ass), and having lived on the edge, we’re not afraid to forge ideas that are innovative and potentially challenging. People who don’t spend their lives worrying over discrimination about their sexuality—i.e, straight people—come aboard later on, when they’re ready for it, which can actually be decades after we were in the trenches, exploring new routes.
But of course there have also been articles saying that, in actuality, gays happen to steal a lot of trends and lingo from African Americans. So….never mind!
JESSICA LANGE ON HER JOURNEY INTO NIGHT
Photo by Joan Marcus
Speaking of gay things that straights like, lol: Last week’s Tony nominees’ meet and greet at the Paramount Hotel brought together the bright lights of Broadway, as I pulled my tongue off the floor and pulled out my paper and pen. I was especially excited to finally meet Jessica Lange, who’s nominated for her haunting portrayal of morphine addicted mater familias Mary Tyrone in the revival of O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night [a part she originally did in 2000]. I told Jessica that Mary is obviously going over the same thoughts over and over again, desperately trying to find peace with them, and she answered, “There are so many themes I can connect with in Mary Tyrone, like the human condition of loneliness. There’s something so incredibly heartbreaking about her, and all the four characters, in their collective guilt, recriminations, love, hate and blame. It’s like family. They keep repeating and repeating and repeating [the same themes]. Things aren’t ever really resolved.”
Jessica is onstage a lot in the three hour and 45-minute production, but she gets a sizeable break in Act Two, so I asked what she happens to do during that time. “I’m up in my dressing room,” she said, laughing, “lying down in the dark, thinking, ‘Can I really get up for the last scene?’ “Naturally, she always does—knowing the exact line that John Gallagher, Jr. (as Edmond) says when the time comes. “And then you have to be demented,” I pointed out about her final monologue. “I have to be stoned,” she informed. “Quite lost in my morphine haze.” “But of course you, Jessica Lange, have never taken drugs,” I ventured, with a twinkle. “I’m not going to answer that question, Michael” she said, smiling. “You must think I’m nuts!”
We had a good giggle over that, and then I sobered up and asked Jessica if she feels she’s grown as a stage actress through the years. “Over time,” she replied, “you begin to understand more about the stage and what’s demanded of you. You don’t have the luxury of the camera coming in on your face. It has to be in the voice and the body; the emotions have to be bigger. The great thing about this production is it’s allowed me to try stuff I hadn’t done before.”
I couldn’t move on without asking Jessica if American Horror Story brought her a whole new level of gay fans. “I suddenly had a young fan base that I hadn’t been aware of before,” she answered. But what about the gays? “They’ve always been very kind to me,” she said, glowing. “It’s always been a great experience.”
Update: Jessica’s gay fan base is just beginning. The day after my interview, it was announced that she’ll play movie star Joan Crawford opposite Susan Sarandon’s Bette Davis in the first season of Ryan Murphy’s FX show, Feud. I’m living to hear Sarandon tell Jessica, “But ya ahh, Blanche.”
TONY! TONY! TONY!
Long Day’s Journey was far from the only exploration of poisonous relationships this season. In addition to that production, there were two other dramas about wildly dysfunctional families (The Humans and A View From The Bridge, the latter featuring an inappropriate uncle). There were two musicals about women fleeing abusive husbands (The Color Purple, Waitress), a play about a woman going back to her abuser (Blackbird), and a musical about a woman marrying a blood-soaked killer (American Psycho). We also had African women trying to escape the horrors of their husband/master (Eclipsed) and a revival about a woman and her lover killing her husband (Therese Raquin).
Furthermore, there was a musical about a baby that’s brazenly taken and thrown into the river (Bright Star). When Tuck Everlasting came around—about a family that drank spring water and will live forever—I thought, “Oh, no! Don’t!” Towering over it all, history is being made by the show about history—Hamilton—proving that the Richard Rodgers Theater is “the room where it happens.” But there’s plenty of other worthy stuff this year.
At the Tony nominees’ meet and greet I mentioned, I got to chat with The Humans’ author Stephen Karam and director Joe Mantello. Karam said that the play (about a family reunion held in a building wrought with noises and anxiety) is perfectly set at the Helen Hayes, because that theater is going to be renovated. He added that the actors are so tightly woven now that “It’s more like a family than ever.” Mantello told me about his interesting directorial touch in having a lot of the family’s faces blocked (by each other) as they engage in a long, crucial dinner scene. He said it’s so stagey to have everyone sit on just one side, the way it’s usually done in plays. He wanted things to be realer, and make you feel like leaning in, buoyed by glimpses as the actors occasionally get up to let themselves be shown. It’s an innovative touch—and Mantello did great work on Blackbird too.
The openly gay Mantello (who directed Wicked and has acted in Angels in America and The Normal Heart) will come back to Broadway next season as Tom in The Glass Menagerie, starring Sally Field. (Jessica Lange starred as Amanda two Broadway revivals ago, in 2005.) “I’ve never thought of playing that part before,” Mantello told me, but he’s a fan of the director, Sam Gold, “and I thought, ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ ” “And of course, Tom is a gay character, I brilliantly pointed out. “Yes,” replied Mantello, smiling, “Tom is a gay character.” “Did you think he’d be bi-curious?” asked Karam.
I also got to meet Liesl Tommy, who expertly directed Eclipsed, and told me what the biggest challenge was in mounting the play: “It was a delight, but the biggest challenge was making sure the actresses would go as far as, and farther, than they imagined. I’m that person that they look at with tears in their eyes going, ‘Really? You want more?’ You have to give till it hurts. If we just give enough, it’s just mediocre.” And is she there to crack that whip every night and make sure things stay on a high level? “No,” Liesl said with a grin. “I’m in L.A., but my stage manager and assistant director know the shape and the weight of that whip!!” Yikes. At least, unlike in the plot of the play, this is lovingly done and in the pursuit of art.
Cracking smiles, if not whips, Jennifer Simard is nominated for hilariously playing the gambling-addicted nun in Disaster! I asked Simard what she’ll be doing next, now that the play has closed. “Taking my husband out to dinner!” she replied.
One more Tony thought: Jennifer Hudson wasn’t nominated for playing the bisexual Shug Avery in The Color Purple and she tweeted something bitter about it, then took it down amidst cries that she’s a bad sport. (The also snubbed Audra McDonald conversely won cheers for tweeting that she was “THRILLED” with the nominations.) But JHud was just being honest. I’d say “Her ego might get in the way of her EGOT,” but the truth is, she should have been nominated. And straight people, please don’t steal my “ego/EGOT” line.