Left to right: Brian Belovitch, Kathryn Hahn, Jill Soloway, Michael Musto, Eileen Myles
I was having a peaceful cup of East Village borscht with my friend Brian Belovitch outside the long-running Veselka the other night, when renowned poet Eileen Myles emerged from inside the restaurant and started catching up with Brian. Then came Myles’ girlfriend, Transparent creator Jill Soloway (who’s incorporated some of Myles’ poetry and persona into the show). Then comic legend Sandra Bernhard, a friend of theirs, who’d been dining with them. Then actor/producer/director Griffin Dunne, followed by hilarious movie actress Kathryn Hahn, and some others, too. This was a very special Love Boat indeed.
It was an impressive mass of creative types who’d all had pierogis together, and now, Brian and I were catching them in the afterglow. As we all hung together on the street, Soloway admitted that she thought the casting of Matt Bomer as a trans woman in a movie was a terrible idea because we’ve evolved so much that the concept of cis people playing trans just isn’t cool. “So you wouldn’t cast Jeffrey Tambor in Transparent?” I asked Soloway. She said “No,” but explained that things were different three years ago; “We wouldn’t have gotten the show made.” “Can you maybe get rid of him now?” I joked. “He’s terrific,” Soloway said, and she seemed pleased when I added that she does include trans actors on the show.
Brian then regaled Soloway with his own amazing story—that he’d been Brian, then was an army wife/party girl named Tish Gervais, and then he “de-transed” back into Brian, making him a rare two-time transgender person. Soloway was captivated by the photos Brian showed her of the voluptuous Tish, but I bet she wouldn’t cast Matt Bomer in the role.
“In the future,” said Soloway, “maybe everyone can be female for half of their lives and male for the other half.” “I already did that,” said Brian, laughing. “Well, people will probably live to be 120,” I offered, “so they should probably be female for 40 years, then male for 40, and genderqueer for the last 40. I’d love to come back as a young woman,” I declared, proudly.
At this point, I weakened at the sight of the female Sandra Bernhard looking luminously accessible, so I approached her to say, “I’m sorry for the things I wrote about you way back when.” I elegantly added, “I was a fag on a rampage.” [The ‘90s brought the first modern wave of sometimes excessive political correctness, and I must admit I was leading the brigade—though I also did a lot of good, I swear.] Sandra graciously accepted my apology and we hugged, which was a really lovely moment—not at all your typical happening in the New York moonlight.
Kathryn Hahn was wonderful too, listening to me carry on about how much I enjoyed her in Bad Moms (she plays a promiscuous mother with a heart of gold) and how I liked the plot resolution involving Mila Kunis and Christina Applegate. But Hahn was quickly taken away from me when a group of Marymount students a few feet away pounced on her to ask her to take a picture—of them! I told her this is like when people approach me, and I wet my lips and get ready for the intense flattery, only to have them say, “Excuse me, sir. Which way is 14th Street?” Hahn was so adorable, she actually went and shot the photo for them. And after she came back to us, the students returned in wonderment to ask, “Wait a minute. Are you Kathryn Hahn?” That was an even more fulfilling plot resolution than the one in Bad Moms.
Left to our own devices again, Brian and I engaged in more trans talk, Brian saying that if a trans actress had gotten the Bomer role, there would have been a whole other wave of controversy from people shrieking, “Don’t stereotype us as sex workers.” “But that would have been followed by a counter-controversy,” I interjected, “with people screaming at the protestors, ‘Why are you shaming sex workers?’"
I also noted that Brian’s existence defuses some of the criticism that came after Bette Midler joked about whether Caitlyn Jenner would go back to being Bruce now that her show was canceled. “Trans isn’t a phase,” yelped the activists. But for Tish, it was. Trans people come in all types—and we should allow them room to develop and not fit cookie-cutter wisdoms and restrictions. End of sermon—and borscht.
SPARKLE, BLONDIE, SPARKLE!
But back to drag queens, lol. New York Fashion Week got exciting when the fab duo knows as the Blonds trotted out their most sophisticated line yet, awash in shimmery silvers and russet browns, against a backdrop of blowup winged horses. The crowd—which included dog-holding Kelly Osbourne and Tony winning Cynthia Erivo—was enthusiastic, especially when Phillipe Blond himself ended the show looking like a human-sized Swarovski crystal topped by a mountain of corkscrew blond hair. As I headed back to the VIP lounge afterwards, I noticed that manning the entrance was Marc Benecke, the doorman from the legendary 1970s disco Studio 54. And this time he let me in!
I’d also been admitted to the show by Academy of Art University students, who turned it out with brash fabrics, patterns, textures, and influences you won’t find in the more commodified mainstream designers. The only unfashionable thing at that event was a gay publicist I knew whom I warmly greeted. “Thanks so much for saying hello,” he said later, looking pained. “Friends have been dropping me like crazy.” “Why?” I wondered, surprised. “I’m working on the Trump campaign” was his horrifying reply. Ugh. Another one to stick in the basket of deplorables.
A much more liberal good time was Bushwig, the annual Brooklyn drag fest, which for the second year in a row took place in Queens. But since it was held at the sprawling event space/arts center Knockdown Center, this was close enough to the Brooklyn border to still reek of Bushwick moxie. Just like the Academy of Art U fashion show, the fest brims with percolating talent which has yet to get boringly slick and commercialized. And it’s not even limited to drag; women and even a guy in a Hassidic ensemble joined the lineup, all organized by Brooklyn faves Horrorchata and Babes Trust. Another plus was the on-site fashion emporium called Bushswag, which I hear may well spin off into its own annual fiesta. And after that, who knows? How about a pork festival called Bushpig?
BLUE IS THE NEW CIRQUE
Brooklyn, not Queens, was the site of Cirque de Soleil’s Toruk, which swung into the Barclays Center for a handful of performances filled with humanoids working out issues with flying dragons on the distant Pandora. In this prequel inspired by James Cameron’s 2009 sci-fi flick Avatar, there was even more makeup than Cats–and with all that blue body paint, the show truly dabbled in the Na’vi blues. While Cirque’s current Broadway endeavor, Paramour, has stunning theatrics, but lousy dialogue, this one mostly had spare narration linking the set pieces, which are grandly achieved, thanks to elaborate sets, projections, lights, creatures, and shadows. Dramatically, it’s not always riveting (and there are some cheap looking flames), but the pieces add up to a Pandora’s hot box of imagination.
Photo: Errisson Lawrence © 2015 Cirque du Soleil. Costumes: Kym Barrett.
Far more earthbound, the first NYC revival of the Pulitzer winning 1959 musical Fiorello! takes place in a landscape of old New York, on a set made of headlines and skyscrapers. The Berkshire Theatre Group production, directed by Bob Moss, doesn’t unearth a revelation, but instead a solid show about a frisky and likable politician who battles corruption as he ascends from law to Congress to the mayor’s seat. Except for a few songs, the Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick score is pretty efficient and charming, with the lovely “Till Tomorrow” and a song Fiorello delivers about the crookedness of the political organization Tammany Hall, which comes off a little like a nod to “(Ya Got) Trouble” from The Music Man. Surprisingly, Fiorello LaGuardia doesn’t really dominate the proceedings the way you’d think. (And the female characters are pretty well drawn, not ciphers.) In the title role, Austin Scott Lombardi doesn’t look like Fiorello—the actor is better looking and leaner—but he projects a wiry appeal, and it was nice to see something that in its time was so potent and meaningful. Consider it the opposite of the inevitable Trump The Musical. Yes, put that in your borscht, Mr. Putin.