No one takes on more gay roles and themes than James Franco, and in I Am Michael, he's gone after a controversial, meaty subject based on a true story. From portraying virtually every kind of gay guy there is, he's now praying it all away. Franco plays an Olympia, Washington-born man named Michael Glatze, who's initially seen telling a teen that "gay" doesn't exist and in fact happens to be a false identity. He insists the kid should choose to renounce his gayness and embrace God as a way to get to heaven. But Glatze wasn't always like this. As we learn from the film, he was once a fiery San Francisco activist who fought for rights and even got arrested protesting a Christian Coalition event.
But after a health scare--and his founding YGA (Young Gay America) magazine with big aspirations--he starts reassessing things, feeling that the bible is full of loving messages and that God shouldn't be rejected, especially by those longing for a heavenly reward. Glatze becomes disenchanted with his relationship as "unhealthy" (Zach Quinto plays the increasingly uneasy boyfriend) and more determined that God is the answer and he can only join his parents in heaven if he grabs that bible and turns his back on sodomy. Glatze no longer identifies as gay, and when he ends up at a Buddhist retreat and tries to avoid temptation, he decides that his past identity has vanished and "I was a heterosexual person with a homosexual problem."
Written and directed by Justin Kelly (who also did the gay-themed James Franco film King Cobra, which is way racier), the film assumes a gentle, quiet tone, not going for sensationalism or cheap shots. In addition to Quinto, Daryl Hannah and Emma Roberts turn up as characters who have varying takes on Glatze's sexual trajectory, making things complicated for him along the way. Meanwhile, Franco is very good, radiating conviction as he recites biblical passages about giving your life to God, but also allowing for the sense that Glatze might be unduly possessed and maybe even a little bit mad. The movie's somber mood at first seems dullish, threatening to take a too-polite approach, but then it becomes more hypnotic and seems the right way to go with a story of misguided soul searching. By the end, you'll be a believer--in your gayness.
Her, Her, She's First
The gay floodgates are open in post-Castro Cuba--only ex-closet cases are welcome--so the drag queens are quickly tucking, zhooshing and heading there with a cigar between their legs. Billed as the first American drag queen to hit their shores, Mimi ImFurst just told me about her Cuban experience: The club was packed and unairconditioned (but exciting), and the crowd was poignantly un-savvy, due to all those horrible embargos all these years. In fact, while they know very recent stuff (like Lady Gaga's music), the Cubans had no idea what "Express Yourself" by Madonna was. So Mimi kindly introduced them to it, complete with male backup dancers spinning around her like dervishes.
"Everyone there is hustling in order to stay afloat," Mimi also told me. "They can't afford a dollar to get into a bar, so they stand outside, waiting for tourists to pay their way. Inside, they can't afford drinks, so it's the same situation. For $20, they're available the whole night--and they're gorgeous." And now we know another reason why drag queens are tucking, zhooshing and heading there.
Gideon Glick is a "Significant" Somebody
Perhaps the first Broadway comedy about a gay guy who can't find a husband, Significant Other arrives on the wings of off-Broadway raves for Joshua Harmon's play and star Gideon Glick. At a meet-and-greet last week, Harmon told me the play concerns Jordan, a hopelessly single NYC gay who's mainly friends with straight girls, all of whom seem to be getting married. "Would you call them 'fag hags'?" I wondered, bright eyed. "We don't use that in the play," Harmon replied, "but feel free to use it." The idea, Harmon said, "was to take the gay sidekick you see in movies--who's in two scenes and has some funny quips--and make him the center of the story. What happens when it becomes his story" The result, he said, explores whether the character is doing something wrong or is just woefully unlucky--or maybe both.
I also met the charismatic Gideon Glick, and promptly asked if this happens to be his breakthrough role. "I can't answer that," he said, smiling. "It's really the longest role I've ever had. It's two hours and 15 minutes with intermission, and I'm onstage the whole time." And his take on the character's actions during all that time? "I think he is a perseverator," Glick said. "An over thinker. He overanalyzes--and he comes on too strong sometimes. I don't think he has many gay male friends, which is part of his isolation," he added. "Is the play set in Hell's Kitchen?" I wondered. "No," Glick said. "Well, no wonder he can't get a boyfriend." I exclaimed. "I don't think he wants a Hell's Kitchen guy, not that there's anything wrong with them," Glick said. "Yes, there is," I cracked. "I always like watching the daddies walk around with their little puppies," he volunteered. Human puppies? "No, not human puppies," he responded. "Well, there is a phenomenon of daddies and their 'pups'," I instructed. "I'm well aware," Glick said, grinning. I like this guy.
A Striking Bunch of Posers
They might not know "Express Yourself" in Cuba, but we definitely know it here, so here comes a Dutch documentary about Madonna's Blond Ambition dancers, Strike a Pose. The film captures the excitement of such a tour, as well as the mixed message of self-expression, as the dancers grappled with various identity issues back in the groundbreaking '90s.
Last week, I hosted a Q&A for the film at the IFC Center, where the dancers told me they sued for promised remuneration on Madonna's Truth or Dare doc and finally got paid. "I thought I was fighting for dancers' rights," one of the guys told me, "but Madonna acted like she felt betrayed. In court, she threw me such a look of shade." Another dancer--who since died--sued the superstar for including a same-sex kiss of his in Truth or Dare, which he was supposed to have approval on. He also got reimbursed, but at the Q&A, his mother said that if he were alive today, he'd be pleased to know that his kissing image has become so iconic.
"Did Madonna ever get up in your business or try to matchmake for you?" I wondered. "Well," replied a dancer, "if we were into a guy, she'd try to break it up by leaning over and saying, 'He's a slut.' " But she had good intentions, of course. Madonna simply wanted the guys to stay focused on the tour, with no unneeded distractions.
Lucas Hedges and Other Rising Stars
Speaking of dazzling show biz opportunities: The Artios Awards--hosted by Michael Urie--were presented at a Stage 48 gala last Thursday, where casting directors were honored for giving people jobs. The super talented Lucas Hedges was there, having not only scored as the nephew in Manchester By The Sea, but having finished a Greta Gerwig film, Lady Bird. "It's a young girl's coming of age story," Hedges told me. "I play a musical theater actor. It was probably the most fun experience I've ever had making a movie." And he's all of 20 years old.
"Was the emotionally elaborate Manchester By The Sea grueling to make?" I wondered. "Absolutely," Hedges said. "It was the most demanding role I ever had, at that time. But I found that doing the actual scenes wasn't really grueling--it was all a release." Well, I hope all the resulting awards hoopla has been cathartic as well. Has it gotten into the way of rehearsing Hedges' current gig in the off-Broadway play Yen? "It hasn't been at all," he said, "in that we haven't been at any awards shows since we started rehearsing. I'm immersed in the work, and that's been a huge blessing." Well, get ready, kid. The Oscar noms come out tomorrow.
Another awards person, the delightful Margo Martindale, was also there, telling me the difference between TV and movies. "TV, you don't know the end of," she related. "With movies, you know the beginning middle, and end, but with television, you're on a journey, crossing the bridge as you go along. It's the most alive of the three medium." Especially since she had just found out a half hour earlier that Sneaky Pete has been renewed.
August: Allegheny County
But theater is alive, too. August Wilson's work is all the rage these days thanks to Denzel Washington's film, Fences, and Washington's vow to produce movies of all 10 of the late playwright's works that comprise his 20th Century cycle. So we get a revival of Jitney--the first time it's been done on Broadway--which is Wilson's '70s-set play about a Pittsburgh "car service" headquarters filled with off-the-books drivers on the verge of possible extinction.
The play is character-driven, not plot-obsessed, creating a world of quirky ambience, filled with flawed but generally likeable individuals who love to hash things out. Wilson's language is rich and the characters are deftly drawn as themes of relationships, dashed dreams, upward mobility and Lena Horne vs. Sarah Vaughn meld along with the sight of the characters continually sauntering in and out of the headquarters at will.
As directed by Tony winner Ruben Santiago-Hudson, the production starts with a mimed sequence (with instrumental jazz background music) in which various characters are introduced, and then it launches into chatter--lively, colorful chatter, often hilarious--about the characters' jagged pasts and uncertain futures. The result may not have the dramatic heft of Fences, but it's aiming for something more ambient and achieves it thanks to a committed cast. (Anthony Chisholm and Carra Patterson are particular scene stealers). Definitely worth the uber.