Couples traveling together to Thailand this month can speed their way through the traffic at Bangkokâ€™s Suvarnabhumi Airport faster than you can say, â€œno tuk tuk, no massage.â€ Register at one of the â€œAmazing Thailand, Amazing Romanceâ€ counters â€“ located on both the East and West concoursesÂ â€“Â by providing some basic information and receive a heart-shaped sticker and a key chain with the Thailand tourism mascot, Sook Jai, which entitles couples to use the â€œpremium laneâ€ for a fast track through the notoriously congested immigration process. Befitting a country known for its embrace of a third gender, theÂ program applies to same-sex couples, too. I think I feel an emoticon coming on.
Coincidentally, two of the more satisfying evenings I’ve had at the theatre this summer took place off-Broadway. (Perhaps coincidentally is the wrong word. Looking back on Broadway’s mostly disappointing season “inevitably” seems the more realistic choice.) Both of these plays do something mostÂ commercialÂ fare would rather eschew: look at how we define ourselves – and where we belong in the social order. Mike Bartlett’s Cock is the moreÂ aggressivelyÂ titled of the two and gives you a pretty good idea that you can expect to be grabbed by the dialectics. Should John stay with M, his longtime male lover or commit to W, the first woman he’s ever slept with? Far from the navel-gazing psychobabble you might expect, Bartlett’s take no prisoners approach doesn’t just hold up a mirror, it pile drives it into the audience’s face, proving that sticks and stones ain’t nothing next to a well-crafted equilibrium that’s been wholly upended. The four cast members are well matched but I found Jason Butler Harner especially heartbreaking as the older lover: Â a man so clear-eyed about himself yet fatally blinded by his love. Reconfigured to provide the most uncomfortable seating imaginable, reviewers have commented how the space at the Duke Theater cleverly resembles a cockfighting pit but for me it was aesthetically far grander – like a Roman amphitheater. Gladiators of love, these people areÂ lucky to escape with their heads – if not their hearts – intact.Â Nina Raine’s Drama Desk Award-winning playÂ Tribes is equallyÂ combative, though it’s the bonds of family that come in for a right bashing.Â Billy, the fantastic Russell Harvard,Â was born deaf into a hearing family, and raised inside the fiercely idiosyncratic and unrepentantly politically incorrect cocoon of his parents’ house. He has adapted brilliantly to the family’s unconventional ways, but they’ve never bothered to return the favor. It’s not until he meets SylviaÂ (Susan Pourfar, equally exceptional), a young woman on the brink of deafness, that he finally understands what it means to be understood. DirectorÂ David CromerÂ directs the intimate, in-the-round production, which has gone on to become the sleeper hit of the season. Raines covers a lot of ground, so much that clarity is often sacrificed in the face of so much sparkling badinage. Yet what makes it so compelling is the real family at its core and the divides they face.Â The struggle to hear and be heard proves a painful endeavor for all the characters. And ultimately some of their greatest triumphs of understanding occur, ironically enough, without resorting to language at all.
You let down your people, Evita. You were supposed to have been immortal. That’s all we wanted – notÂ muchÂ to ask for. Ok, maybe quoting Che Guevara’s sardonic funeral oration for Argentina’s first lady is a bit misdirected. To my mindÂ EvitaÂ is immortal – but that’s in large partÂ thanks toÂ Hal Prince’sÂ seminal production of a generation ago, Â not to mention the star-making performances of Patti Lupone and Mandy Patinkin. (Yes, I age myself – at this point it’s unavoidable.) The question remains: is it Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’sÂ EvitaÂ that we should cry for in its first ever Broadway revival or is it director Michael Grandage’s shambolic production?Â Does the fault lie with Elena Roger, the tiny-voiced,Â diminutive Argentine actress in theÂ titular role? Or perhaps pop star Ricky Martin, who as the de-politicized Narrator nÃ©e GuevaraÂ looks whollyÂ uncomfortableÂ in his own skin. Even Rob Ashford’s usually reliable choreography mustÂ come in for a bashing: in one number, The Art of the Possible, Juan Peron deftly vanquishes one general after another to propel himself into power. How does Ashford stage this? ByÂ havingÂ them awkwardly enact a series of halfÂ heartedÂ Greco-Roman wrestling moves. It’s symbolic: this production flirts with a number of interesting ideas that getÂ neither fully developed nor wholly abandoned, they just lie there like so much stagnant water.Â It’s hard to squarelyÂ pin the blame on any one individual becauseÂ acrossÂ theÂ boardÂ everyoneÂ is off their game here, save the suave and golden-throated Max Von Essen as tango singer, Augustin Magaldi. It’s difficult to not feel for the two leads, either: Martin’s lack of stage experience isn’t served by stripping him of any discernible character. (The shift from Che Guevara to an anodyne Narrator is inexplicable. Are we to blameÂ theÂ anti-Castro theatergoing lobby?) And Roger tries hard but she lacks the powerhouse voice the role demands. Ultimately what this pointless revival makes all too clear is that at theÂ Marquis TheatreÂ there’s aÂ thin line between immortality and ignominy.
Judy Garland’s lifeÂ was stranger than fiction. An international star since the age of twelve, the arc of her professional success and personal pain is a study of a life livedÂ in extremis.Â Accolades and addictions went hand in hand. TriumphÂ andÂ tribulation, too.Â Could there be a story better suited to the stage? Â I think not.Â Though her life has seen its share of … how shall we say? … creative adaptations – Adrienne Barbeau as Judy inÂ The Property Known As GarlandÂ will go down in my personalÂ theatergoingÂ history as a camp classic par excellence – Peter Quilter’s award-winning 2005 play End of the Rainbow focuses on the legend as she prepares for what would amount to a final career comeback at London’s Talk of the Town, just three scantÂ months before a fatal overdose. After successful runs in Australia and the UK, the play finally lands on Broadway with a jolt of electricity I can only describe as seismic.Â It’s not so much the quality of the play that kept meÂ rivetedÂ to the edge of my seat but the roof-raising, star-making performance of Tracie Bennett as the singular Garland. I won’t mince words, this could easily have turned into a catastrophic exercise in caricature (see Barbeau, above). Yet Bennett transcends mere mimicry and fully invests the woman with anÂ excruciatingÂ vulnerability that’s at times almost too painful to witness. Emotionally this Garland is like a cat skinned alive, at the end of her tether and tenaciously struggling with inner demons both inspiring and all-consuming. As her adoring (gay) accompanistÂ Anthony, Michael Cumpsty is an adept, if occasional, foil along with Tom Pelphrey as musician Mickey Deans, the final fiancÃ©e who both orchestrated her comeback and enabled its demise. But let’s be honest, the menÂ in Garland’s life wereÂ littleÂ more than extravagant accessories and the same holds true here. The truly spine-tingling moments take place when Bennett is left alone on stage,Â performingÂ a handful of Garland’s most memorable songs with show-stopping humor and gusto. It’s like stepping through a looking-glass: you’re in London, 1969, and one of the 20th century’s greatest artists is giving you everything she’s got – and then some. Try and remember the last time you saw a play where the audience roared for an encore. Now hightail it to the Belasco, where it happens nightly – and the audience only exits the theater reluctantly.
This isnâ€™t a political blog by any means. Itâ€™s a travel blog. Yet itâ€™s difficult to silently stand back and watch what is going on in one of my favorite cities in the world, St. Petersburg, Russia. In less than one week, lawmakers in St. Petersburg could silence millions of people by making it a crime to read, write or even discuss anything involving homosexuality. That’s right, a crime. Calls and letters have rolled in from around the world, but it’s not enough. So with your help, we’re going to hit the Governor of St. Petersburg where it counts: the pocketbook. Russia recently announced that it wants to spend $11 billion dollars over the next few years to attract tourists in concert with the forthcoming 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. We need to let the Governor of Peter the Greatâ€™s cosmopolitan “window on the west” know that we wonâ€™t go there if he turns the town into a gloomy center of censorship and intolerance. Russia’s second largest city thrives on its artistic reputation to attract tourists from around the world – a reputation that’s impossible to reconcile with a law that will muzzle artists, writers, musicians and ordinary citizens who live in – or visit – the city.Â Imagine for a moment the new Saint Petersburg, where an empowered “thought police” can fine you for any mention of the well-known fact that famed Russian composer Tchaikovksy, a Saint Petersburg native, was gay. Gogol himself couldnâ€™t have created a more ridiculous mise-en-scene. And yet it is well on the way to becoming reality.Â Please, take a minute to tell Governor Poltavchenko “I won’t go there” if the bill passes. He holds the power to veto this bill – a law that will not only censor millions but also silence any and all human rights organizations in Russia fighting for equal rights. The great city of Pushkin, Akhmatova, Rastrelli and Brodsky has at times in history been shelled, strangledÂ andÂ besieged. To now silence it would be the cruelest injustice of all.
Nicely tying up my time in Jamaica with a rainbow, my final day on the island coincides with anÂ announcementÂ by the Jamaican LGBT rights group J-FLAGÂ of a television campaign aimed at encouraging Jamaicans to love and support their LGBT family members. The US Ambassador to Jamaica,Â Pamela E Bridgewater, addressed a packed audience at the launch of the public service announcement,Â Unconditional Love, stating that “homophobia must be eliminated immediately, [because] as President Obama says, no one should be hated because of who they love.” Featuring Christine Straw, former Miss Jamaica World and Miss Jamaica Universe, and her gay brother Matthew Straw, the video is a publicÂ declarationÂ of love and acceptance – not the typically bigoted rhetoric one has come to expect publicly from the island’s leaders. As a step toward greater visibility, the effects of the PSA can’t be underestimated. For too longÂ peopleÂ have dwelt in the fear of what they don’t know: when it comes home to roost that’s no longer a valid excuse. Change, it seems, is finally coming to Jamaica – whether people like it or not.
The phrase “mixed feelings” doesn’t do justice toÂ myÂ long-held antipathy toward the island of Jamaica. Ever since dancehall artist Buju Banton had a late-80’s hit with the songÂ Boom Bye Bye, which not only incited but also openlyÂ celebrated the murder of homosexuals, the country has been at the top of my shortlist of places to avoid. Jamaican criminal codeÂ prohibits sex between men (but not women, natch) and neither of the island’sÂ politicalÂ parties shows any support for gay rights. Moreover, according to both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, the country remains one of the most homophobic places on earth. What has long irked me, however, is the tourism industry’s perspicacity in the selling of Jamaica as a carefree, inclusive society – a marked contrast to the reported high incidence of anti-gay violence and a widespread social conservatism fueled by religious zealotry and the economic fallout from globalization. Yet as I mature – somewhat glacially, I’ll admit – I see in the last half of that sentenceÂ the unintentionally ironic parallels to our own social failings and am reminded of reading an interview with UK activist Peter Tachell, who claims that homophobia is a 19th-century concept brought by BritishÂ colonizersÂ and Christian missionaries andÂ not an authentic expression of Jamaican culture. Perhaps if I stop my finger pointingÂ long enough I’ll find out for myself. Which is why, dear readers, I am currently on a plane to a place I never thought I’d go. And feeling so very – visibly – gay.