I bought a CD at the Dayton Art Institute last night
Doing so wasn’t something I’d planned, but I got an email yesterday from the Dayton Art Institute reminding me that their first Twilight Concert was that evening, and I didn’t anything better to do, so I went. The program didn’t look especially interesting—it just listed “Gem City Chorus” and “Jeremy Collins, guitar”—but I live right across from the DAI and have a membership, so I figured I might as well go.
I walked over early so that I could stop at Leo Bistro for a drink and a bite to eat before the concert. Leo Bistro is the DAI’s fancy new bar/café, replacing their old Café Monet and in a much better location, at the front of the building off the rotunda, where the gift shop used to be. Leo Bistro’s run by the same people who own Roost Modern Italian, and the food, although limited in selection, is good. During the DAI’s flood exhibit I would walk over to have dinner at Leo Bistro about once a week, but since that exhibit closed, evening traffic at the museum’s been a bit sparse (lunch is still hopping though), and so Leo Bistro has reduced its evening offerings to a short bar menu. I had a glass of Casa Bianchi Malbec and the pepperoni and mozzarella arrancini.
That put me in a good mood for my stroll through the permanent exhibits—during which I did not encounter a single person although I did spy a large group of women in a cloister—on my way to the Renaissance Auditorium for the concert. It might have been because of the big media frenzy about the coming derecho, but not many people came to the concert. I know the audience was outnumbered by the 50 or so members of Gem City chorus, and I suspect we may also have been outnumbered by the museum staff as well.
I snagged a seat in the middle of the second row, which turned out to be an excellent choice because the concert turned out to be all acoustic. A poor woman struggled with a couple microphones for about 10 minutes before the concert but finally gave up. Actually performances in the Renaissance Auditorium don’t really need amplification (I know, having sung there with the Dayton Gay Mens Chorus). It’s a fairly small space and we were a rather small audience.
That was the setup for the best part of the evening. The featured guitarist, Jeremy Collins, was on stage directly in front of me, so it was like having a private recital just for me.
Collins did his first piece, “Winter Dream” from his CD of the same name, in the dark. I guess the same woman who couldn’t manage the microphone also wasn’t up to the challenge of the lights. Collins mentioned being at a competition once where the power went out and a fellow competitor did his entire performance in absolute pitch black. We still had some light coming in from the doors on either side, so we could still see Collins, but the darkness made the performance seem even more intimate.
What we couldn’t tell from DAI’s rather sparse description on its website and in its email was that “Jeremy Collins, guitar” is actually a classically-trained guitarist as well as a composer. Think of a violinist’s vibrato and you’ll have some idea of how Collins plays guitar. “Winter Dream” was his own composition, made even more interesting because, as Collins explained, he adjusted the tuning of his strings for the piece, adjusting one a half tone down and another a full tone up (or something like that). I played violin in elementary school through high school but had never heard of non-standard tuning—the Suzuki Method doesn’t cover scordatura. Whether because of the alternate turning or just because it was classical guitar well played, I very much enjoyed Collins’s music.
The stage lights finally came up, and Collins did three more pieces. His other pieces weren’t his own compositions. The first was “Fandango” from “Tres Piezas Españolas,” by Joaquín Rodrigo and was what you might expect of Spanish guitar music. The second was “Elegy” by Alan Rawsthorne, who died while composing it (Collins said it was uncertain who completed it but Wikipedia says Julian Bream did)—it was a touch modernistic for my tastes. The last was “Introduction and Caprice” by Giulio Regondi, who Collins explained was rather noted for composing guitar pieces that were difficult to play, perhaps because guitars were smaller when Regondi was composing. I liked this piece very much as well. And that was it—the rest of the concert was the Gem City Chorus, although I’d have been happier if it’d been all Jeremy Collins.
Not that the Gem City Chorus was bad, but I wasn’t enchanted by them. Choral music can be fun if you’re part of the group singing or if the jokes are geared towards you (as those by gay choruses are towards me), but the Gem City Chorus jokes about men thinking women can’t drive well or about hearing aids fell on deaf ears as far as I was concerned. The woman who’d (luckily) been unable to set up a microphone for Collins did manage to set one up for the chorus, but fortunately it wasn’t on while they sang, only as various chorus members came up to do various bits of explanation. Given the loudspeaker’s horrible tinny sound (like a public address system, not a theatre’s sound system), they’d have done better to have avoided the mike and instead just spoken clearly and loudly. I did particularly like one of their songs, a rendition of Melissa Manchester’s “Come In From the Rain” sung by their “large quartet” comprised of 7 of their section leaders.
So after the concert I decided to buy a CD, Winter Dream, from Collins. I liked what I’d heard of his music and wanted to hear more, and I felt a little sorry that he’d trekked up from Cincinnati for such a small turnout. If you’re curious about scordatura, you should definitely check this CD out as each of his pieces on it use different tuning. You can read more about Collins and some background on the compositions on Winter Dream in this MasterWorks Festival interview with him.
And you should definitely come to the Dayton Art Institute for one of these concerts. Worst case it’s just a pleasant diversion. Best case you might learn something and discover something fun.
A strange incident on Olive’s patio (plus some food porn)
Today for lunch I headed over to one of my favorite places in Dayton, Olive, an urban dive. I like Olive in large part for the food, of course. I also like that it’s near where I live and work. I like its atmosphere, both its cozy tasteful interior and its cheerful patio. I especially like the people who work there, a friendly hard-working bunch (hi Kim and Sandy and Laura and Betsie!). I’ve been eating at Olive about once a week, more or less, since they opened in the summer of 2011.
Olive, because its building (a former Wympee’s) is small, can be difficult to get into. You definitely need reservations for dinner and also for lunch if you go during peak time, the noon hour. I don’t usually make reservations, though. For lunch I drop by around 1 p.m. and can usually get in with little or no wait.
For brunch on Saturday I’m often there when they open at 10 a.m. and never have a wait. Today I arrived about 12:30 and inside was pretty busy but the patio was wide open, so I snagged a nice spot in the shade, at the long table in the foreground of the photo to the left.
Visit Olive on Facebook to see their specials
and lots more food porn
Something to know about Olive’s is that it’s not a place to go if you’re in a hurry. If you’re in a rush, go get fast food. The pace at Olive is laid back. It can take some time for the food, but it’s made fresh from good local ingredients and worth the wait. I’m never in a hurry at Olive because I either have gone with a friend or two and we chat as we wait, or, often as not, I’ve gone alone and brought a book.
A trick, however, that you can use to your advantage is to know what you want and to order it when a server asks what you’d like to drink. Makes things easier all around and speeds up the process a bit. Another trick is to like Olive on Facebook because there you can see enticing photos of their daily specials. Today I took advantage of both tricks. Having seen the special online, the meatloaf sandwich (pictured to the right), I knew what I wanted, and as soon as Laura seated me, that’s what I ordered.
Armed with an iced tea and the latest copy of Granta, I settled in on the patio on this nice spring day and awaited my lunch.
While I was waiting, I overheard some people on the other side of the patio fence as they discovered my gay car parked there (“How cool is that!” they said) and took a picture of it. But that wasn’t the strange incident.
The strange incident involved a pair of couples who joined me on the patio for lunch.
The first couple to arrive was two lesbians. One might have suspected from looking at them, but one of them was wearing shorts with a rainbow graphic on them. Laura had set the high top (middle of the photo to the left) for them and the couple they were to meet, but the one lesbian wanted to sit in the sun (table at the right of the photo). No biggie—both tables were open, Laura didn’t mind where they sat, and they helped Laura to move the napkins and flatware.
The lesbians’ friends, a heterosexual couple, then arrived to join them, but oh, they weren’t sure they wanted to sit in the sun. Oh, that’s okay, we can sit back at the high top in the shade, the lesbians said, laughing a bit and explaining they’d just moved from that table. No, no, you want to sit in the sun, the straight couple said, we don’t mind, although the wife said she’d have to get her hat and asked her husband for their car keys.
All this negotiating and maneuvering and fetching of hats took some time, but soon enough the two couples were settled in and I had my lunch.
And this is where the strange incident happened.
I had my book propped open, my sandwich in my hands, my mouth full of delicious meatloaf, and the wife looks over at my table and says, “Oh that table would be perfect for us. Would you mind moving over there (pointing at the high top)?”
Would I mind? Yes, of course, I’d fucking mind. I’m already in the middle of my sandwhich, babe, and why should I move for you?
I didn’t actually say that, of course, but instead said, “Um, I’m already settled here,” but the wife didn’t take the hint. “Could we join you?” she asked. “Um, sure,” I said, and over the four of them came, introducing themselves. The husband put out his hand to shake mine but then realized I was holding a sandwich and not really in a position (or the mood, though he didn’t notice that) to shake hands.
I returned to my reading (trying to ignore their conversation right on top of me), and Laura came out to take their order, a bit surprised that they’d moved yet again. “Oh, here at Olive’s you have to be friendly,” I said, which is true, especially inside where the tables are close together, although out on the patio I hadn’t expected there to be two other empty tables and then have people insist on sitting next to me.
The wife remarked that in Europe people share tables all the time. Yeah, I’ve lived in Europe, so I know that’s true but not when there are empty tables to be had.
The silly foursome chattered on, puzzling over the menu (“What’s a socca?” and “I don’t understand the benestacks”), talking about everything they’d done so far today (they get up early!) and everything they were still going to do. Friendly people but a bit queer, and I don’t mean the lesbians.
I enjoyed my sandwich very much though, as well as the champagne vinaigrette dressing on the salad (usually I do patio herb). Not wanting to be rushed off from my little corner of the patio, I also got a scoop of salted caramel Jeni’s ice cream, which Laura knew is my favorite.
What better way to end this post about Olive than with some food porn? They have tons of food porn on their Facebook page, where I stole the above photos of their patio and their meatloaf sandwich, but the following photos are one I took myself of food I especially appreciated at Olive:
Warm scallop salad
Scallops with pasta
Eggs benedict benestack
Triple layer French toast with cream cheese and Nutella
Alfredo socca with pancetta
Le fils de l’autre
Last Thursday I saw the opening film of the 2013 Dayton Jewish International Film Festival, Le fils de l’autre or The Other Son, at The Neon.
The showing was completely sold out, but luckily for you if you’re reading this blog post this week, you can catch the festival’s second showing of The Other Son on Monday, April 29th, at Antioch Midwest.
The premise of the film is that two 18-year-old boys, an Israeli named Joseph Silberg (played by Jules Sitruk) and a Palestinian named Yacine Al Bezaaz (played by Mehdi Dehbi), discover that they were accidentally switched at birth.
That premise may seem familiar if you, like me, are a fan of the TV series Switched at Birth. For example, a minor plot point in both The Other Son and Switched at Birth is that a father in each, upon learning that the child he’d thought was his is not, then assumes at first that his wife must have had an affair.
Another similarity between The Other Son and Switched at Birth is that one child comes from a life of privilege while the other comes from a less privileged background. However, that contrast is much more stark in The Other Son. Switched at Birth is set in Kansas City, while The Other Son is set in Tel Aviv and the West Bank. Except for the Hebrew on the signs in Tel Aviv, it might be possible, given the American hotel chains and American stores and American fast food joints, to confuse a Tel Aviv street scene for somewhere in Florida, but the West Bank, at least as depicted in The Other Son, seems like a third world country.
And that stark contrast, the difference between the lives of the Israelis and those of the Palestinians, is much of what The Other Son is about. Le fils de l’autre’s English title, The Other Son, conveys part of what the film is about—each family getting to know their other son—but the literal translation, “the son of the other,” conveys the larger “other” depicted in the movie. The Palestinians and Israelis in this film see each other as others. Israelis view Palestinians as potential terrorists, and Palestinians see Israelis as oppressors promulgating a Middle Eastern apartheid.
Yep, they use that word—apartheid—in the film, and the checkpoints that Palestinians must navigate to enter Israeli territory as well as the tall concrete walls that divide up Palestinian land are shown in The Other Son. Not every Palestinian has a pass to enter Israel or to work there, although Joseph’s father, a colonel in the Israeli army, does pull strings to get his biological son’s family papers, something that further shows the contrast between the privilege Israelis have that Palestinians do not.
The organizer of the film festival, introducing The Other Son, said that this film was the best one of those previewed and selected by the festival committee. Given the film’s tense subject matter I was a bit surprised to see it selected by the Jewish Film Festival. The film is pretty critical of the situation between Israel and Palestine, without being overly preachy but instead by simply showing what it’s like in Tel Aviv, what it takes to get to the West Bank from there, and what life in the West Bank is like. No one, not even the makers of the film, seems to have any answers about how to resolve the situation, but that the situation is unjust seems apparent, including to the film festival’s organizers.
Something else about the film that I found particularly interesting was the situation that Joseph found himself in. He’d been a rather devout Jew, good at his studies in temple, and his first question, asked of his mother, is whether he’s still Jewish. He goes on to ask his rabbi that question, and his rabbi tells him, that no, since his real mother wasn’t Jewish, Joseph is not a Jew, although he can become one if he wants. That’s rather a bitter pill for Joseph to swallow. In the eyes of G-d, it matters not whether you’re devout and faithful; no, what matters is whether your mother was Jewish. Imagine the situation if Joseph and his family had never discovered that he’d been switched at birth—he’d be an unknowing fake Jew worshipping all his life in the synagogue.
A final interesting point about The Other Son, which you can see from its original title, Le fils de l’autre, is that, although it was beautifully filmed in Tel Aviv and the West Bank, it’s actually a French film. I hadn’t realized that before seeing the movie and expected to hear more Hebrew. The French filmmakers used a device plot of having Joseph’s family be immigrants to Israel from France and of having Yacine being a student in Paris home in Palestine for a visit, and thus much of the dialogue in the film is in French. J’ai passé trois années du français au lycée but only one quarter of introductory Hebrew in college, so I recognized much of the French in the film but only a few words of Hebrew. Language also shows the privilege Israelis have and Palestinians lack. For example, an Israeli doctor asks the Palestinian parents if it would be okay for him to speak in Hebrew. When they say no, he switches to English, which both sets of parents understand.
If you read this in time, go see The Other Son at Antioch Midwest on the 29th. If you don’t it’d be worth finding this film on DVD or online.
100 Saints You Should Know
or Dark Night of the Soul
Before heading to the Dayton Theatre Guild this evening to see a friend perform in Kate Fodor’s play 100 Saints You Should Know, I didn’t have any idea what the play was about.
You can’t really guess from the play’s title. I don’t think it’s giving too much away, however, to tell that the title of a book that features prominently in the plot, Dark Night of the Soul, might actually be a more apt title for this play. 100 Saints features five characters—a single mother and her teenage daughter, a priest and his widowed mother, and a teenage grocery delivery boy—and during the play each of these people has a dark night, both the actual dark night that comprises the bulk of the play’s timeline as well as a longer lasting figurative and lonely night of searching for something missing from their souls.
That may sound rather depressing, and I won’t kid you, this play is rather depressing, but it’s not all depressing. A couple who sat in front of me left after the first act, and in many ways the first act was the best act, so perhaps this couple got their money’s worth. The first act has some really funny lines—after the play my friend told me that as she was on stage she heard my laugh so she knew I was there, and another friend of hers commented that one minor thing that could be improved was the pacing—my friend and the other actors needed to pause a bit after some lines to give the audience time to react before they proceeded.
One of my favorite parts of the play is a scene in which the priest, in the middle of the night, talks directly to us in the audience to explain exactly why
it is that he’s back home in his mother’s house, and, as he talks, on white curtains behind him are projected a series of black and white photographs. To the right here you can see an example of one of the photographs, all of which were taken in the 1940s and 50s by George Platt Lynes and all of which feature handsome naked men in various artful poses. Yes, I liked this scene because I, like the priest, appreciated Lynes’ work and his subjects, and yes, you can probably figure out that the priest’s liking these photos caused a bit of crisis of faith for him.
Earlier in the first act is another good scene, featuring the priest quoting to his mother from the book he is reading. He’s reading the aforementioned Dark Night of the Soul, poetry by Saint John of the Cross, and the priest’s poor mother makes the mistake of asking him to recite some of it.
Upon my flowering breast which I kept wholly for him alone, there he lay sleeping, and I caressing him there in a breeze from the fanning cedars. / When the breeze blew from the turret, as I parted his hair, it wounded my neck with its gentle hand, suspending all my senses.
recites the priest, touchingly, I thought, but shockingly, thinks his mother, who doesn’t want to hear any more. Bless her heart, she may not know that “sole” isn’t the correct spelling of the thing that God looks into, but she seems to recognize Dark Night of the Soul as gay men’s spirituality, even if she wouldn’t call it that.
Later, in another scene between the priest and his mother, one of many pairings in the play of the five characters, she admits to him that she, like him, is lonely, and that she wouldn’t wish loneliness like that on her son. She’s a good Catholic mother whose first instinct is to feed her son and who doesn’t really want to face head on who her son is (although she does recognize it even if she won’t admit it), but all the characters in 100 Saints are lonely in their own ways.
The teenage delivery boy, who we first meet carrying in a large order of groceries the mother has ordered for her son the priest, has had a similarly revealing interaction with his own father, even though that father is not a role in the cast. It turns out that the grocer has warned his son rather explicitly about the priest, and I’d guess that the grocer is as begrudgingly prescient about his own son as the priest’s mother is about hers.
Perhaps the most heart wrenching aspect of 100 Saints is this delivery boy. He faces his own dark night of the soul, at a much earlier age than does the priest, but unfortunately for him he seeks answers in all the wrong places. One such place is the priest himself, who’s just not equipped to give the boy the help he needs, and another such place is the single mother’s bad girl daughter, who, not having gotten helpful answers in her own life from her mother, also isn’t equipped to help the delivery boy.
Just as the delivery boy doesn’t find the answers he seeks, so too do we as 100 Saints’ audience not find good answers. 100 Saints ended rather abruptly, after a prayer, and I left feeling a bit unsatisfied. That’s not the fault of the actors, nor even of the playwright necessarily. Whose fault is it? God’s, perhaps? Life just doesn’t always happen in nice neat little packages.
So should you see this play? If you’re reading this after March 10th, you’re too late, but if you’re in time, and if you, like me and like so many people, find yourself going through your own dark night of the soul, then yes, do go. You may not find answers, but you’ll find plenty to think about.
Olive, an urban dive
Olive, an urban dive, is a great new restaurant in the historic Wympee building downtown at Third and Wayne
I’ve been following the saga over the past several months of the hurdles Kim Collett has faced getting Olive, an urban dive, her new restaurant, up and running, but it wasn’t until today that I was able to make it over to check things out for myself. They had a very successful sold out “Dive into Olive” preview week, and David Esrati, in his review of Olive, warned that it might be difficult to get in for lunch given how good the food is and how small the restaurant is, but Kim posted on Facebook yesterday that people shouldn’t “worry that we’re too packed,” and so my best friend and I headed
A view of the historic Wympee building, spruced up
over for lunch today, a bit after 1:00. They were doing a good business but still had a couple tables available inside, and we were seated right away.
The outside of the building looks pretty much like it always has, with the historic Wympee signs, but it’s been spruced up a bit with plants and benches in front and an inviting patio in back with outdoor seating and with herbs growing that Olive uses in items such as the scrumptious patio herb salad dressing.
Looking at the inside of the building, you’d be hard pressed to know it once was Wympee’s because everything’s been completely redone, with amenities ranging from fabulous handmade wooden ceiling tiles to a new cork floor to custom lights and other great decor. Head over to Olive’s Facebook page (you can read there about some of the hurdles they faced getting started), in particular their photo gallery which has tons of photos documenting all the hard work they put into their business and building.
A view of Olive’s
fashionable dining room
Keeping the historic facade of the Wympee building honors its past, but the totally redone interior, suitable for a first class restaurant, hardly goes along with Olive’s so-called “urban dive” moniker.
The wait staff, in addition to being very friendly, is also very knowledgeable about Olive’s unique mission to strive to use local ingredients. Not only did our server explain how Olive’s grows their own herbs out back (and invite us to be sure to check out the patio), but she also told us about what, if I’m remembering correctly (which I may not be), are young herbs—for example, radishes that are cut before they bloom so they impart hints of radish flavor. As you can see from Olive’s soft open “lunchish fare” menu, they have a lot of choices for a small restaurant that makes everything from scratch, and our server was good about explaining all the options.
My friend and I both got the same thing, tuscan grilled cheese sandwiches served with the house salad (of course with the famous patio herb dressing) and cups of tomato bisque. This is not your traditional grilled cheese and tomato soup, although it was delicious and comforting. Our meals were served very stylishly on long rectangular white plates that you wouldn’t expect to find at Wympee’s or an urban dive. Tasting the tomatoes in the sandwiches makes one appreciate fresh, local produce, and the house pesto on the sandwiches was also a tasty addition. Topping it all off was the patio made sun tea, lightly sweetened with agave (our server brought us sugar cubes, but the tea was perfect without any added sugar).
Olive has a very relaxing atmosphere. At our corner table my friend and I had a pleasant conversation as we enjoyed our meal, but near us were some single people eating alone, one reading a book and another just taking in the scene. I’m glad Olive is finally open and glad that I was able finally to visit. I plan on going back often, and you should check Olive out too—you won’t be disappointed!
Inside the Boy Meets Boy program
is a stunning endorsement of ETC by none other than Lady Gaga.
I went last night to see Evolution Theatre Company’s revival of the play Boy Meets Boy and found it flawed but enjoyable. I wouldn’t be quite so harsh as Michael Grossberg was in his review of the play (“Cast fails to carry low-budget spoof”) in the Columbus Dispatch but do agree with much of his assessment.
As a musical the play would have been stronger with a cast more capable of singing—the ensemble numbers were the weakest part of the show. However, as Grossberg points out,
Talented opera singer Eric McKeever
Eric McKeever was a “notable exception;” he’s quite a good singer, as well he should be given that he works as an opera singer (read about his rather unconventional return to that career on his blog “Back in the Game”).
However, the play was still entertaining. It’s a riff on light-hearted 1930s comedies—think Philadelphia Story—combining a skewed theatrical view of “high society” with a love triangle starting out with person A engaged to person B and taking a convoluted path to realize that person A is really destined to be with person C. Only in this case person A isn’t a girl torn between two men but rather a boy.
The boy in this case is Guy Rose, played by Daniel Christian, and some suspension of disbelief is required in order to enjoy the play. Just as Clark Kent manages to keep everyone from realizing that he’s Superman by simply donning a pair of glasses, so too does Guy Rose manage to confuse his two suitors, Boston millionaire Clarence Cutler, played by Scott Risner, and world famous reporter Casey O’Brien (McKeever), who, believe it or not, after missing the scoop of Edward VIII abdicating the throne of England for Wallis Simpson, decides to cover the high society same sex wedding of Rose and Cutler. Yes, that’s right—this alternate reality 1936 England won’t stand for its king marrying a divorcée but fawns all over queer aristocrats marrying one another. Suspend your disbelief and enjoy the play anyway.
Risner, who works outside the theatre world as a stand up comic and who went to Wright State University here in Dayton, brings some much needed comic relief to the play as the jilted lover scheming to keep Rose and O’Brien apart. His asides to the audience bring quite a bit of laughter.
No disrespect intended to Daniel Christian (considered mousey by O’Brien and Cutler if his hair was mussed and he wore the aforementioned glasses but found to be a stunningly beautiful “English rose” if he simply combed his hair and wore contacts), but frankly I found Adam Mesker
Go see Boy Meets Boy to see quite a lot more of Adam Mesker (in the end)
more attractive. Perhaps I was swayed by his revealing turn in the second act’s Folies de Paris scene, but I think any red-blooded 1930s gay guy who’d seen Mesker’s naked butt would have prefered he be the boy gotten in the end.
So, if you’re reading this before the play’s final showing on July 24, go see it and take Boy Meets Boy for what it is—some light-hearted fun for the gay guys. Overlook the weak singing (and enjoy McKeever’s talented singing), suspend disbelief (that you can bring cocktails into Studio One may help with that), and enjoy some gay comedy (and a view of a fine ass towards the end).
Tonight I saw the Dayton Playhouse’s production of Terrence McNally’s Corpus Christi, a play that reimagines the myth of Jesus. Corpus Christi first premiered eleven years ago, in 1998, and I first saw it six years ago in Cincinnati. That 2003 production was by Know Theatre Tribe (see archive.org’s copy of their Corpus Christi page) in an unconventional theatre space called Gabriel’s Corner housed in a church building. I enjoyed the play six years ago, but I enjoyed it even more tonight.
Corpus Christi has driven conservative Christians crazy since before its premiere, and tonight’s production in Dayton was no exception. The sidewalk into the Dayton Playhouse’s theatre was lined with protestors, quiet and polite but bearing signs complaining about the blasphemy of the play and promising to pray for all involved in it (I told the bearers of one prayer sign that I’d pray for them too).
I’m sure that these protestors, if at some point they google Corpus Christi and run across my little review here, will think my reference to Jesus’s story as “myth” just to be more blasphemy along the lines of McNally’s play. Yet I mean no disrespect to the historical Jesus (if there was one, and I’m inclined to think there probably was) nor to the idea of Jesus, nor do I think that Jesus, at least not the Jesus in whom I believe, would be offended by my talking about his story as myth. I don’t choose the word “myth” because I think the story of Jesus is made up or not real; instead “myth” comes to my mind in reference to Corpus Christi because of truth.
The truth I mean is not literal truth. Obviously Jesus was not born of a Brooklyn Jewish Mary in a sleazy pay-by-the-hour motel in Corpus Christi, Texas, to the sounds of johns fucking prostitutes. Bishop Forsyth of South Sydney needn’t point out that Corpus Christi is “unhistorical and untrue” — McNally isn’t asking anyone to believe that Texas was ever under Roman rule. McNally isn’t even asking people to believe that the historical Jesus was in fact gay (for someone who is asking people to believe that, read a post I wrote in 2004 about the book The Man Jesus Loved).
Bishop Forsyth and others outraged by Corpus Christi are quite right that the play is “unhistorical” but they’re quite wrong about its being untrue. The bishop and his fellow protestors need to read some Joseph Campbell and learn about the power of myths. For anyone who has ears to hear there is indeed truth to be found in Corpus Christi.
That truth is not primarily that Jesus was gay, although Sean Frost’s portrayal tonight of a 17-year-old Texan Joshua going to prom with a girl and then not wanting to do what was coming naturally to all his straight classmates that night certainly rang true to me — in high school I went through the motions of dating and even kissing girls and went to prom with a girl, but like Joshua, I never sealed the deal. I also spent too much time staring at boys on whom I had crushes, enough to attract the wrong kind of attention, just as Joshua does in Corpus Christi. And let me mention here that I found Mark Diffenderfer, who played the masculinely and aggressively gay Judas, to be quite hot.
No, the primary truth to be learnt from Corpus Christi is something one might expect even those protesting the play to agree with, for despite the liberties McNally takes, he remains faithful to the most important lessons taught by the Jesus of the Gospels. Love your neighbor, and realize that your neighbor isn’t just the person who shares your demographics and lives right next door to you but that the people who make you most uncomfortable, the lepers, the homeless, the faggots, the tall-haired Pentecostals, whoever, are also your neighbors.
People who focus on Corpus Christi’s literal untruths and protest the play miss this most important truth. What Jesus would want isn’t protection from blasphemy — as depicted both in Corpus Christi and in the Book of Matthew, if Jesus wanted protection from blasphemers, “Do you think [he] cannot call on [his] Father and … [have] at once … twelve legions of angels” to provide such protection? No, instead what Jesus wants is for us to recognize the divinity in each of us (shown beautifully in the introduction/baptism of each of the actors/disciples at the beginning of the play).
However, Corpus Christi focuses not only on Jesus’s message of love but also on the hatred his fellow men show to one another and to him, culminating in the play’s portrayal of the Passion and crucifixion of Jesus. Here I find Corpus Christi to be very true towards traditional Christian understanding — Jesus’s betrayal by Judas and his suffering and death were preordained by God — but I disagree (ironically, probably as opposed to the play’s protestors) with that traditional understanding and its depiction in this play. I do not believe that the only way an omnipotent God could forgive humanity was by sending a Son to Earth to be sacrificed to atone for our sins. Hello, omnipotent means all-powerful and an all-powerful God could damned well decide just to forgive us, couldn’t he? No, instead I think that the historical Jesus with his radical message of defying social conventions and loving everyone ran afoul of religious and secular authorities and got himself killed.
Yet despite my disagreement with the historical accuracy of the crucifixion in Corpus Christi, I think director Michael Boyd did manage to bring truth to its depiction nonetheless. The projection of photos of protestors from Westboro Baptist Church, of defaced pro-gay Christian billboards and of Matthew Shepard and the site of his death rammed home the point that just as the historical Jesus faced hatred from his fellow humans so too are we today endangered by such hatred, especially if we try to be true to Jesus’s message. Unconditional love of all God’s children is radical and dangerous and difficult and scary.
Corpus Christi at the Dayton Playhouse runs through November 22, so if you’re reading this post shortly after I’ve written it you still have time to see it. Unlike other productions Boyd’s includes no intermission but runs straight through, but I found it very powerful and thought the time passed quickly. You might not think you could find such good theatre in Dayton, but you can.
Due to traveling and apathy, I've had no Pride this month until last night when I attended a rather gay event, namely the Human Race Theatre's
production of Take Me Out, a tale about a baseball superstar who comes out. Since last night's performance was a special(ly discounted) Greater Dayton LGBT Center Pride performance, everybody's who's anybody in Dayton's gay community was there, so it was fun to see some people I hadn't seen in a while.
The set was done well, diamond-shaped with a dugout on one side, a lockerroom on the other and a combination home plate/pitchers mound in the center. Cannily crafted stadium lights and lockers of decreasing size gave an interesting sense of perspective to make the stadium seem larger, and good sound effects of crowd noise and stadium echo (even during Executive Director Kevin Moore's obligatory thank the sponsors/pitch the new season speech) made the theatre seem even more like a ballpark. As at Dayton Dragons games, that the stadium (err, theatre) was packed, added to the excitement and fun.
After Kevin's speech, the play got off to a traditional baseball start with the singing of the national anthem but without a soloist to help us on, leaving the audience to stumble through the words on our own without much help from the baseball players/actors on stage. We kept up the baseball motif as the play progressed, too, standing up in the second act for a seventh inning stretch to sing, what else, "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."
When it comes to the actual play, I really didn't find the plot as gripping as it might have been. The newly out superstar, Darren Lemming (played by Lindsay Smiling), never really gained my sympathy, not even after the play's denouement. The play's narrator of sorts, Kippy (played by David Marantz), was likeable, and Marantz covered up somewhat for at least one awkward moment when he seemed to be waiting for Smiling to say a line.
I was a bit disappointed in another part of the play, a heavily-billed feature that was probably responsible for drawing much of the play's gay audience — the full-frontal male nudity galore. It was tasteful and integral to the plot (OMG, a faggot's in the lockerroom looking at my jewels!), and (another kudo to the set designer Dick Block) the batting deck artfully converted to a working showerroom, but most of the actors were not prime physical specimens (not being a baseball fan, I don't know — are major league baseball players actually fairly flabby?) and thus nothing really titillating to look at. There was one exception, one of the Hispanic players on the team (and unfortunately I don't know if he was Martinez [Greg Hall] or Rodiguez [Ramon Gaitan]) was in fact well hung and tight, with a small sexy tattoo right above his pert buttocks. Hello!
The highlight of the evening was a surprise to me because he's someone I know online (I won't reveal his gay.com screenname, but his profile there features a photo of him with a very sexy beard and moustache). Offline he is Brian McKnight and his portrayal of nerdy gay accountant Mason "Mars" Marzac was terrific. McKnight got all the sterotypically gay gestures and mannerisms down pat to great humorous effect, and he did what Smiling could not do, make me like his character. If you ever have the chance to see McKnight perform, do!
Remember when Joan Crawford, towards the end of her career, filled in for her daughter Christina on the soap opera The Secret Storm, playing the part of a character 30 years younger than she was? Okay, I don’t remember it either, except from Mommie Dearest, but from all accounts, it didn’t go well. I saw something this afternoon that reminded me of that, another actor playing a part 30 years younger, but apparently this actor’s been doing it for over 30 years. Ugh.
Ted in 1973 as JC
Which actor? 63-year-old Ted Neeley, star of the 1973 (yes, 34 years ago) film, Jesus Christ Superstar, come to Dayton in the national touring production of Jesus Christ Superstar: The Farewell Tour. Now I’d never heard of Ted before today, although I did see a production of JCS once, a local one in Centerville a few years ago, which I enjoyed in large part because of the cute actors playing Jesus and the apostles. So the bright young cast comes out on stage for the overture and I’m prepared to sit back and watch some eye candy, and imagine my surprise when the brilliant heavenly white spotlights focus on wrinkly weathered Ted! Jesus Christ you’re old!
It didn’t take long to get to a point of wicked irony. Voluptuous Tiffini Dodson, well cast as Mary Magdalene with her ample bosom about spilling out of her harlot’s costume, throws herself all over JC as Judas sings that JC’s relationship with her might be construed as inappropriate. It was all I could do not to stand up and shout, “Yes! It’s inappropriate! He’s old enough to be her grandfather!”
Next we have JC wailing (showing off his “vocal range,” as Wiki puts it, by alternating between high-pitched screeches and gravelly grumbling) about how he’s had three long years of ministry but it seems like 30 and he’s tired, and amazingly no one in the audience laughs, even though I was pretty sure even Ted thought it was funny. He likes this line so much he did the number in both acts, altering after intermission to three long years that seem like 90. Why do I get the feeling that despite the word “farewell” being in the tour’s title, Ted would love to still be playing JC when he’s 90?
The second act brought another point where most people weren’t laughing, although I was, laughing with pleasure actually, at the appearance of Aaron Fuksa as King Herod, decked out in his pajamas and bathrobe, backed up by a set of palace courtesans as he gaily dared JC to do a trick to prove his divinity. And I do mean gaily, because if this Herod wasn’t gay, then I’m straight!
As for the rest of the cast, there wasn’t a lot to impress. Ted’s highly-billed costar in this production, Corey Glover, lead singer of the band Living Colour, who played Judas, didn’t impress me either; Glover’s singing wasn’t unpleasant, but he violated one rule of musicals which is to sing so the audience can understand the words. And there were multiple times when various members of the company had their small solo bits and whoever was working sound wouldn’t activate their mikes soon enough.
I was a bit surprised at the overall depiction of JC, which seemed to waver between showing him as a man and as divine. Ted’s certainly got the benedictory hand gestures down pat, which, if the historical JC did as much as Ted did, would make me think he was a bit full of himself. But they did show JC as being tired of his duties and unsure of his future, both not wanting to die and doubtful as to how he’d be remembered. Yet in Gethsemane talking to God he ends up calling what’s about to happen God’s will. Earlier talking to Judas JC says Judas has to do what he’s going to do, and later Judas too says God chose him to carry out his plans. All this should meet with the approval of conservative Christians who see the Crucifixion as the only way God could save us all from eternal hellfire (the only way an all powerful God could save us?!). Yet the Crucifixion is the end of Jesus Christ Superstar — there is no Resurrection.
Actually that’s not quite true. Ted did his agonizingly long dying on the Cross and ascended into heaven (very theatrical but not at all Biblically accurate) to thunderous applause, and then shazam! he’s resurrected along with the rest of the cast, taking their bows before Dayton’s provincial audience who rewards them with a standing ovation. Jesus, Dayton’s faithful Broadway Series viewers will give anything that comes to town a standing ovation, but that’s another blog entry.