Sunday, November 14, 2010

One Man Shown

Tom Judson is fifty and today is his birthday. What better way to celebrate than to stand in front of a sold out crowd in just a jock strap and some boots? Earlier in his dressing room, when the strap and boots were brought in, one of his friends asked if that was part of his costume. “Or is that your whole costume?” I added, half joking, although it turned out I was right.

The one man show is, quite literally, a singular sensation. I am not an actor but sometimes I think it would be fun to do such a showcase. For me, it is less about having something to say for ninety minutes and more about just needing to be the center of attention. Inside my head, I am the star of my own perpetual movie. For the most part, it is a quirky romantic comedy in the first two reels before the lead meets cute with whoever the romantic foil is supposed to be. Apparently I’m still waiting for the third reel to begin.

I popped out of the subway in Chinatown looking for the Dixon Place Theater. The saber dance was playing on my iPhone as I playfully leaped across the dirty sidewalks and dodged the dodgy characters at every turn. It was just like a movie. Once inside the theater, I made my way down to Tom’s dressing room for a pre-show party for his closest friends and me. I knew no one, which always makes me feel awkward. Everyone had some champagne, which I waved off because I don’t like it. But to seem like a team player, I helped myself to an olive from the food platter. Suddenly, it was time to leave the dressing room and scanning around, the room had no trash can. What am I supposed to do with this olive pit in my mouth? Cut to me abandoning any sense of dignity and quickly spitting it into a napkin that I left next to the sink as I made my hasty retreat.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

All Duggan

I can’t remember the last time I talked to my friend Ryann. We are connected on Facebook, as we all are these days, but in the decades now since we both graduated from Alhambra High School, sightings have been sporadic at best. True, I left Los Angeles more than a decade ago but I think social networking is like the opposite of a car's side view mirrors: objects are not as close as they might appear. So I felt a mix of pleasant surprise and concern when she sent me a message on Facebook asking me to call her. “Who’s dead?” I thought to myself, like my mother answering a phone after eleven pm. In my head I ran through a quick list of possibilities but Michael Duggan wasn’t one of them. And yet, that is exactly who it was.

(1985. You Can't Take It With You cast photo. Ryann seated on lap in front. I am in back row with Michael)

Monday, November 1, 2010

With Six You Get Eyeroll

I don’t think Laura Bennett is related to the notorious Bennetts of New York acting fame, but it doesn’t matter. Arriving at her apartment last night for her Halloween party reminded me instantly of Louise Brooks off to visit Barbara Bennett on the morning of her unexpected firing from the George White Scandals. Barbara was an aspiring dancer like Louise, living in the shadow of her famous actor father, her Vanity Fair Magazine society dame mother, and more glamorous older sisters Joan and penultimate Bennett girl Constance. It was, more than anything, the inherent theatrically of the Bennett family that reminded me of the other Bennett family last night.

Laura was one of my favorite contestants on Project Runway some years back and, like Austin Scarlett before her, was robbed of glory by the show’s need to be a show and not actually a crucible for design talent. After all, Austin with his lush fantasy dresses and Laura with her stylish uptown Manhattan style are far more suited to the modern suited fashion wave of the skinny gays and the Gossip Girls than the winners have been. I love Jay McCarroll and his hot bag of crazy but Austin could have brought a whole generation of young women into the world of Haute Couture and Laura could have sent them off to work in style.

Where I didn’t wear a costume Saturday night, I felt a certain Venus-like imperative to really step out of my half shell and make an honest attempt at a costume for Laura. After all, this is a woman with six kids, five of them boys still living at home, who makes her own clothes and lives the high life in high heels. I couldn’t just wear a printed Hefty bag from Party City or that same old cowboy outfit, no matter how impressive my authentic duster is when I saunter down the sidewalks of New York. In a fit of last minute inspiration, I decided to go as my high school doppelganger Kurt from GLEE, as played by Chris Colfer on the hit show.

In order to be Kurt, I knew I had to dress upscale crazy. I needed to wear a bunch of things that only tangentially matched and the more outlandish the better. I knew the cornerstone of the outfit would be a pair of plaid golfing jodhpurs that I found fifteen years ago in a thrift store. They were my bowling night staple for much of the late 90s, where whenever I would bowl a strike I would lay down across the lane like Katarina Witt.

I put a blue shirt with a subtle polka dot under an argyle sweater and paired it all with shimmery bowling shoes and socks from a Boy Scout uniform that was my Halloween costume for too many years to be wholesome. I wanted to turn the matching Boy Scout kerchief into a necktie but I couldn’t find it in the many boxes of crap crammed in every nook and closet in my room. To complete the outfit, I threw a red Polo scarf around my neck, an old hat I found in a hat box in the garage when I bought my house and threw a leather tote bag on my shoulder like a purse. The accessories were more Truman Capote in training than Kurt but let’s face it, Capote is Kurt’s future if he ever gets out of Ohio or graduates high school.

Much to my surprise, Laura’s apartment was not the hotbed of homosexual activity I would have expected from a spontaneous gay icon such as herself. “The gays have abandoned me!” she declared, pointing the finger at her mommy alter ego as the culprit. But her gay manny Blake was there, in and out of his costume that couldn’t decide if it was Elton John or Phyllis Diller, and spent most of the evening keeping a wary eye on the rowdy teens to make sure no sex or drinking occurred in the darker recesses of the loft. Laura really outdid herself with the decorating and parts of the apartment were genuinely spooky, which did not faze any of the myriad children of all ages who whizzed past in sugar-fueled frenzies.

At one point, Laura, dressed as the bride of Frankenstein, but reminding me a bit of Gary Oldman in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, took control of the remote control and zipped through the digital files to pick something to project on the screen. “What should I put up? Michael Jackson’s Thriller or The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” she asked as a pack of second graders ran screaming by. In my head I heard her say, “Accused pedophile or pansexual transgender orgy?” These are the options? I chose Thriller as the lesser of two evils but later I overheard a mother in the nearby kitchen with a terrified tot say, “He won’t go in there. They are playing Thriller on the screen.” I didn’t have the heart to tell her what the second bill on the double feature was.

I met five of Laura’s six kids (she is quick to point out the existence of her older daughter whenever she is pegged as the slacker mother of merely five) and each of them is packed with their own unique personality. I liked Truman the oldest the best. Maybe it was because when he saw that I was dressed as Kurt he gave me a huge hug and could carry on a reasonable conversation. One of them, when Laura told him who I was dressed as asked me to lean down to his level. “Are you really gay?” he asked me. When I replied in the affirmative, he became very serious. “No. Are you REALLY gay?” Laura assured me that he says inappropriate things to everyone. That’s his shtick. But I thought it was charming.

My friend Erik joined me at the party dressed as partly cloudy with a chance of showers. While explaining his costume he would whip a spray bottle out of nowhere and spritz you in the face like someone’s hilarious grandfather at a child’s birthday party. After a night spent in the presence of a frenzy of gay men, the constant mad tsunami of screaming kids was strangely calming. Although as I scanned the ankle deep piles of empty candy wrappers, abandoned cups and spilled popcorn, I was relieved I didn’t have to clean it all up in the morning.

As the party wound down, Truman in full Marilyn Munster mode announced loudly that he was headed to his room to study before bed. Laura was incredulous! Apparently his teacher had scheduled a quiz on hominids the next day in his history class. “The day after Halloween? What is wrong with him?!” I wondered when hominids moved from anthropology or biology to history. I guess a lot has changed since I was in school, in the time of hominids. But before he left, I made Truman promise me that if there was a question he absolutely didn’t know that he would put “Carol Channing” as his answer. “I am pretty sure she is old enough to be a hominid,” I assured him, injecting a little homosexuality back into Laura’s mommy world.

After all, life has to be about finding balance between serious and fun, between the sacred and the profane. It is why Halloween is followed by All Saints Day. And why every superhero needs an archenemy (Barack Obama and Sarah Palin, for instance, although you can decide for yourself which is which in that case). So a fourteen year old needs to leave a Broadway legend in an answer box on a history test and a woman with six kids needs a gorgeous pair of shoes, a smashing evening gown and a few gays around to keep things interesting. Because that's how you make it work.