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Brush strokes from the masters

Gauguin exhibit at the National Gallery towers over other spring shows



Painter Paul Gauguin put himself in the position of Jesus in his famous work "Christ in the Garden of Olives." (Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Art)

Sometimes he signed his painting with the name Paul Gauguin. But sometimes he didn’t, choosing to style himself on the canvas instead as simply “P Go.”

The name Paul Gauguin of course looms large for manifest good reason, in the pantheon of post-impressionist painting, as one of the true modern great masters, just as the new show, “Gauguin — Maker of Myth,” at the National Gallery of Art East Building, looms so large also, casting its grand and glorious shadow over the spring 2011 world of D.C.-area galleries and museums.

He was, in effect, a pedophile, slaking his admitted appetite for the nubile young Polynesian nymphets whose beckoning bodies and come-hither glances are the standard trope of the final phase of his work. There, in the primitive paradise he sought in the South Seas, in Tahiti, where he died in 1903, he painted these young girls as exotic and erotic Eves, tempting him in the tropical garden, having abandoned his wife and children, a refugee from his earlier life, on the surface at least, as a proper bourgeois stockbroker in the Paris bourse.

Yes, of course there is other work of the visual arts to see this spring in the area. And much of it is also great. But the Gauguin show, unequivocally, should be seen first. It’s the first in the region in more than 20 years.

Earl “Rusty” Powell, the NGA director, describes the exhibit this way: “Gauguin spent a lifetime traveling to distant lands uncorrupted (he hoped) by civilization, but instead of finding a real paradise, he eventually found it only in his mythic dream world, where reality ended and the imagination began.” And that was his genius, together with his command of technique and his breakthrough innovations with form and color.

The new show, at the NGA through June 5, Powell says is “fabulous” and “spellbinding.”

One eye-opening example, says guest curator Belinda Thomson — who calls Gauguin a “rule-breaker” and an “embattled figure, in conflict with others and himself” — is his “blasphemous but arresting portrait of himself as Christ,” a stunning oil on canvas of 1889, “Christ in the Garden of Olives,” from the period before he moved to the South Seas, when he painted in a small studio in Brittany.

The colossus exhibit of Gauguin of course faces some competition elsewhere in Washington, but two of its rivals are actually also at the NGA.

First, there is the jet-black gondola outside the arched entrance to the East Building’s new show “Venice: Canaletto and His Rivals,” there through May 30. This is the first major exhibit to feature Canaletto, the 18th century “view painter” whose meticulous depiction of scenes from the city of lagoons formed a major motif of the English view of Venice. The show features 21 masterworks by Canaletto himself and 34 by his rivals including the arguably equally great Guardi.

The other NGA exhibit, however, is small scale where the other two are vast in either vista or vision. It is formed of simply two paintings, pairing two works by the little-known early 17th century Dutch artist Hendrick ter Brugghen, yet it is still titled “Larger Than Life.” And it is. One of the paintings is “Saint Sebastian Tended by Irene, 1625,” a religious scene obviously, on loan from Oberlin College in Ohio for this exhibit, which closes May 15 in the NGA’s West Building. The Dutch artist, powerfully influenced by the gay painter Caravaggio, brought the Italian’s style back to Utrecht where the Dutchman soon became recognized as one of the city’s several “Caravaggisti.”

“Sebastian” is paired with another ter Brugghen called “Bagpipe Player, 1624,” recently purchased by the NGA for a cool $10 million and clearly worth every penny. The latter painting is so very different from the Saint Sebastian and setting them side by side offers ample occasion for reflection on the spectrum of human possibility. See them both on the main floor of the West Building in the Dutch and Flemish galleries.



New book explores why we categorize sports according to gender

You can lead a homophobic horse to water but you can’t make it think



‘Fair Play: How Sports Shape the Gender Debates’
By Katie Barnes
c.2023, St. Martin’s Press
$29/304 pages

The jump shot happened so quickly, so perfectly.

Your favorite player was in the air in a heartbeat, basketball in hand, wrist cocked. One flick and it was all swish, three points, just like that, and your team was ahead. So are you watching men’s basketball or women’s basketball? Or, as in the new book, “Fair Play” by Katie Barnes, should it really matter?

For sports fans, this may come as a surprise: we categorize sports according to gender.

Football, baseball, wresting: male sports. Gymnastics, volleyball: women’s sports. And yet, one weekend spent cruising around television shows you that those sports are enjoyed by both men and women – but we question the sexuality of athletes who dare (gasp!) to cross invisible lines for a sport they love.

How did sports “become a flash point for a broader conversation?”

Barnes takes readers back first to 1967, when Kathrine Switzer and Bobbi Gibb both ran in the Boston Marathon. It was the first time women had audaciously done so and while both finished the race, their efforts didn’t sit well with the men who made the rules.

“Thirty-seven words” changed the country in 1972 when Title IX was signed, which guaranteed there’d be no discrimination in extracurricular events, as long as “federal financial assistance” was taken. It guaranteed availability for sports participation for millions of girls in schools and colleges. It also “enshrine[d] protections for queer and transgender youth to access school sports.”

So why the debate about competition across gender lines?

First, says Barnes, we can’t change biology, or human bodies that contain both testosterone and estrogen, or that some athletes naturally have more of one or the other – all of which factor into the debate. We shouldn’t forget that women can and do compete with men in some sports, and they sometimes win. We shouldn’t ignore the presence of transgender men in sports.

What we should do, Barnes says, is to “write a new story. One that works better.”

Here are two facts: Nobody likes change. And everybody has an opinion.

Keep those two statements in mind when you read “Fair Play.” They’ll keep you calm in this debate, as will author Katie Barnes’ lack of flame fanning.

As a sports fan, an athlete, and someone who’s binary, Barnes makes things relatively even-keel in this book, which is a breath of fresh air in what’s generally ferociously contentious. There’s a good balance of science and social commentary here, and the many, many stories that Barnes shares are entertaining and informative, as well as illustrative. Readers will come away with a good understanding of where the debate lies.

But will this book make a difference?

Maybe. Much will depend on who reads and absorbs it. Barnes offers plenty to ponder but alas, you can lead a homophobic horse to water but you can’t make it think. Still, if you’ve got skin in this particular bunch of games, find “Fair Play” and jump on it.

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

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An exciting revival of ‘Evita’ at Shakespeare Theatre

Out actor Caesar Samayoa on portraying iconic role of President Perón



Caesar Samayoa (center) and the cast of ‘Evita’ at Shakespeare Theatre Company. (Photo by DJ Corey Photography) 

Through Oct. 15
Shakespeare Theatre Company
Harman Hall
610 F St., N.W.

When Eva Perón died of cancer at 33 in 1952, the people’s reaction was so intense that Argentina literally ran out of cut flowers. Mourners were forced to fly in stems from neighboring countries, explains out actor Caesar Samayoa. 

For Samayoa, playing President Perón to Shireen Pimental’s First Lady Eva in director Sammi Cannold’s exciting revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Evita” at Shakespeare Theatre Company is a dream fulfilled. 

As a Guatemalan-American kid, he had a foot in two worlds. Samayoa lived and went to school in suburban Emerson, N.J. But he spent evenings working at his parents’ botanica in Spanish Harlem. 

During the drives back and forth in the family station wagon, he remembers listening to “Evita” on his cassette player: “It’s the first cast album I remember really hearing and understanding. I longed to be in the show.”

As an undergrad, he transferred from Bucknell University where he studied Japanese international relations to a drama major at Ithica College. His first professional gig was in 1997 playing Juliet in Joe Calarco’s off-Broadway “Shakespeare’s R&J.” Lots of Broadway work followed including “Sister Act,” “The Pee-Wee Herman Show,” and most significantly, Samayoa says, “Come From Away,” a musical telling of the true story of airline passengers stranded in Gander, Newfoundland during 9/11. He played Kevin J. (one half of a gay couple) and Ali, a Muslim chef.  

He adds “Evita” has proved a powerful experience too: “We’re portraying a populist power couple that changed the trajectory of a country in a way most Americans can’t fully understand. And doing it in Washington surrounded by government and politics is extra exciting.” 

WASHINGTON BLADE: How do you tap into a real-life character like Perón?

CAESAR SAMAYOA: Fortunately, Sammi [Connald] and I work similarly. With real persons and situations, I immerse myself into history, almost to a ridiculous extent. 

First day in the rehearsal room, we were inundated with artifacts. Sammi has been to Argentina several times and interviewed heavily with people involved in Eva and Peron’s lives. Throughout the process we’d sit and talk about the real history that happened. We went down the rabbit hole.

Sammi’s interviews included time with Eva’s nurse who was at her bedside when she died. We watched videos of those interviews. They’ve been an integral part of our production. 

BLADE: Were you surprised by anything you learned?

SAMAYOA: Usually, Eva and Perón’s relationship is portrayed as purely transactional.  They wrote love letters and I had access to those. At their country home, they’d be in pajamas and walk on the beach; that part of their life was playful and informal. They were a political couple but they were deeply in love too. I latched on to that. 

BLADE: And anything about the man specifically? 

SAMAYOA:  Perón’s charisma was brought to the forefront. In shows I’ve done, some big names have attended. Obama. Clinton. Justin Trudeau came to “Come From Away.” Within seconds, the charisma makes you give into that person. I’ve tried to use that.  

BLADE: And the part? 

SAMAYOA: Perón is said to be underwritten. But I love his power and the songs he sings [“The Art of the Possible,” “She is a Diamond,” etc.]. I’m fully a baritone and to find that kind of role in a modern musical is nearly impossible. And in this rock opera, I can use it to the full extent and feel great about it.

BLADE: “Evita” is a co-production with A.R.T. Has it changed since premiering in Boston? 

SAMAYOA: Yes, it has. In fact, 48 hours before opening night in Washington, we made some changes and they’ve really landed. Without giving too much away, we gave it more gravity in reality of time as well as Eva’s sickness and the rapid deterioration. It’s given our second act a huge kind of engine that it didn’t have. 

BLADE: You’re married to talent agent Christopher Freer and you’re very open. Was it always that way for you?

SAMAYOA: When I started acting professionally, it was a very different industry. We were encouraged to stay in the closet or it will cast only in a certain part. There was truth in that. There still is some truth in that, but I refuse to go down that road. I can’t reach what I need to reach unless I’m my most honest self. I can’t do it any other way.

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Out & About

HRC’s National Dinner is back

LGBTQ rights organization’s annual gala features Rhimes, Waithe, Bomer



Actor Matt Bomer will be honored at the HRC National Dinner.

The Human Rights Campaign will host its annual National Dinner on Saturday, Oct. 14 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

The dinner’s honorees include world-famous producers, actors and entertainers whose work spotlights the fight for civil rights and social justice, including Shonda Rhimes, Lena Waithe and Matt Bomer.

A new event, as part of the weekend, — the Equality Convention — will take place the night before the dinner on Friday, Oct. 13. The convention will showcase the power of the LGBTQ equality movement, feature influential political and cultural voices, and bring together volunteer and movement leaders from across the country to talk about the path ahead.
For more details about the weekend, visit HRC’s website.

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