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Big Apple romance

Gay actress Twyford makes directorial debut in lesbian-themed dramedy

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Rachel Zampelli as Callie (left) and Alyssa Wilmoth as Sara in No Rules’ production of ‘Stop Kiss.’ (Photo by C. Stanley Photography; courtesy No Rules)

In playwright Diana Son’s “Stop Kiss,” New York City is a dangerous thing that demands respect or else. After 10 years in Manhattan, jaded Callie understands this, but her new friend Sara, a recently arrived Midwesterner who teaches third grade in the Bronx, doesn’t quite get it, and despite numerous warnings — disregard loud neighbors, ignore catcalls, avoid panhandlers — nothing can alter her open and courageous approach to life.

Though slightly concerned by Sara’s lack of street smarts, Callie is mostly delighted with her refreshing forthrightness. Romantic impulses ensue. But despite a mutual attraction, the women (who up until this point have only dated men) are hesitant to act on their feelings. When they finally do, their first kiss is interrupted by extreme violence that almost ends their budding relationship altogether.

Sounds pretty grim, but actually there’s comedy in this drama. Staged by celebrated local actor Holly Twyford (who’s gay) in her directorial debut, No Rules Theatre Company’s production evokes just the right balance of laughs and pain in what’s ultimately a sweet story about love and commitment. At a recent performance, the sizable lesbian portion of the audience seemed particularly pleased at seeing familiar parts of their lives effectively portrayed on stage. They laughed and groaned at the female characters’ clumsy romantic overtures and were audibly disturbed by the play’s gay bashing, a pivotal plot point which takes place off stage.

The action begins when traffic reporter Callie (the reliably good Rachel Zampelli) agrees to cat sit for a friend-of-a-friend named Sara played naturally by Alyssa Wilmoth. Though the women seem polar opposites — Callie is more interested in trendy restaurants than work and Sara is utterly devoted to her underserved students — they click. Still both deny their growing romantic feelings. Sara remains in touch with Peter (Jonathan Lee Taylor), the ex-boyfriend she left in St. Louis, and Callie periodically sleeps with George (Ro Boddie), a longtime sort-of boyfriend whom she may or may not one day marry. The lesbian couple’s getting together is long in coming. At some point, you’re ready to yell “C’mon, plant one on her already.”

The story unfolds non-chronologically, moving back and forth from Callie’s messy apartment to a stark hospital room. Because we know the ordeal that’s awaiting our heroines, it’s as if a dark cloud is gathering over what should be the carefree early days of falling in love.

Costume designer Frank Lobovitz ably assists in demonstrating the women’s differences: Sara is unmistakably a Gotham newbie in her blue wool car coat and synthetic print skirts, while Callie is experimenting with sophisticated looks in black with mixed results. The strong supporting cast includes Karin Rosnizeck, who plays both a soignée witness to the crime and a patient nurse, and Howard Wahlberg as a veteran New York detective.

The straight playwright covers all the coming out bases: Discomfort with revealing sexuality to friends and co-workers, problems with parents and potential in-laws, etc. The 1998 play might sound instructive if it weren’t for its thoughtfully written, intimate scenes. Twyford especially excels in staging the work’s quieter moments,  particularly the softly lit scene in which Callie tenderly helps Sarah change from her hospital gown to street clothes. Only when Sara must choose whether to return to St. Louis or remain in New York does Callie truly bare her soul, uncharacteristically committing wholeheartedly.

 

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Theater

‘Rose: You Are Who You Eat’ an irreverent romp at Woolly Mammoth

Solo performance by John Jarboe offers much to consume

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John Jarboe in ‘Rose: You Are Who You Eat’ at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. (Photo by Teresa Castracane)

‘Rose: You Are Who You Eat’
Though June 23
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
641 D St., N.W.
$60-$82
Woollymammoth.net

With “Rose: You Are Who You Eat,” a solo performance by John Jarboe (she/her), now at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, there’s a lot to uncover and consume.  

For much of the show, the appealing Jarboe comes across as a cute cis gay guy playing dress up in a pair of tighty-whities and sparkly go-go boots, but it’s something else and she’s ready to go there. 

Jarboe is a cannibal. Not in the usual sense. She learned from a well-meaning aunt that while still in the womb, she ate her twin, and that’s what made Jarboe the way she is (a reference to gender queerness).

Despite the aunt’s awkward delivery of family dish, the prenatal news struck a chord with Jarboe: the vanishing twin who would have been named Rose, became increasingly connected to her own identity. Along with the inevitable jokes about eating her sister’s spaghetti thin hair and tasty eyeballs, there’s meaty matter unfolding onstage. 

Not entirely unexpected, Jarboe also harbors mommy issues. Mom, here referred to as “Mother” for the sake of anonymity, is a buttoned-down tax accountant who the more perturbed she becomes the wider her forced smile grows. And while Jarboe needs to have that long overdue talk with Mother, something always seems to get in the way; invariably it’s tax season.

Assisted by some primary source props (a baby book, notes, a string of pearls filched from Mother’s jewelry box), Jarboe further digs into gender expression and identity. Her performance career began in her child bedroom closet with a flashlight and makeshift costume, an obsession to which her parents initially subscribed, later not as much. 

Among the 75-minute-long show’s highlights are five or so songs, rock numbers and redolent ballads composed by Jarboe, Emily Bate, Daniel de Jesús, Pax Ressler and Be Steadwell. 

It’s definitely a solo show conceived and delightfully performed by Jarboe; however, she’s supported by a terrific four-person band (costumed in what appeared from Row D to be rosebush inspired jumpsuits) including Mel Regn, Yifan Huang, Daniel de Jesús, and music director Emily Bate. Bate is a singer, composer and performer who runs a queer and trans community chorus in Philadelphia called Trust Your Moves, an experiment in collective singing designed around liberation and co-creation.

As Jarboe moves into her 30s, she celebrates and incorporates her lost twin as part of herself with a new intensity. She writes letters, yearning for even the most tepid reply. Her obsession with Mother remains a thing too.

Dressed in a sylphlike rosy red gown (by costume designer Rebecca Kanach) Jarboe uses call-and-response (with the audience standing in for Mother) in search of some resolution. It’s beautifully done. 

With various kinds of backing coming from CulturalDC, the Washington Blade, Capital Pride, the Bearded Ladies Cabaret and other New York-based groups, there’s nothing itinerant cabaret looking about “Rose.” Directed by MK Tuomanen, it’s an elevated, visually engaging production. 

For instance, set and video designer Christopher Ash’s projections shown on both a serviceable scrim and later a wondrously huge toile curtain, beautifully feature photos from an ostensibly idyllic Midwestern childhood. We see a young Jarboe not only enjoying hockey, fishing, and hunting, but also pulling off a strikingly girly, cheesecake pose.  

At the top of the show, there’s live video of Jarboe’s outsized mouth devouring wings fished from a bucket of fried chicken. Hints of cannibalism? 

“Rose: You Are Who You Eat” is an irreverent romp, deeply personal yet relatable. It’s an evening of poignantly performed moments, off the cuff laughs, and some awkward/sexy audience interaction. 

As a performer, Jarboe lays herself bare, exposing strengths (rich melodious voice, presence, ingenuity) and weaknesses (garrulity and more than a few un-landed jokes) in equal turns. 

Hers is a world that invites audiences to just let go and go with it. Jarboe’s intrepid journey melds the familiar and the startling. In short, it’s a trip worth taking. 

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Photos

PHOTOS: Capital Pride Festival and Concert

Keke Palmer, Billy Porter among entertainers

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Billy Porter performs at the 2024 Capital Pride Festival on Sunday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The 2024 Capital Pride Festival and Concert was held along Pennsylvania Avenue in Northwest D.C. on Sunday, June 9. Performers included Sapphira Cristál, Keke Palmer, Ava Max, Billy Porter and Exposé.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key and Emily Hanna)

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Out & About

Get ready for Baltimore Pride

Events scheduled throughout weekend

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Baltimore Pride Parade (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Baltimore Pride begins this weekend on Friday, June 14 in the heart of the city.

There will be a variety of events, the main ones being Mt. Vernon Pride on June 14 at 2 p.m. on the 200 Block of W. Read St., the Parade and Block Party on Saturday, June 15 at 3 p.m. on N. Charles St., and Pride in the Park on Sunday, June 15 at 3 p.m. at Druid Hill Park.

For more event details, visit Baltimore Pride’s website

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