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Lights out, fun begins

Two current Signature productions find illumination in the dark

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Rex Daugherty, Jefferson Farber, Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare's R&J, Signature Theatre, theater, gay news, Washington Blade
Rex Daugherty, Jefferson Farber, Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare's R&J, Signature Theatre, theater, gay news, Washington Blade

Two students (Rex Daugherty, left, and Jefferson Farber) get caught up in their reading of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in ‘Shakespeare’s R&J,’ now playing at Virginia’s Signature Theatre through March 3. (Photo by Teresa Wood, courtesy Signature)

‘Shakespeare’s R&J’
Through March 3
Signature Theatre
4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington
$40-$89
703-573-SEAT
signature-theatre.org

It’s not a bong or porn. The contraband hidden beneath the dorm floorboards in this Catholic boys’ prep school is a nicely bound copy of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” In a repressed world where every movement is dictated by a bell’s toll and days are filled with rote recitations of Latin verb conjugations and catechism, it seems escaping into the play is the thing. So, each night after lights out, four teenage boys whip out their flashlights and energetically act out the bard’s torrid tale of star-crossed young lovers.

“Shakespeare’s R&J” now playing at Signature Theatre, is a play within a play — both a male adolescent coming of age story and an edited version of the classic. Like the horny teenagers in the original text, the heat between R&J’s Romeo, the poetically ardent Student 1 (Alex Mills) and his determined Juliet, Student 2 (Jefferson Farber) is real. The lovers’ recognition of attraction — definitely the play’s most powerful moment — is followed by plenty of kisses and contact. Effectively divvying up the remainder of the parts are Student 3 (Joel David Santner) and Student 4 (Rex Daugherty) who is particularly uncomfortable with his schoolmates’ raging same-sex romance and does what he can to stop it.

Staged by “R&J’s” author Joe Calarco (who is gay), the production (Signature’s first-ever in the round) is beautiful to watch. Impeccably rehearsed, the appealingly boyish cast moves nonstop with manic energy and teenage boy horseplay, while never missing a cue or bit of business. James Kronzer’s impressively spare-yet-rich wood set is gorgeously lit by Chris Lee who slyly creates Verona’s romantic lattices, shadows and misty rain showers without a drop of water.

As the four students become increasingly involved in the play, they shed their jackets, ties, sweater vests and inhibitions, taking their bodies and emotions far away from their stultifyingly structured days. And when they reach the end of the of Shakespeare’s beloved tragedy, will they return lockstep to a buttoned-down life of bells and indoctrination? Or will each choose his own way?

Though entirely unsubtle, “R&J’s” ending is undeniably affirming.

‘Black Comedy’
Through March 2
No Rules Theatre Company
Signature Theatre
4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington
$30
703-820-9771
norulestheatre.org

If you’re into farce, there’s a humdinger titled “Black Comedy” running concurrently next door in Signature’s more intimate ARK Theatre. Mounted by No Rules Theatre Company, the spirited production marks the beginning of an enviable three-year residency at Signature for the young company.

Penned by British playwright Peter Shaffer, the 1966 romp takes place mostly in the dark. Up-and-coming artist Brindsley (Jerzy Gwiazdowski) and his facile but connected girlfriend Carol (Kathryn Saffell) are planning a special gathering in which Brindsley will both meet Carol’s very conservative father Colonel Melkett (Matthew R. Wilson) and show his sculptures to a rich German art collector. But all goes wrong when the building’s main fuse blows leaving the hosts and their guests in total darkness. In the playwright’s brilliantly reversed conceit, the stage is illuminated when the lights are out, and is darkened when the lights are meant to be on, allowing us to see the awkwardness and hilarity of an evening spent without light.

All the usual farce stock players are on hand: In addition to the wily young man, dim debutante and her stuffy colonel father, there’s the spinster Miss Furnival (Lisa Hodsoll) who more than loosens up after accidentally downing a few drinks in the dark; Harold Gorringe (Brian Sutow), the campy gay neighbor with a penchant for old China and younger men; and a sensitive repairman with an eye for art. Also there’s Brindsley’s clever, ex-lover Clea (Dorea Schmidt), a part written by Shaffer especially for his pal Maggie Smith most presently of TV’s “Downton Abbey” fame.

The very able cast is game indeed, ready and willing to fall over chairs and bump into walls in the dark. There’s an especially wonderful mid-play sequence in which Gwiazdowski’s agility and physical comedy talents along with director Matt Cowart’s amusingly inventive staging are shown to best advantage. While guests exchange middle class mundanities, Gwiazdowski’s Brindsley moves a roomful of secretly borrowed furniture in the dark from his bohemian digs (compliments of John Bowhers) back to Gorringe’s piss elegant flat down the hall.

A review of “Black Comedy” demands a nod to Travis McHale for his marvelously upside down lighting: When candles are lit, stage lights dim. A shining flashlight makes things even darker.

The playwright Shaffer, who is gay, went on to write “Equus,” that disturbing drama about a boy and his obsession with horses, and the delightful comic-tragedy “Amadeus,” before being knighted in 2001. Though the LGBT experience isn’t central to his work, gay characters frequently appear in his plays.

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PHOTOS: Caroline County Pride

‘Carnival Adventure’ LGBTQ celebration held in Denton, Md.

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The 2023 Caroline County Pride Festival is held in downtown Denton, Md. on Saturday, May 27. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The third Caroline County Pride Festival, “A Carnival Adventure,” was held in downtown Denton, Md. on Saturday, May 27.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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Photos

PHOTOS: Black Pride Opening Reception

Comedy show and resource fair held at Renaissance Washington

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From left, Kenya Hutton, Aiyi'nah Ford and Earl Fowlkes, Jr. at the 2023 Black Pride Opening Reception on May 26. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

DC Black Pride held its Opening Reception at the Renaissance Washington Hotel on Friday, May 26.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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Movies

Summer brings major dose of new queer film, TV content

Dramas, comedies, Barbie, and the return of ‘Heartstopper’

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Taylor Zakhar Pérez and Nicholas Galitzine star in ‘Red, White & Royal Blue.’ (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)

There’s no season quite like the summer when it comes to having fun outdoors, for obvious reasons – but unless you want a nasty sunburn, you need to spend time indoors, too. Luckily, the Blade is here for our readers with our picks for the most promising new movies and shows coming to our various screens over the coming season, so you’ll have something good to watch while you’re recovering from all that shiny Vitamin D.

JUNE

THE NEIGHBOR (Limited theaters 6/2, Digital & DVD 6/6) – From Italian director Pasquale Marrazzo comes this fresh-from-the-festivals LGBTQ drama about two young men who begin an intense romance after having a terrifying experience together, and the parental hate and homophobia that comes to light in the face of their newfound love. It sounds grim, but it comes with a string of strong reviews to recommend it and acclaimed performances from Michelle Costabile and Jacopo Costantini, plus a score by prizewinning composer Teho Teardo (“House of Gucci,” “Il Divo”). 

HORSEPLAY (Limited theaters 6/2, Digital & DVD 6/13) – Another queer LGBTQ film fest darling, this one a thriller from Argentina, about a group of friends at a summer get together; their hard-partying fun leads to horseplay (naturally), which (also naturally) stirs up other issues – and submerged secrets, feelings, and jealousies begin to push tensions toward a violent breaking point. Directed by acclaimed filmmaker Marco Berger and described as “a boundary-pushing look at masculinity, homophobia and sexuality,” it stars Bruno Giganti, Agustín Machta, Franco De La Puente, and Ivan Masliah Taekwondo. It also looks very sexy, which makes us look forward to it that much more.

THE IDOL (HBO, 6/4) – “Euphoria” creator Dan Levinson is also behind this much-anticipated new series, which stars Lily-Rose Depp as a rising pop star who falls under the spell a Svengali-like self-help guru played by none other than The Weeknd (aka Abel Tesfaye). It also stars queer fan favorite and “Schitt’s Creek” co-creator Dan Levy, along with Jane Adams, Hari Nef, and Troye Sivan, among others. Already controversial thanks to a behind-the-scenes whistleblower who told Rolling Stone that it “borders on sexual torture porn,” you can bet there will be a lot of eyes – queer and otherwise – streaming this one.

ALL MAN: THE INTERNATIONAL MALE STORY (Digital, 6/6) – For a certain generation of gay men, the words “International Male” evoke memories of rushing home from high school to grab that precious sexy catalogue out of the mailbox before their parents got home. Now, this long-awaited documentary – which was an Official Selection at both the Tribeca and Outfest Film Festivals – finally arrives to bring the story of this iconic touchstone of queer history to light, by charting “the journey of an unlikely band of outsiders” who “designed one of the most sought-after mail-order catalogues of the ‘70s and ‘80s, forever changing the way men look at themselves, at each other, and how the world would look at them.” Matt Bomer, Simon Doonan, and Carson Kressley are among the participating talking heads, but the real attraction is the wealth of archival imagery showing some of the most outrageously gay (and irresistible) fashion ever created.

BLUE JEAN (In Theaters, 9/9) – UK filmmaker Georgia Oakley won high praise for this 2022 slice-of-history drama, now making its official U.S. debut. Set in 1988 England as the conservative Thatcher government is poised to pass stigmatizing legislation against gays and lesbians, it features a powerhouse performance from Rosy McEwen as a gym teacher whose closeted double life is threatened by the arrival of a new student. BAFTA-nominated, this one won the Venice Film Festival’s People’s Choice Award and four British Independent Film Awards, making it both a heavy-hitter and a must-see.

WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS (FX, 6/13) – The popular vampire mockumentary – along with its breakout star, queer fan favorite Harvey Guillén – returns for a fifth season.

JAGGED MIND (Hulu, 6/15) – Directed by Kelley Kali and inspired by her own short film “First Date”, this feature-length queer thriller follows a woman (Maisie Richardson-Sellers) who, plagued by blackouts and strange visions, finds herself stuck in a series of time loops that may or may not be connected to her mysterious new girlfriend (Shannon Woodward). This one will have its world premiere at the American Black Film Festival in Miami Beach the day ahead of its streaming drop.

AND JUST LIKE THAT… (Max, 6/22) – The Samantha-less reboot of “Sex and the City” brings back the rest of the scandalous cadre for a second season.

EVERY BODY (In theaters, 6/30) – Julie Cohen directed this revelatory doc, which investigates the lives of intersex people, telling the stories of three individuals who have risen above childhood shame, secrecy, and non-consensual surgeries to thrive as adults after coming out as their authentic selves; it also weaves in a “stranger-than-fiction” tale of medical abuse, told in exclusive footage from the NBC News archives, which helps shed some light on the modern-day treatment of intersex people. We are definitely on board for anything that brings visibility to one of the most invisible sectors of our community – especially when it also aims to reduce stigma.

JULY

THEATER CAMP (In theaters, 7/14) – Sure to be a big draw for film fans who also love musical theater, this new movie from co-directors Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman is an original comedy starring Tony-winner Ben Platt (“Dear Evan Hansen”) opposite Gordon as a BFF pair of instructors at the rundown titular institution, who join forces with their loyal production manager (Noah Galvin, Platt’s real-life boyfriend) to rescue it from the clueless tech-bro (Jimmy Tatro) that has been brought in to run it. How? Why, with a musical, of course! Written by Platt, Gordon, Galvin, and Leiberman, it also stars Patti Harrison, Nathan Lee Graham, Ayo Edebiri, Owen Thiele, Alan Kim, Alexander Bello, Bailee Bonick, Kyndra Sanchez, Donovan Colan, Vivienne Sachs, Quinn Titcomb, Caroline Aaron, and the always hilarious Amy Sedaris. Sign us up.

BARBIE (In theaters, 7/21) – Let’s face it, this wickedly campy-looking, over-the-top comedy from the brilliant Greta Gerwig is probably going to be the film of the year – at least for a solid percentage of the queer audience, who are certain to be passing the popcorn on opening weekend as they watch Margot Robbie’s Barbie and Ryan Gosling’s Ken visit the real world together. And since collections have always been part of the “Barbie” game, Gerwig’s satirical joyride offers an assortment of other Kens and Barbies, including Kingsley Ben-Adir, Simu Liu, Ncuti Gatwa, and Scott Evans as Ken, Hari Nef, Issa Rae, Kate McKinnon, Dua Lipa, Emma Mackey, Ana Cruz Kayne, Sharon Rooney, Alexandra Shipp, and Nicola Coughlan. Truthfully, if they throw in a Barbie camper set, we will be in heaven.

KOKOMO CITY (In theaters, 7/28) – Lena Waithe executive produced this “wildly entertaining and refreshingly unfiltered” documentary that follows the lives of four Black transgender sex workers in Atlanta and New York City. Winner of Sundance’s NEXT Innovator Award and NEXT Audience Awards, it gives its quartet of subjects ample opportunity to spill the tea on their profession, and they do not hold back. As a bonus, it’s the directorial debut of producer/singer/songwriter D. Smith, who made history as the first trans woman cast on a primetime unscripted TV show.

AUGUST

HEARTSTOPPER (Netflix, 8/3) – The eagerly awaited return of Nick and Charlie (Kit Connor and Joe Locke), the most irresistibly adorable pair of young teen boyfriends ever, for a second season of this beloved UK series that will likely have everyone immediately clamoring for a third.

ONLY MURDERS IN THE BUILDING (Hulu, 8/8) – Another returning favorite, the third season of this deliciously charming confectionary blend of characters, comedy and crime podcasts comes with the addition of a new premium ingredient – Meryl Streep (real, not imitation) – for extra delectability. Who could resist?

RED, WHITE & ROYAL BLUE (Prime, 8/11) – “Heartstopper” fans who have binged through the new season in one sitting and are hungry for more might find a suitable fix when this Greg Berlanti-produced, Matthew Lopez-directed film adaptation of nonbinary author Casey McQuiston’s YA bestseller drops a week later. It’s an implausible but infectiously sweet rom-com that imagines a same-sex romance between America’s First Son and the heir to the British throne, with young newcomers Taylor Zakhar Pérez and Nicholas Galitzine taking on the leading roles; also starring are Clifton Collins Jr., Stephen Fry, Sarah Shahi, Rachel Hilson, Ellie Bamber, Aneesh Sheth, and Polo Morín, but we are frankly most excited to see Uma Thurman playing America’s first female president. Let’s hope that plot detail isn’t such an implausible premise.

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