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Theatrical Milli Vanilli

Playwright switcheroo subject of provocative ‘Submission’

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Ari Butler, Frank De Julio, Olney Theatre, Theater, The Submission, Gay News, Washington Blade
Ari Butler, Frank De Julio, Olney Theatre, Theater, The Submission, Gay News, Washington Blade

Ari Butler, left, and Frank De Julio in ‘The Submission,’ on the boards now at Olney Theatre Center in Maryland. (Photo by Stan Barouh; courtesy Olney)

‘The Submission’
Through June 9
Olney Theatre Center
2001 Olney Sandy Spring Rd.
Olney, MD
$32.50-$65
301-924-3400
olneytheatre.org

It’s as if the play wrote itself. An admittedly cliché thing to say, acknowledges Danny Larson, a young gay playwright and the protagonist of Jeff Talbott’s new comic drama “The Submission” (now at the Olney Theatre Center).

But after a disturbing exchange with some African-American kids on the New York City subway, Danny says he returned to his apartment and the words just seemed to flow. The result was an astonishingly authentic play about an alcoholic black mother and her young card shark son trying to get out of the projects — a story totally opposite from Danny’s own comfortable, white upbringing. But despite the improbability of his ability to inform the work, it’s the best thing he’s ever written. And that’s when things start to get tricky.

Despite sensible protestations from his financial adviser boyfriend Pete (Ari Butler) and best friend Trevor (Craig Dolezel), Danny (Frank DeJulio) sends his new play out under the pen name Shaleeha G’ntamobi. His thought is a play about ghetto life titled “Call A Spade” will do better if its author is perceived to be a black woman. When the play is selected for production by the important Humana Festival in Louisville, Ky., Danny perilously takes his risky stratagem to a higher level. He hires underemployed African-American actress Emilie (Kellee Knighten Hough) to pose as Shaleeha.

Touted as the new Lorraine Hansberry, Shaleeha is a rising star and energetic Emilie loves the attention and heady process of collaborating on the play with a top notch team. She also sincerely loves Danny’s play and is mystified how this guy who describes himself as really white and really gay wrote it. Along the way there are funny moments like when Danny loiters outside the audition room texting opinions on entering and exiting actors to Emilie who’s inside making choices with the director. But mostly Danny’s frustration palpably mounts as he’s kept away from rehearsals.

From the start, the cockamamie plan feels doomed. During Danny and Emilie’s initial meeting, he asserts that they’re both oppressed people. Emilie resents the comparison, insisting that gay white men have no idea what it feels like to be a black woman in America. Issues of use of words and ownership of experience become increasingly discussed. Danny vulgarly describes African-American plays and theatrical performances as substandard — decreeing all black theatrical achievement the result of affirmative action. Danny is not only white and gay, he’s a racist too. And Emilie isn’t super fond of the gays.

Not surprisingly, Danny and Emilie come to verbal blows. It’s a great fight — one of those blindingly angry bouts when each combatant is hell-bent on having the last word no matter how hurtful it might be, and the actors give it all they’ve got.

And while some things about Talbott’s play are likable, there’s too much that isn’t. So much of the race discussion feels like retread. And the idea that a jerk like Danny could have written such an authentic and inspiringly insightful piece is wholly doubtful.

Snappily staged David Elliott and performed by an appealing and committed young cast, Olney’s production is mostly good, however Danny’s relationship with boyfriend Pete comes off way too precious. On the other hand there’s chemistry to spare bubbling between DeJulio’s Danny and Dolezel as his endearingly dopey straight pal Trevor. But alas, that’s for yet another play.

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PHOTOS: Not Another Drag Show

‘Blackout Edition’ celebrates musical artists of the 1990s

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Drag performer Tiffany D. Carter hosted “Not Another Drag Show: Blackout Edition” at Dupont Italian Kitchen Bar on Monday. Performers included Carter, Nubia Love-Jackson, Uju Betta and Echinacea. The show featured the songs of Black artists popular in the 1990s.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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Music & Concerts

Janet Jackson doc premieres this weekend

Remembering 10 times iconic singer was there for LGBTQ community

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Janet Jackson’s two-part, four-hour documentary debuts this weekend. (File photo by Shilla Patel)

Iconic singer Janet Jackson, a longtime LGBTQ ally, unveils her long-awaited documentary simply titled “Janet” on Friday, Jan. 28. It concludes the following night; each installment is two hours long. 

Jackson has said she spent five years compiling footage and creating the documentary, which airs at 8 p.m. both nights on A&E and Lifetime networks. It was produced by Jackson and her brother Randy Jackson and it’s timed to commemorate the 40th anniversary of her 1982 debut album. 

An extended trailer for the film reveals Jackson will talk candidly about her brother Michael and the 2004 Super Bowl incident, including the news that Justin Timberlake reached out and asked her to join him during his widely panned 2018 Super Bowl return performance. 

Prior to the pandemic, Jackson announced a new studio album and tour titled “Black Diamond,” but both were postponed due to COVID. No official word about the status of either, but speculation is rampant that she will finally release the new album once the documentary airs.

“Musically, what I’ve done, like doing ‘Rhythm Nation’ or doing ‘New Agenda’ or doing ‘Skin Game,’ creating those bodies of work with Jimmy and Terry, I feel like I’ve laid a certain foundation,” Jackson tells Allure magazine in a new cover story this month. “I would hope that I’d be able to continue if I choose to. You know what I mean? But only time will tell.”

As Jackson’s legion of queer fans awaits this weekend’s premiere, the Blade takes a look back at 10 times Janet was there for the LGBTQ community. 

1. “The Velvet Rope” project. In 1997, Jackson released her critically acclaimed sixth studio album “The Velvet Rope,” an introspective and deeply personal collection of songs that touched on her depression, but also tackled LGBTQ issues. On the track “Free Xone,” she spoke out forcefully against anti-LGBT bias. She also covered Rod Stewart’s “Tonight’s the Night,” without changing the pronouns in the love song, prompting speculation about her sexual orientation. But it was her international No. 1 hit “Together Again” that continues to resonate with LGBTQ fans. An upbeat, joyful dance song, it was conceived as a tribute to Jackson’s friends who died of AIDS.

2. GLAAD award. In 2008, Ellen DeGeneres presented Jackson with the Vanguard Award at the 19th annual GLAAD Media Awards. GLAAD’s president said, “We are delighted to honor Janet Jackson at the 19th annual GLAAD Media Awards in Los Angeles as such a visible, welcoming and inclusive ally of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Ms. Jackson has a tremendous following inside the LGBT community and out, and having her stand with us against the defamation that LGBT people still face in our country is extremely significant.”

3. Ebony magazine interview about her sexuality. In 2001, Jackson gave an interview to Ebony magazine in which she was asked about her sexual orientation. “I don’t mind people thinking that I’m gay or calling me gay,” she said. “People are going to believe whatever they want. Yes, I hang out at gay clubs … I go where the music is good. I love people regardless of sexual preference, regardless of race. No, I am not bisexual. I have been linked with dancers in our group because we are so close. I grew up in a big family. I love being affectionate. I love intimacy and I am not afraid to show it.”

4. Video support for It Gets Better, Trevor Project. In 2010, Jackson recorded a video for the Trevor Project and later appeared on CNN’s “Larry King Live” to promote awareness of youth suicide. “If you’re LGBT you’re probably thinking you’re all alone, but you’re not,” she said in the video. “I can relate because I was one of those kids who internalized everything.”

5. “State of the World Tour.” Jackson’s LGBTQ support continued in 2017. Her tour’s opening sequence highlighted a range of problems facing the world, from famine and war to police brutality and included a call for justice and for LGBTQ rights.

6. “The Kids.” Jackson has always employed a diverse crew of professional dancers for her videos and tours. Some of her closest friends and collaborators over the years have been prominent out gay and lesbian choreographers, singers, dancers, makeup artists and designers. She lovingly refers to her backup dancers as “the Kids.”

7. NYC Pride performance. In 2004, Jackson performed for a packed audience at Pride Dance NYC at Pier 54.

8. “Will & Grace” cameo. In 2004, Jackson made a memorable cameo on “Will & Grace,” judging a dance-off between Jack and another dancer.

9. HRC, AIDS Project Los Angeles awards. In 2005, Jackson was honored by both the Human Rights Campaign and AIDS Project Los Angeles for her work raising money for AIDS charities.

10. Janet’s Blade interview. In 2006, Jackson granted an exclusive interview to the Washington Blade. It was one of the rare times she touched on the Super Bowl controversy and her brother Michael’s acquittal on child molestation charges, telling Blade Editor Kevin Naff, “I got all of that out of my system, that’s not what I’m feeling right now. I wrote about [those controversies] but I didn’t choose to put it out there on the album.” In the interview, Jackson also reiterated her support for marriage equality, said she’d never had a sexual relationship with a woman and revealed that she’d never met Madonna.

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Out & About

International Women Club set for Jan. 24

Event at National Harbor

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International Women United Organizer will host “Multicultural International Women Club” on Monday, Jan. 24 at 7 p.m. at National Harbor.

The goal of this event is to bring together women from different countries and cultures for friendship, support and community. Guests will get to share interesting facts about their country, talk about their culture, values, styles, and differences with others while learning from others and making friends from all over the globe. Those who speak English as a second language are welcome to attend.

This event is free and more details are available on Eventbrite.

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