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Janis returns

Actress Davies stars again in Joplin-themed concert/theater mashup



Janis Joplin, One Night with Janis Joplin, Arena, Mary Bridget Davies, Gay News, Washington Blade

‘One Night With Janis Joplin’
By Randy Johnson
Arena Stage
Mead Center for American Theater
Runs through Aug. 11
$40-$99 for various performances
Sundays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m.
Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.
Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m.

Few music lovers — relatively speaking — had a chance to see Janis Joplin live considering she died in 1970. It’s tempting to say that “One Night With Janis Joplin,” the gay-penned (by Randy Johnson) tribute show playing now at Arena Stage, is the next best thing to the now-impossible notion of going to a Joplin performance.

And while the show is that, it’s also not just a cheesy rock tribute show of the type we see given in honor of classic rock acts all the time. It’s its own musical/theatrical experience with singer/actress Mary Bridget Davies in the title role earning raves for her uncanny ability at not just channeling but recreating Joplin’s trademark gutbucket vocals.

The show was a hit at Arena last fall when nearly 20,000 people saw it in Washington. It’s had successful engagements in Portland, Cleveland and Pasadena, Calif., and will open on Broadway at the Lyceum Theatre in October.

Janis Joplin, One Night with Janis Joplin, Arena, Mary Bridget Davies, Gay News, Washington Blade

Mary Bridget Davies as Janis Joplin in ‘One Night With Janis Joplin.’ (Photo by Jim Cox; courtesy Arena)

Davies (34, straight and Helen Hayes Award-nominated for the role) whom we interviewed last year as well, took a few minutes with us by phone last week from her home in Cleveland to riff on everything from how the show has varied in different cities to why the Joplin allure remains undiminished decades after her untimely death. Her comments have been slightly edited for length.


WASHINGTON BLADE: How was the run at Arena versus other places you’ve played the show?

MARY BRIDGET DAVIES: Arena Stage runs like such a well-run ship. Nothing was ever a problem there. It was like summer camp for theater and we just had a really good time. I’m completely excited to come back.


BLADE: Some critics have said it seems like you were born to do this. Do you feel some cosmic destiny with Janis?

DAVIES: It’s weird, yeah, sometimes I do feel like she’s around. There are some accidental parallels too — frustrated attempts at college … she was just so free and I get to enjoy some of that. I mean, yes, I’m up there saying lines, I’m not just winging it, but she just had that wild abandon and I get to do that every night.


BLADE: Has the show changed since last fall?

DAVIES: Yes, it’s been evolving and getting tighter. We’re not like this tired old circus chorus walking in circles. We’ve had several little breaks so each time we come back excited to do it again. And I think we’ll enjoy it even more this time because the terrain is more familiar now.


BLADE: Have the crowd reactions varied much from city to city?

DAVIES: I was very, very nervous in Pasadena because it’s L.A., so anyone who was anyone came to the show. I mean, like, Cher was there one night. There was a lot of industry vibe there that gave it kind of a scary urgency. At Arena before, I would say we had the most forward people. People would try to get on the stage and dance. I kinda looked at the crew like, “Uh, what am I supposed to do here?” They would wrangle them off like in the Van Halen video. It’s kind of flattering that they were so moved they wanted to get up and jam but it does blur the lines a little. Secretly I was kinda OK with it as long as you don’t try to rip the mic out of my hand and say, “It’s my friend’s birthday.”


BLADE: Is it ever hard to find the balance between crowd interplay and performing it as a straight-up dramatic piece?

DAVIES: Yes. Like in Milwaukee we had this much smaller space with a modified thrust stage. It was almost more fun on one hand but also more intimidating too. If you had a bruise or something, they could see it, it was that close. As a performer you really shouldn’t let the crowd dictate the proceedings but there is something of that fourth wall break because this isn’t a straight-up dramatic piece or a musical. People don’t always realize that. They’ll be on their phone or act like they’re home watching TV. One dude went to sleep. I’m like, “Are you kidding me? This is really hard!” Another guy held a tablet on his lap and taped the entire show.


BLADE: I know technically that’s a no-no, but still, from a historical perspective, think how awful it would be if nobody had bootlegged any of Janis’s shows. We’d have so much less to go on. As long as somebody isn’t trying to profit off of it, isn’t there some value in stealth recording?

DAVIES: Oh yeah, in terms of my research and as a fan, I get that. The rock and roll part of me thinks that’s cool but then on the other hand with the copyright issues, you have to respect that too. You don’t want some 30-second barrage out of someone’s purse showing up on YouTube.


BLADE: As great a run as you’re having with this, is there some part of you that’s concerned about your entire persona and identity getting swallowed up by the myth of Janis?

DAVIES: I have people come up to me and say, “Aren’t you that Janis girl?” I wear it as a badge of honor. I think I’ve been able to maintain a balance. I just released my own album — which Arena has been very kind to let me sell at the shows — and I was nominated for a blues music award. And I take my down time to try to stay current within the industry. But you’re right, it can be a double-edged sword. … There may come a time when my heart’s not in it but for now I’m proud to be “the Janis girl.” If they were saying, “Hey, aren’t you the Ashley Simpson girl?” I’d be a lot more worried.


BLADE: Is part of the reason the show’s been such a hit is that people simply crave hearing Janis sing and this is as close as it gets at least for a live experience?

DAVIES: Yeah, I think there is some of that. It can be pretty overwhelming at times. People still go see Big Brother (Joplin’s old band) in droves, especially in Europe. People are crying. She died 43 years ago and people are still throwing themselves at my feet. Sometimes I’m like, “Whoah, I don’t know how to handle that.” I think people just miss her so much, they’ll take her any way they can get her. Other people come in rather skeptical but I always say, that’s fine. Go ahead and come in skeptical because then the end up leaving very happy.



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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