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Mother’s Day with Margaret

Cho on her new tour, hit Lifetime show and being in bed with Joan Rivers

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Margaret Cho, gay news, Washington Blade
Margaret Cho, gay news, Washington Blade

Margaret Cho’s tour celebrates her own mother’s ‘amazing innate wisdom,’ but also the grand dame-type mantle she’s found placed upon her by the gay community. (Photo courtesy Miss Missy Photography via Ken Phillips Publicity Group)

Margaret Cho

‘Mother Tour’

Saturday

Warner Theater

1299 Pennsylvania Ave.

With Jim Short

$40.50-$69.50

8 p.m.

Margaretcho.com

Livenation.com

Margaret Cho has her hand in so many different ventures, she makes Ryan Seacrest look like a lazy slob.

Her hit show “Drop Dead Diva” is in the midst of its fifth season and airs Sunday nights at 9 p.m. on Lifetime. It just got picked for a sixth. “In Transition,” a YouTube series about three women fresh out of jail, ran until mid-September. She teamed with comedian Jim Short for a new podcast show called “Monsters of Talk” and she was just on “The Talk,” “The Arsenio Hall Show,” “E!’s Fashion Police with Joan Rivers,” Hallmark Channel’s “Home & Family” and “Chelsea Lately.”

Look for her on “The Late Late Show” with Craig Ferguson on Nov. 19. And on Saturday night, she brings her “Mother Tour,” which kicked off in Georgia in August, to the Warner Theater.

We caught up with Cho, a long-time LGBT advocate and bi herself, a few weeks ago by phone. Her comments have been slightly edited for length.

 

WASHINGTON BLADE: Congratulations on the success with “Drop Dead Diva.” You must be delighted it’s doing so well.

MARGARET CHO: Yes, I am. You’re always expecting that anything could happen and it’s also very rare to have a show that lasts that long. Very few shows I’ve done have ever really gone more than one season so it’s a very — well, you get more used to things getting canceled than picked up. You just always prepare for the worst. The last thing we had heard (at the end of the fourth season) was that we had been cancelled, but then it got picked up again which was interesting. I’d never seen that happen before.

 

BLADE: Where is it shot?

CHO: In Atlanta. But not even in the city itself. It’s about an hour south in a little town called Peachtree City.

 

BLADE: Do you live in L.A.?

CHO: Yes, but in Atlanta when we’re filming. I’m also on the road all the time.

 

BLADE: How does it feel politically in the South?

CHO: Atlanta itself is incredibly queer-friendly and progressive. We have great restaurants and great chefs and mixologists, so it’s very sophisticated and a really gorgeous place to live and hang out but then you go, like, one mile outside the city and it’s so country and so conservative you can’t believe it. I drive by a sign all the time that says “actors and models for Christ.” Peachtree City is like southern headquarters for the tea party, which they’re very proud of. There’s a little gay bar near where we work. We called them and asked if that was the gay bar and they were like, “Oh no, certainly not,” but it’s where the local gay people have agreed to hang out. They were offended when I even called and asked if it was true. But the real gay bar is the Home Depot by our set. They have aisles there that are specifically for cruising. That’s just stuff I’ve heard. People adapt to the environment.

 

Margaret Cho, Gay Men's Chorus of Washington, GMCW, gay news, Washington Blade

Margaret Cho with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington in 2010. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

BLADE: You’ve always been very progressive and outspoken. Does it make you crazy to be in that kind of environment?

CHO: I don’t really care as long as it doesn’t infringe on my life. When they’re trying to do things like ban gay marriage or trying to keep gay couples from adopting, when they’re trying to control what happens in our families, that’s when it becomes disturbing. I don’t have issues with anybody’s religion or thoughts about whatever as long as they’re not attacking other people, gay people. Also, I want some explanation. There’s another sign out here that just says “Jesus” in huge letters. No URL, no nothing else. I’m thinking, “OK, I’m supposed to look at this and think what exactly?” I mean, I know who Jesus is. I know it’s a name. But it’s just this thing, this sign.

 

BLADE: You’ve been on “The View” several times. Was it ever hard to keep your cool? Did you ever get into it with Elisabeth Hasselbeck?

CHO: No, she’s a really nice person. We’re all very opinionated on there and we all have our own ideas. We don’t necessarily agree, but that’s OK. It’s OK to agree to disagree. I don’t feel I have to try to control other people’s beliefs.

 

BLADE: I loved your episode of “In Bed With Joan” (Rivers). It’s obvious you have a good rapport with her. What’s she like when the camera’s not rolling?

CHO: She’s so sweet and so generous and actually really loving. I mean really wise. And just full of amazing stories. She was telling me recently about meeting Laurence Olivier and he had been doing impressions of Danny Kaye. They just had these wonderful moments and you can tell she has just been this amazing fag hag for forever with this true-life fag hag history that really needs to be preserved. I mean imagine being a fag hag like her back in the day when she was doing her Elizabeth Taylor shit. It was just so profound and cool.

 

BLADE: But is she “on” all the time like she is in her stage or on-camera persona?

CHO: She’s actually really gentle, which is kind of surprising when you think about her stage persona. But she’s actually more like a soft-spoken, gentle person — this almost shy kind of woman. But she’s really loving, really a mom and really just hilarious. I think she’s really special.

 

BLADE: Your tour is called “Mother.” Tell us a little about it.

CHO: I’ve just started doing it a little now. It’s really kind of about being like Joan in a way, just being that grand dame fag hag where now people call me mother. Like being some sort of mother superior. You get to a point where you sort of have this grandeur of outlook, a kind of maturity. Then some of it too, is about my mother. And just about aging, about sexuality, about bisexuality, a lot of different things.

 

BLADE: If somebody were to follow you around from city to city, how much does your act change from night to night? It looks so off the cuff, but obviously it can’t really be as improvisational as it seems.

CHO: I think it’s probably a pretty totally different thing. You never know where the audience will lead you. You have to be really adept at tuning into the audience and it gets really personalized. You do it all over the world, so you get a sense of the place and each show becomes really specifically about each different city.

 

BLADE: How do you read an audience?

CHO: I ask specific questions and some of it depends on what I’m feeling or what’s going on in the news or what I feel needs to be talked about. There are a lot of different ways to do that. And then you just build up a conversation and that leads you into other things. There are some jokes that may be there consistently but they change in a way. You’re personalizing it to them.

 

BLADE: So many female comedians from you and Kathy Griffin to Joan and even back to Phyllis Diller seem to have these strong gay male audiences. Why is that?

CHO: I’ve just always been in with the gay community. I grew up with it. I just always had a real strong sense of family within the gay community. I think what it is in general is just the attraction to these strong female archetypes. Like with Kathy and Joan, it’s like gay men are looking for mother figures in a way whether it’s almost like vintage, like with Joan Crawford, or something tragic, like Judy Garland, or just somebody really strong like Madonna or really young like Gaga. I think it’s really a great thing. Joan (Rivers) I think is seen as more of a mom type. Kathy and I not as much, but maybe another kind of strong figure. It’s great and really satisfying.

 

BLADE: Where were you when you heard about the DOMA repeal?

CHO: I think I must have been in Atlanta. I remember thinking it was hard to imagine what that would look like in a state like Georgia, in some of these places that are so conservative.

 

BLADE: How did you feel?

CHO: I was really excited. It had been a very long time coming. It’s something we’ve worked for for such a long time. It’s so great to see that you can actually effect change. That’s really gratifying. I was able years ago to perform weddings at City Hall in San Francisco. I think I’ll be doing that again, which is really awesome, really satisfying.

 

BLADE: You have so much going on. Do you get overwhelmed by it or just want to stay home sometimes?

CHO: A lot of my work is also tied up in my social life so it’s kind of not really work. It’s also play too. A lot of it allows me to see people I love and hang out with them and talk about whatever, whether it’s Joan or Kathy or any of these people I just adore. It’s just a great opportunity — you forget that you’re working.

 

BLADE: But don’t you feel pressure? Working non-stop in the entertainment industry seems like it would feel like swimming in a shark tank or something.

CHO: I guess, but I have pressure in other ways. In the standup world, I feel really comfortable. It’s something other people might find really scary, but it’s something I know I can do. It’s just part of my nature. It’s not nearly as much pressure as trying not to be so self conscious for the camera or on a photo shoot or something where I kind of just get so embarrassed at trying to put on my sexy face, which just feels so stupid. I get really self-conscious in the more visual representation stuff. But standup is the one place where it’s very effortless. It’s very calming.

 

BLADE: I remember this photo of Bob Hope once in Vanity Fair and he was showing his joke library, which looked like a huge card catalog system with rows and rows. Do you have any system for keeping track of your own material?

CHO: I don’t have anything physical where I’ve written anything out. I’ve made a bunch of standup comedy films so all the material is there in the films but I don’t have anything written down. That would be great — I would love to be that organized, but I have a pretty good handle on the stuff I’ve done.

 

BLADE: Like Gwen? That became a running gag with some friends of mine.

CHO: Oh yes. Yeah, with Gwen, I just remember being so upset and the procedure itself being actually physically quite painful and it just seemed so funny to me that this woman felt the need to introduce herself to me and tell me she was there to wash my vagina in this very matter-of-fact way. That’s just what she does. So I kind of laughed and calmed myself in the moment.

 

BLADE: It’s quite shocking sometimes how much you manage to get away with. With a society that can really rake somebody across the coals for going over the line — I’m thinking of the Don Imus incident a few years ago — do you ever fear you’ll go too far and really piss off the world or have people turn on you?

CHO: The thing with comedy is there’s always the possibility that something like that could happen and you never really know what people are going to find offensive so you want to ride that line of being really funny but that also runs the risk of — well, you want it to go far, but not too far and where that point is, you don’t always really know. I guess whatever happens I can handle. I just try to push it as far as I can and I think you get a little immunity if you’re a woman or a person of color and queer and a gay activist and a feminist. If you’re a civil rights person and people know that, you can get away with not always being so politically correct all the time. You can kind of play the race card, or the gender card as a kind of get-out-of-jail-type thing. But you can’t rely on that too much either. Yeah, it’s a very difficult position. I just try to do my best.

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Theater

Celebrating the 2024 Helen Hayes Awards nominees

38th annual event returns next week ‘building on last year’s success’

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Justin Weaks as Belize and Nick Westrate as Prior in ‘Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches’ at Arena Stage. (Photo by Margot Schulman)

2024 Helen Hayes Award
May 20, 2024
For tickets go to theatrewashington.org

It’s that time of year again when the DMV’s theater pros and those who love them getdolled up and show up to celebrate the best of last year’s work. 

On Monday (May 20), Theatre Washington’s Helen Hayes Awards marks its 38th year with a splashy ceremony at The Anthem on the District Wharf. With two parts, a non-rushed intermission, and a lively after party, the program is long but the format allows time to celebrate award recipients, enjoy the entertainment, and talk about some serious issues without racing to the end.

Co-directed by Will Gartshore and Raymond O. Caldwell, the show features four terrific hosts — out actor Tom Story, Felicia Curry, Maria Rizzo, and Rayanne Gonzales along with an ensemble of five singer/dancers (dubbed the Fab Five) peppering the show with some fun numbers. 

“We’re building on last year’s success,” says Amy Austin, Theatre Washington’s out president and CEO. “Again, dinner will be served during the show à la Golden Globes on the first floor for mostly nominees and their guests, and the second floor offers lots more affordable stadium seating.” 

Austin’s approach harks back to the sumptuous Helen Hayes Awards of yesteryear, which she cleverly remembers as the “ice sculpture age.” Ultimately, the goal is to create something fun, memorable, and meaningful: “It’s such a collaborative community and that’s why the Helen Hayes Awards are special; it’s a reunion of people who’ve worked together.” 

Still, the doling out of awards remains the focus of the long evening. And that leaves a lot of nominees waiting on tenterhooks to see just who will go home with prizes named for the legendary first lady of American theater, Miss Helen Hayes. 

The awards selection process is no simple task, she adds. Recognizing work from 151 eligible productions presented in the 2023 calendar year, nominations were made in 41 categories and grouped in “Helen” or “Hayes” cohorts, depending on the number of Equity members involved in the production with Hayes counting more. 

The nods are the result of 49 carefully vetted judges considering 2005 individual pieces of work, such as design, direction, choreography, performances, and more. Productions under consideration in 2023 included 44 musicals, 107 plays, and 36 world premieres.

As one of this year’s nominees, out actor Justin Weaks says he isn’t about beating the competition. He concedes it may sound cliché, but it’s a privilege simply to be nominated, especially with all the work done in the DMV. And certainly, with three wins and multiple nominations under his belt, he’s in a position to know. 

And now, he’s nominated for Outstanding Supporting Performer in a Play, for his notable turn as Belize/Mr. Lies in Arena Stage’s production of Tony Kushner’s seminal masterwork “Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches.”

For Weaks, a longtime D.C. actor who relocated to New York in 2021, the “Angels” experience was singular: “It’s one of those great, very American plays that remains relevant, and that it’s centered on the gay experience and HIV/ AIDS makes it especially impactful for the queer community.”

Often noted for creating roles in new plays, Weaks enjoyed being part of a piece that so many hands have touched since its premiere more than 30 years ago. He was thrilled to work with the production’s Hungarian director János Szász who, Weak says, approached the piece as a new work, treating it like fresh text.

And does Weaks have a speech prepared? 

“The morning of the awards, I’ll journal about my experience with ‘Angels,’ and if my name is called, I’ll get up and give an abbreviated version of what I wrote. But mostly for me, it’s a reunion, a chance to be cute, get dressed up and celebrate the work.” 

In the Outstanding Lighting Design category, Brooklyn-based Venus Gulbranson is nominated for Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company & The Wilma Theater’s “My Mama and the Full-scale Invasion”. It’s the proud and out Filipino designer’s second nomination (last year she received a nod for Monumental Theatre’s “tick, tick… BOOM!”). 

“Lighting design is underrated in the eye of theatergoers,” explains Gulbranson who earned her lighting stripes as an Arena Stage fellow. “Scenic and costume design are somehow more tangible to them; they don’t often realize that it’s lighting designers who navigate the mood of the story. 

“It’s a very empathetic skill, and a good designer can take you there emotionally.  When you’re tearing up watching a scene, the lighting has a lot to do with it. We also spend a lot of time making scenes transition smoothly,” she adds. 

“We half-jokingly say ‘a compliment to set design is a compliment to us.’ We are the reason there are beautiful colors on stage. Scenery is our canvas.” 

Other queer nominees include Bobby Smith (Studio Theatre’s “Fun House”), Billie Krishawn (Arena’s “Angels in America”), Miss Kitty (Spooky Action Theatre’s “Agreste”), Michael Urie (The Kennedy Center’s “Monty Python’s Spamalot”), costume designer Frank Labovitz (Constellation Theatre Company’s “The School for Lies”), director Jason Loewith and set designer Tony Cisek (Round House Theatre & Olney Theatre Center’s “Ink”), and most likely more.  

Both the Helen Hayes Awards’ choreographer and a nominee, David Singleton is up for Outstanding Choreography in a Musical for NextStop Theatre Company’s “Ride the Cyclone,” a wildly entertaining dark comedy.

“The show’s score is eclectic, so I could do a little bit of everything. I had to find anchor points for each number where I draw most inspiration, and go with it. I have a strong jazz background, both street and musical theater jazz, but I’m also really into tap and some ballet.”  

Singleton began performing professionally in “Dreamgirls” at Toby’s Dinner Theatre in 2017, but he hit his stride with “really fierce” choreography post pandemic. 

A dancer first, Singleton says his energies are divided into thirds: performer, choreographer, and drag queen (Tiara Missou, an “incredibly vain but kind queen” who’s regularly featured at D.C. bars Pitchers and Shakers). When Singleton was 18, he volunteered to work the Helen Hayes Awards. He recalls thinking “I’ll be part of this one day, for what exactly I’m not sure” and now he says, “I’m here and I feel honored.”  

And what about a prepared speech? “Oh, definitely. I’m a rambler.”  

Break legs nominees! 

A full list of award recipients will be available at theatrewashington.org on Tuesday, May 23.

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Television

‘Interview with the Vampire’ returns in triumph

Long-awaited season 2 continues to get story exactly right

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Assad Zaman and Jacob Anderson star in 'Interview with the Vampire.' (Photo courtesy of AMC)

When AMC debuted its long-awaited series adaptation of “Interview With the Vampire” – Anne Rice’s seminal proto-postmodern horror novel that set the stage and paved the way for a decades-long literary franchise that has kept millions of readers, queer and straight alike, passionately engaged since first reading its thinly veiled allegorical document of life as a being with heightened awareness on the edge of human existence – in 2022, we were among the first to sing its praises as a triumph of narrative storytelling,

We were not the last. The series, created by Rolin Jones in collaboration with Christopher Rice – the original author’s son and a successful horror novelist in his own right – and the late Anne Rice herself, was one of its season’s best-reviewed shows, earning particular praise for its writing, in which the queer “subtext” of Rice’s original works was given the kind of unequivocal full weight denied to it in the Brad Pitt/Tom Cruise-starring Neil Jordan-helmed film adaptation from 1994. 

Though purist fans of the original boom series took occasional umbrage to some of the show’s leaps – changing the historical period of the story to illuminate themes of racism and deepen its resonance for those living as “others” on the fringe of society, and making the book’s protagonist, Louis Pointe du Lac (Jacob Anderson), a closeted Black Creole man in early 20th-century New Orleans – the series won most of its naysayers over by its season finale. It delivered a deliciously subversive, unapologetically queer interpretation that remained true to Rice’s original gothic re-imaginings while expanding the scope to encompass social and cultural factors that have become central to the moral and ideological conflicts that plague us in the first quarter of the 21st century.

To put it bluntly, the show’s willingness to embrace the story’s countercultural queer eroticism and place its transgressively amoral “moral compass” front and center was more than enough to smooth over any nitpicking over faithfulness to narrative detail or tone that might otherwise have kept Rice’s legion of acolytes from signing on to the new-and-contemporized vision of the book that Rollins built as the foundation for his daunting project.

Now, after a buzz-tempering delay borne of last year’s actor’s strike, the series has returned for its second season. And we’re happy to assure you that its feet hit the ground running, keeping up both passion and narrative momentum to pick up the story with electrifying energy after leaving off (at the end of season one) with the shocking murder and seeming elimination of Lestat (Sam Reid), the exquisitely amoral “rock star” vampire who served as both protector and lover of Louis, and the departure of the latter and his perpetually juvenile “daughter,” Claudia (Bailey Bass) on s quest to find others like themselves.

Fans of the book might, in fact, find new reasons to take exception to the show’s adaptation, which, as in season one, makes significant departures from the original narrative. After moving the story’s setting forward by roughly half a century, Louis and Claudia’s secretive sojourn now takes place in the traumatized landscape of post-WWII Europe, and spins a scenario in which the two ex-pat vampires, navigating their way through the perils of Soviet-occupied Central Europe after the fall of the Nazi regime, spend time in a refugee shelter while investigating rumors of old-world vampires who might provide a link to their “family history.”

When we rejoin this pair of relative fledgling vampires, their undead existence is a far cry from the decadent elegance they enjoyed in the New Orleans setting of season one. Enduring a near-feral existence as they make their way through a war-ravaged landscape, they find no shortage of prey in the aftermath of the Third Reich, but the “creature comforts” of their former “afterlives” are now only a memory. Louis is devoted, as always, to Claudia (now portrayed by Delainey Hayles, presumably due to scheduling conflicts for original actor Bass, who is set to reprise her role from “Avatar: The Way of Water” in the next installment of filmmaker James Cameron’s high-dollar sci-fi franchise), but remains haunted by his vampire maker and former lover Lestat, whose undead corpse remains buried on another continent but whose charismatic presence manifests itself in his private moments, nonetheless. In the first episode, the pair have used their supernatural wiles to journey into the “old country” long associated with their kind, tracking human tales of monstrous terrors in the night in hope of connecting with more of their kind. Louis, as always, struggles with his compassion for the mortal beings around him, while the more savage Claudia simply sees them as prey, and holds little hope of finding other vampires, if they even exist. For her part, Claudia has forgiven – but not forgotten – his refusal to ensure Lestat’s demise by burning his body, and is now solely focused on finding others like her.

Of course, the adventures of these two undead companions are only half the equation in “Interview With the Vampire.” The past is, as always, merely a flashback, as Louis relates the story of his afterlife experiences to mortal journalist Daniel Molloy (Eric Bogosian). In the present, the skeptical Molloy casts doubt on the truth of his memories, forcing the vampire to re-examine them as he goes. Perhaps more interestingly, in the long game of a series which, if it comes to full fruition, will eventually encompass the entire Rice vampire saga, these contemporary scenes give us a look at the relationship between Louis and Armand (Assad Zaman), revealed in the season one finale to be not a mere servant in Louis’ household but a centuries-old fellow vampire who is now Louis’ lover and companion.

Fans of the books, of course, know that Armand plays a significant role in the story of the past, too, and while we won’t spoil anything, we can say that history begins to unspool as season two progresses – but that’s getting ahead of ourselves. For now, what we can say is that season two’s first episode, while it may veer away from the familiarity of Rice’s original tale in service of reimagining it for 21st-century audiences, continues the first season’s dedication to breathing thrilling new life into this now-iconic, deeply queer saga; superb performances all around, an elegantly cinematic presentation and literate writing, and a lush musical score by Daniel Hart all combine to sweep us quickly and irresistibly into the story, making us not just fall in love with these vampires, but want to be one of them. 

That, of course, is the gloriously sexy and subversive point of Rice’s “Vampire Chronicles,” and this long-awaited series continues to get it exactly right.

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Out & About

Pride Run 5K nearly sold out

Front Runners annual event to be held at Congressional Cemetery

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Front Runners Pride Run 5K (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Sign up now to join the annual Front Runners Pride Run 5K. The event is 85 percent sold out. The event is Friday, June 7 at Historic Congressional Cemetery.

Join more than 1,000 runners and walkers as they kick off Pride weekend 2024. When registering please consider donating to one of the event’s charity partners. This year’s race proceeds benefit local LGBTQ and disenfranchised youth organizations, including the Team DC Student-Athlete Scholarship, Wanda Alston Foundation, Blade Foundation, Ainsley’s Angels of America (National Capital Region), Pride365 and SMYAL. Visit DCPriderun.com to register or to donate.

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