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Creepy ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ returns for equally good second season

‘Mad Men’ vet Elisabeth Moss returns to Emmy-winning role as Offred



Handmaid's Tale, gay news, Washington Blade

Yvonne Strahovki and Joseph Fiennes in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale.’ (Photo courtesy Hulu)

Season two of “The Handmaid’s Tale” (premiering on Hulu on April 25) is off to a great start. As the series moves into uncharted territory, the suspense increases and the personal and political pressures become even more intense.

The series is based on Margaret Atwood’s monumental 1985 dystopian novel in which the United States is taken over by theocratic terrorists who establish the repressive Republic of Gilead. Environmental disasters have rendered most women infertile; the women who can still bear children are forced to become Handmaids (dressed in red), reproductive surrogates for the Commanders and their wives (dressed in blue).

Season one follows the outline of Atwood’s novel closely, although it zooms out from the first-person narrative of the Handmaid Offred to add the stories and perspectives of other characters. Bruce Miller’s masterful adaptation also expands Offred’s flashbacks of her life before Gilead.

Like the novel, season one ends with Offred (Elisabeth Moss) being forced into a van by the omnipresent guards, but season two opens with her arriving at an unexpected location, a stadium where Aunt Lydia (the magnificent Ann Dowd) has arranged a terrible punishment for the Handmaids who have defied her. The Aunts, dressed in brown, train the Handmaids and enforce their proper submissive behavior.

Episode one becomes largely a battle of wills between Offred and Aunt Lydia. Aunt Lydia has the fearful power of the state behind her, but Offred has powers of her own: her fierce will and the fact that she is pregnant. Both actresses won Emmy Awards for their outstanding performances in season one and their work in season two is even stronger and richer.

Forced into silence and stillness by the restrictive costume and strict decorum of the Handmaids, Moss creates a powerful portrait of an independent woman beaten into compliance. Through subtle gestures, penetrating close-ups of her expressive face and frequently acerbic voice-overs, Moss and her colleagues provide Offred with a rich inner life. Her performance as June Osborne (as Offred was known before the coup) is a stunning contrast.

As a representative of the oppressive new government, Dowd’s Aunt Lydia marshals both the might and righteousness of the new regime with great ferocity, but Miller and Dowd create a surprisingly multi-faceted character.

In addition to Moss and Dowd, the entire principal cast returns for the second season, including Joseph Fiennes as Offred’s Commander and Yvonne Strahovski as his long-suffering wife (who was ironically one of the architects of the revolution); Max Minghella as Nick Blaine, the Commander’s chauffeur and the father of Offred’s unborn baby; O.T. Fagbenle as June’s husband and Samira Wiley as her friend Moira, both of whom have finally escaped to Canada; and Alexis Bledsel (Emily/Ofglen), Madeline Brewer (Janine/Ofwarren) and Nina Kiri (Alma) as Offred’s fellow Handmaids.

Season two also introduces new characters: Bradley Whitford as Commander Joseph Lawrence, Clea Duvall as Emily’s wife, Cherry Jones as June’s mother Holly Osborne, and Marisa Tomei as a character whose identity has not yet been revealed. The new season also introduces a new location — the poisonous “Colonies,” where “Unwomen” are sent to clean up toxic waste.

Season two also focuses more on Mayday, the growing resistance to Gilead. As Offred wryly notes, “It’s their own fault. They should never have given us uniforms if they didn’t want us to be an army.”

“The Handmaid’s Tale” is a show that should not be missed. Besides the fascinating characters and gripping storylines, the series is a subtle examination of the mechanics or repression and the birth of a resistance movement. A timely tale, it is brave, bold, brutal and beautiful, sometimes all at the same time.



PHOTOS: Baltimore Pride in the Park

Annual celebration featured vendors, performers



(Washington Blade photo by Linus Berggren)

Baltimore Pride in the Park was held at Druid Hill Park on Sunday, June 16.

(Washington Blade photos by Linus Berggren)

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PHOTOS: “Portraits”

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington performs at the Kennedy Center



A scene from "Portraits," as performed in a technical rehearsal at the Kennedy Center on Saturday, June 15. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington performed “Portraits” at the Kennedy Center on Sunday, June 16.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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Sophie Zmorrod embracing life on the road in ‘Kite Runner’

First national tour comes to Eisenhower Theater on June 25



Sophie Zmorrod (Photo courtesy of Zmorrod)

‘The Kite Runner’
June 25 – 30
The Kennedy Center

Newly single, Sophie Zmorrod is enjoying life on the road in the first national tour of “The Kite Runner,” Matthew Spangler’s play with music based on Khaled Hosseini’s gripping novel about damaged relationships and longed for redemption. 

“It’s a wonderful time for me,” says Zmorrod. “I’m past the breakup pain and feeling empowered to explore new cities. A lot of us in the cast are queer, so we figure out the scene wherever the show goes.” 

What’s more, the New York-based actor has fallen in love with the work. “I love how the play’s central character Amir is flawed. He is our antihero. He has faults. As a privileged boy in Kabul, he bears witness to his best friend’s assault and doesn’t intervene. He lives with that guilt for decades and gets that redemption in the end.” 

“He does what he can to right wrongs. For me who’s regretted things, and wished I could go back in time, it resonates. Watching someone forgive themselves and do the right thing is beautiful.” 

Via phone from Chicago (the tour’s stop before moving on to Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater on June 25), Zmorrod, whose background is Lebanese, happily chats about sexuality, ethnicity, and acting. 

WASHINGTON BLADE: Looking at your resume, I see you’ve been cast in roles traditionally played by men. And have you played queer characters? 

SOPHIE ZMORROD: Oh yes, both. Whether or not they’re written on the page as queer, they sometimes turn out that way. And that holds true for this show too.  

With “The Winter’s Tale” at Trinity Rep, I played Leontes — the king who banishes his wife — as a woman. So, in that production it was about two women and touched on the violence that women sometimes inflict on other women.

And there was Beadle Bamford in Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd” also at Trinity Rep; I played him as a woman who was masculine and wore a suit. It was a great opportunity to explore myself and gender expression. That was a really good experience. 

BLADE: Are you an actor who’s often be called in for queer roles? 

ZMORRAD: Not really. I’m what you might call straight passing. Sometimes I’ve had to advocate for my queerness. To be a part of something. 

Similarly with my ethnicity. I’m called in to audition for the white and Arab roles. It gets tricky because I’m not the exactly the white girl next door and I’m not exactly Jasmine from Disney’s “Aladdin” either. 

This is one of the reasons, I really want people to come see “The Kite Runner,” Audiences need to experience the reality of the wide diversity of Middle Eastern people on the stage. We’re all very different.

And not incidentally, from this 14-person cast, I’ve met some great people to add to those I know from the Middle Eastern affinity spaces and groups I’m connected to in New York.

BLADE: In “The Kite Runner” what parts do you play?

 ZMORRAD: Three characters. All women, I think. In the first act, I’m an elderly eccentric pomegranate seller in the Afghan market, waddling around, speaking in Dari [the lingua franca of Afghanistan]; and the second act, I’m young hip and sell records in a San Francisco market; and at the end, I’m a buttoned-down American immigration bureaucrat advising Amir about adoption.

BLADE:  Your training is impressive: BA cum laude in music from Columbia University, an MFA in acting from Brown University/Trinity Repertory Company, and you’re also accomplished in opera and playwrighting, to name a few things. Does “The Kite Runner” allow you to flex your many muscles? 

ZMORROD: Very much. Playing multiple roles is always fun for an actor – we like malleability. Also, there are instruments on stage. I like working with the singing bowl; it’s usually used in yoga as a soothing sound, but here we save it for the dramatic, uncomfortable moments. I also sing from offstage. 

We are creating the world of the play on a very minimal set. Oh, and we do kite flying, and I’m able to use the some of the languages I speak. So yeah, lots of challenges. It’s great. 

BLADE: It sounds like you’re in a good place both professionally and personally.

ZMORROD: It’s taken a long time to feel comfortable. My being gay was never something I led with. But I’m on the journey and excited to be where I am, and who I am. 

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