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Summer film and TV preview

The LGBTQ productions that will take you to the ‘Heights’

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Summer is coming, once again, and this time it feels like a pretty big deal. For the first time in more than a year, we can look forward (fingers crossed) to a return to semi-normalcy, and it’s reasonable to make plans for enjoying at least some of our time outside the socially distanced safety of our living rooms.

That said, the waning of COVID also means that the television and film industry has an embarrassment of accumulated riches ready to offer us – and even if we have binge-watched our way through the past 14 months, we say, “Bring it on!”
There’s so much queer-flavored entertainment on deck in the coming few weeks that it can be a bewildering task to keep track of it all. Fortunately, the Blade is here to help, with our list of the movies and shows that seem likely to represent the cream of the crop.

First, the television:

A scene from ‘PRIDE.’ (Screen capture via YouTube)

PRIDE (May 14, FX)

This six-part documentary series from VICE studios may have already started, but it’s a great kick off to Pride Season – and thanks to “FX on Hulu,” it’s easy to catch up at your leisure. Chronicling the struggle for LGBTQ+ civil rights in America from the 1950s through the 2000s, seven renowned LGBTQ+ directors explore stories of queer experience, from the FBI surveillance of homosexuals during the 1950s “Lavender Scare” to the “Culture Wars” of the 1990s and beyond, exploring the queer legacy of the Civil Rights movement and the battle over marriage equality. Offering profiles of familiar heroes like Bayard Rustin and Christine Jorgensen, as well as of lesser-known figures like Madeleine Tress and Nelson Sullivan, the show charts the evolution of LGBTQ+ rights and identities through interviews and archival footage to provide a valuable perspective on queer history, just in time for Pride month.

Max Jenkins and Ryan O’Connell in ‘Special.’ (Photo courtesy Netflix)

SPECIAL (May 20, Netflix)

Freshly dropped is the second and final season of this surprise hit series from Ryan O’Connell, a semi-autobiographical comedy about a writer with cerebral palsy (played by O’Connell himself) trying to navigate life in the Los Angeles “scene” as a gay man with a disability. The abbreviated (only four episodes) final arc follows Ryan as he tries to “get his shit together” after the disastrous events of season one – including a fight with his mother Karen (Jessica Hecht) that has left them estranged ever since – that have left him with a nasty case of writer’s block. New relationships are also on the horizon for both Ryan and BFF Kim (Punam Patel), and the journey toward self-discovery and self-actualization takes center stage as this disarmingly charming and refreshingly unsentimental comedy – currently the only show on television to feature a disabled LGBTQ person as its main character – comes to a close. Max Jenkins, Charlie Barnett, Ana Ortiz, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Lauren Weedman, and Leslie Jordan are among those joining the show for season two, alongside returning cast members Marla Mindelle, Gina Hughes, and Patrick Fabian.

Naomi Ackie and Lena Waithe in ‘Master of None.’ (Photo courtesy Netflix)

MASTER OF NONE (May 23, Netflix)

Returning for a much-anticipated season 3 is this acclaimed series, co-created by Aziz Ansari and Emmy-winner Alan Yang. Always strongly “queer-adjacent” thanks largely to the involvement of Lena Waithe, who played the lesbian character of Denise throughout the first two seasons and became the first Black woman to win a writing Emmy for the episode “Thanksgiving,” based partly on her own experience coming out to her mother. In its third installment, the show takes a radical departure from following Ansari’s lead character (struggling actor Dev Shah) and instead focuses all of its five-episode run on the relationship between Denise and partner Alicia (played by BAFTA-winner Naomi Ackie).

Directed by Ansari, who also co-wrote with Waithe, this new season touts itself as “a modern love story that intimately illustrates the ups and downs of marriage, struggles with fertility, and personal growth both together and apart.” Judging from its past excellence, this new installment is likely to be one of the summer’s best bets.

BALLERINA BOYS (June 4, PBS)

“American Masters” presents a portrait of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo (“The Trocks”), an all-male ballet company that has captivated audiences for over 45 years with their signature style – classical ballet en pointe and in drag, delivered with a blend of rigorous technique and satire that challenges the rigid gender norms of the art form – while also delivering a message of equality, inclusion and social justice. This profile from director Chana Gazit follows the legendary troupe as they tour the Carolinas, and culminates with their 2019 performance at the Stonewall 50th anniversary concert in NYC. The hour-long doc broadcasts on June 4 (check your local listings), but it will also be available via the PBS video app in honor of Pride Month.

George Sear and Michael Cimino in ‘Love, Victor.’ (Photo courtesy of Hulu)

LOVE, VICTOR (June 11, Hulu)

The popular teen dramedy, inspired by the hit LGBTQ teen romance “Love, Simon,” returns for season two as the newly out Victor (Michael Cimino) enters his junior year at Creekwood High. As his story continues, Victor faces challenges such as a family struggling with his revelation, his heartbroken ex-girlfriend Mia (Rachel Hilson), and the difficulties of being an openly gay star athlete – all while navigating the excitement of his relationship with new boyfriend Benji (George Sear). Odds are good that this continuation will deliver more of the same blend of heart, humor, and diversity that helped the first season become one of last summer’s must-see highlights. Anthony Turpel, Bebe Wood, Mason Gooding, Isabella Ferreira, Mateo Fernandez, James Martinez, and Ana Ortiz also star.

REUNION ROAD TRIP: QUEER EYE FOR THE STRAIGHT GUY (June 17, E! Entertainment)

As part of the network’s special event series, “Reunion Road Trip,” the original “Fab Five” – Thom Filicia, Ted Allen, Kyan Douglas, Carson Kressley and Jai Rodriguez – reassemble in Los Angeles to do a makeover for Jai on his 40th birthday. As the group works their magic, they think back to their most heartfelt, meaningful makeovers and the impact on the LGBTQ community then and now, delivering a satisfying (and long overdue) trip down memory lane for fans of one of the most important and influential queer shows in television history. Airs at 9pm PT/ET.

Now for the movies:

PINK – ALL I KNOW SO FAR (May 21, Amazon Prime)
Amazon Studios launches its summer with this intimate documentary about award-winning performer and musician Pink as she embarks on her record-breaking 2019 “Beautiful Trauma” world tour and welcomes audiences to join her chosen family while trying to balance being a mom, a wife, a boss, and a performer. Directed by Michael Gracey (“The Greatest Showman”), this look into the private and public sides of a trailblazing artist – who is also a fierce and vocal advocate for the LGBTQ community, where she has long been a fan favorite – mixes footage from the road with behind-the-scenes interviews and personal material, giving audiences a glimpse behind the curtain of “the circus that she calls life.”

Lucia Lucas in ‘The Sound of Identity.’ (Screen capture via YouTube)

THE SOUND OF IDENTITY (June 1, VOD)

This award-winning documentary from director James Kicklighter profiles international opera star Lucia Lucas as she becomes the first known transgender woman in opera history to perform a principal role. Capturing Lucas on the cusp of international stardom as she prepares for her historic performance at the Tulsa Opera, it showcases the collaborative process between Lucas and her mentor (renowned composer Tobias Picker), as they bring Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” to life – with Lucas, a world-renowned baritone, taking the spotlight and all the pressures that come with it. Along the way, Lucas provides fresh insights into her transition, the professional risk she is taking, and what it means for those who follow. A must-see exploration of the role played by identity in our personal and professional lives, as well as a portrait of an artist at the height of her career.

JULIA SCOTTI: FUNNY THAT WAY (June 1, VOD)

Another documentary profile of a pioneering trans artist, this Susan Sandler-directed film takes audiences on an entertaining but emotional roller coaster as it follows the comeback of Julia Scotti – formerly Rick Scotti, who appeared on bills with Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock – after her transition during “a time when the words gender dysphoria and gender reassignment surgery were rarely heard.” Shot over a period of five years, this inspirational doc tracks Julia’s triumphant comeback, the rough life on the road, and the complex process of reuniting with her children, as her comedy becomes a shared language of identity, healing, and joy.

John Benjamin Hickey in ‘Sublet.’ (Screen capture via YouTube)

SUBLET (June 11, VOD)

Fans of steamy international LGBTQ cinema can look forward to this film from Israeli director Eytan Fox, whose haunting gay military romance “Yossi & Jagger” broke ground in expanding support for LGBTQ movies in Israel when it was released in 2002. In his latest offering, 50-something American writer Michael (John Benjamin Hickey) travels to Tel Aviv on assignment, where he sublets an apartment from local student – and sexual free spirit – Tomer (Niv Nissim). The young man quickly becomes his tour guide, and as the two spend time together, they soon find themselves exploring more than just the city – despite the clash of generational attitudes between them. Slated to debut at the cancelled-due-to-COVID 2020 Tribeca Film Festival, it’s getting the release it deserves, as a reminder that Pride stretches across all borders.

RITA MORENO: JUST A GIRL WHO DECIDED TO GO FOR IT (June 18, in Theaters)

Directed by Mariem Pérez Riera, this documentary profiles its EGOT-winning subject with a look at her 70+ year career, following the beloved performer from her poverty-stricken youth in Puerto Rico, through her time as an all-purpose “ethnic stock player” in Hollywood (even after the triumph of becoming the first Latina actress to win an Oscar for her role in “West Side Story”), and her eventual rise to the iconic status she enjoys today. It also chronicles not only Hollywood’s not-so-hidden history of racism, sexism, and abuse, but Moreno’s personal struggles – including a toxic relationship with Marlon Brando and her own bout with serious depression – before her talent and resilience allowed her to triumph over adversity, break barriers, and forge a path for new generations of artists to come. The film features extensive interviews with Moreno, as well as George Chakiris, Héctor Elizondo, Gloria Estefan, Tom Fontana, Morgan Freeman, Mitzi Gaynor, Whoopi Goldberg, Norman Lear, Eva Longoria, Justina Machado, Terrence McNally, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Karen Olivo.

Anthony Ramos and Melissa Barrera in ‘In the Heights.’ (Photo courtesy Warner Brothers Pictures)

IN THE HEIGHTS (June 18, HBO Max and in Theaters)

Make no mistake, the long-awaited film adaptation of the 2005 Broadway musical by Lin-Manuel “Hamilton” Miranda and Quiara Alegria Hughes is sure to be the big-ticket movie of the summer. With charismatic bodega-owner Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) at its center, this sweeping musical portrait of Manhattan’s Washington Heights – a neighborhood mostly populated by immigrant people of color and their families – showcases a remarkable and diverse cast that also includes Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Stephanie Beatriz, Gregory Diaz IV, Dascha Polanco, Jimmy Smits, Marc Anthony, and Olga Merediz reprising her Broadway role.

The show was a Tony-winning smash onstage for its infectious celebration of community, as well as its uplifting message of following your dreams in the face of adversity. On film, as helmed by “Crazy Rich Asians” director Jon M. Chu, it’s a return to triumphant form for the Hollywood musical, executed with breathtaking cinematic vision and a healthy dose of “magical realism” that does nothing to undercut its streetwise swagger – and it’s probably something you should plan to see on the big screen.

After so many months of isolation, you deserve a special treat.

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Photos

PHOTOS: Taste of Point

‘Spring Garden Party’ fundraiser for LGBTQ youth scholarships

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Point Foundation Scholar Warren Small speaks to the crowd at the 'Taste of Point: Spring Garden Party' about his experience in the program. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Point Foundation held “Taste of Point: Spring Garden Party” at the rooftop of Room & Board on Thursday, May 19.

Point Foundation scholar Warren Small of Howard University, currently working as an intern for Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.), spoke to attendees about his experiences in the Point scholarship and mentorship program. Local restaurants and bars Amparo, Barkada, Compass Rose Bar & Kitchen, Hank’s Oyster Bar, Republic Restoratives, Serenata and Ten Eyck Brewing provided gourmet food and craft cocktails. Drag performer Kitti Chanel Fairfield and DJ Tezrah provided entertainment.

Activist, businesswoman and Point Foundation booster Sharon Brackett was honored posthumously in a ceremony at the event.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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Travel

‘A piece of heaven’ awaits in Easton, Md.

Historic charm, culture, and fine dining just 90 minutes from D.C.

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The Hummingbird Inn offers Victorian charm with modern amenities and the best breakfast on the Eastern Shore. (Blade staff photo)

If you’ve always zoomed past Easton, Md., on your rush to Rehoboth Beach, then you’re missing out.

Historic and charming Easton offers stylish and friendly accommodations, an array of eclectic shops and galleries, award-winning restaurants, and more in a welcoming environment for LGBTQ visitors.

Indeed, some of the town’s most prominent and successful businesses are gay owned and Easton aims to attract more LGBTQ visitors this year, in part by hosting its first-ever Pride celebration in June. 

“This is a welcoming and safe place where people can be who they are and it’s a prime location for a more developed gay community,” said Eric Levinson, owner of the Hummingbird Inn. Levinson is among the organizers of Easton Pride, scheduled for June 17-19.

Levinson moved to Easton in 2017 and opened the Inn. He says he was anxious about being openly gay because there weren’t many gay-identified businesses. When someone stole his Pride flag that year from the Inn’s front porch, Levinson blogged about it and says he had a supportive response from the town. Owners of a nearby bed-and-breakfast bought him a new Pride flag and there haven’t been any issues since.

In fact, on a recent Blade visit to Easton, Maryland gubernatorial candidate Tom Perez was in town for a campaign stop and one of the first questions he faced from the community was about his platform on LGBTQ issues.

“When I talk about jobs, justice, and opportunity, LGBTQ inclusion has been a huge part of it,” Perez said. “One of the privileges of my lifetime has been to work on those issues.”

Easton is home to about 15,000 residents in Talbot County, and was incorporated in 1790, though its founding dates to the early 1700s when the Assembly of the Province of Maryland selected it as the site for a courthouse to serve the pre-Revolution population of sea merchants and farmers, according to Discover Easton. It’s a mere 90-minute drive from Washington, D.C., and about the same from Rehoboth Beach. 

Start your visit by checking into the Hummingbird Inn (14 N. Aurora St.), just a short walk from town, which offers six en suite rooms each named for Eastern Shore towns. The Queen Anne Victorian Inn is fully updated with modern baths. Try the newly renovated and spacious Crisfield Room with its contemporary style and multiple seating areas on the third floor. The Inn is dog friendly and in the mornings, Levinson capably assumes the role of chef, wowing guests with an unrivaled, multi-course breakfast cooked to order. He says his experience traveling to 70 countries around the world informs his approach to hospitality.

“I pride myself on our attention to detail,” he says. “I modeled the inn on my travel experience. If I’m going somewhere this is what I’m expecting — I need great products, towels, pillows. That’s where I got the experience to know what’s expected as a traveler.”

And his approach is working — he says at least six former guests have since bought homes in Easton.

Levinson even accommodates those with dietary restrictions at his famed breakfast, noting, “Just because you have a restricted diet doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a good time.”

Talking with locals, everyone seems to have enjoyed Levinson’s breakfast feast; it truly is something to behold, starting with a selection of homemade breads. On a recent visit, there was a baked egg dish and a delicious French toast course. Be sure to indulge — you won’t need lunch.

As for Pride, Levinson says he was approached by Delmarva Pride about planning an event. The 2020 plans were scrapped due to COVID. But this year’s inaugural event will be a three-day celebration with a drag show, a Pride dance at the Inn, along with a street fair and Sunday brunch. Call the Inn for reservations as special ticket packages will be offered (410-822-0605). The Inn celebrates its five-year anniversary on Aug. 6 with food, drinks, and a band. And if you’re planning a wedding, Levinson is ordained and has officiated at numerous same-sex ceremonies.

“I want people to know it’s not just a B&B and more than just a place to sleep because we do so many events here,” Levinson says.

One of the largest such events is Easton’s 18th annual Plein Air festival set for July 15-24, the largest such festival in the country. According to the event site, “Plein air painters produce art from life (as opposed to in the studio)” and this year 58 artists will be juried into the competition. The artwork is for sale and the 2021 event brought nearly $500,000 in sales. Visit pleinaireaston.com for details.

In addition to the Hummingbird, you’ll find all sorts of accommodations from quaint B&Bs to the grand dame of Easton, the Tidewater Inn, a large hotel and conference facility that dates to 1947. Its restaurant, Hunters’ Tavern, is known for the snapper soup, and the bar is cozy with friendly staff.

Once you’re checked in, explore the vibrant scene of shops and galleries. Rediscover the lost pleasure of browsing a bookstore at Vintage Books & Fine Art (4 N. Washington St., vintagebooksmd.com). You’ll discover all sorts of fascinating local history and maritime-themed tomes. 

Among the local galleries, Studio B Art Gallery stands out. Owner Betty Huang, herself an accomplished artist, represents many esteemed painters and the gallery will host a plein air workshop with Master Jove Wang on July 11. Visit studiobartgallery.com for details.

Betty Huang’s Studio B represents many esteemed painters. (Blade staff photo)

Shopping for clothing? Don’t miss Marc Randall boutique (3 E. Dover St., marc-randall.com), offering a mix of classic and edgy women’s clothing with a smaller selection of men’s wear. 

Marc Del Pino owns the boutique and sits on the board of Discover Easton. Over drinks at happy hour, he also seems like the town’s unofficial mayor as everyone who enters stops by to say hello. Originally from Trinidad, Del Pino moved to New York and then to Easton. He’s been in business in Easton for 29 years.

“I thought I would have a problem moving here but never did,” he says. “I never felt like an outsider or out of place; I felt like I came home when I came here for the first time. … I was tired of New York City, it reminds me of Trinidad here being smaller with a charming downtown.”

Marc Del Pino in his clothing boutique, Marc Randall. (Blade staff photo)

All that shopping will leave you hungry and there’s no shortage of restaurants to try. Among the best is Scossa (8 N. Washington St.), owned by Chef Giancarlo Tondin who was born in Italy and began his career at Harry’s Bar in Venice. He later worked for the Cipriani family’s many New York City restaurants, including the Rainbow Room before relocating to Easton. He specializes in Northern Italian cuisine. 

Another standout is Out of the Fire (22 Goldsborough St.), a farm-to-table bistro featuring globally inspired dishes and an open kitchen. Try the warm confit salad of chicken and roasted apples or browse an extensive pizza menu, including everything from duck sausage to a vegan option. 

The Wardroom (108 N. Washington St., thewardroom.com) offers a market along with lunch and dinner fare like homemade pastas and enticing selections of charcuterie, cheeses, and wines. 

After dinner, head to the historic Avalon Theatre. The building dates to the early 1920s but has been renovated and reinvented through the years. Today the Avalon presents musical and dramatic theater, symphony orchestras, national musical acts along with local talent, according to its site. This summer brings a wide array of programming, from “Hamlet” to a free community talk on parenting. Visit avalonfoundation.org for more information.

For a laid back, welcoming getaway without the summer beach crowds, Easton is a relaxing destination full of history, culture, premier dining, and high-end shopping in an LGBTQ affirming town convenient to D.C.

As Del Pino put it, “I could go anywhere in the world, but I go across the Bay Bridge and I’m home — a piece of heaven.”

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Theater

New Philly production explores AIDS through three characters

Ain Gordon’s ‘These Don’t Easily Scatter’ more than a static memorial

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Ain Gordon (Photo by Paula Court)

These Don’t Easily Scatter
May 20-22
William Way LGBT Community Center
1315 Spruce St, Philadelphia 19107
$20
Waygay.org

Plaques fail. And a memorial doesn’t need to be an immoveable piece of stone.

It’s this line of thought that formulated “Remembrance,” an alternative multidisciplinary memorial to Philadelphia’s AIDS crisis and its under-mourned deaths, made up of activities throughout May and June in the City of Brotherly Love.

Included is Ain Gordon’s new play “These Don’t Easily Scatter” to be performed in the William Way LGBT Community Center’s freshly renovated ballroom for just four performances (May 20-22). Both written and directed by the three-time Obie Award winning playwright, the work takes inspiration from interviews and stories gathered from individuals affected by HIV/AIDS and follows three imagined characters navigating the early days of the AIDS epidemic in Philadelphia.

Gordon, who is gay, has woven aspects of AIDS into previous plays (“217 Boxes of Dr. Henry Anonymous,” “Radicals in Miniature”), but this time he’s focused closely on the crisis. Set during 1982-1987, the play covers five intense years remembered vividly by the playwright, a lifelong New Yorker who was young, sexually active, and on the scene at the time.

Through interviews, he’s unearthed stories of Philadelphia-area community members who passed unnoticed with very little support. Gordon also chronicles accounts of those who selflessly assisted including a Philadelphia funeral director who offered proper burials to the dead when others were too frightened.

“The process was difficult because all interviewing had to be remote, and that’s the antithesis of what I like to do,” he explains. “I prefer to go to the place and talk in person. When you’re on site, meandering can happen and you find out things you hadn’t planned to ask. But it was the reality, so I dealt with it.”

With so many theatrical and film works surrounding HIV/AIDS and the ‘80s, Gordon sought a unique angle. His interviews included faith leaders and family, but he zeroed in on health care workers who administered to early AIDS patients, primarily nurses. Their stories were both illuminating and timely in context of the current pandemic.

He says, “Infectious disease doctors who were mostly men were the stars of the show. I’m often interested in the supporting players who stand behind the stars and those were the nurses.”

But how do interviews become a cast of characters?

“To be brutally frank, the budget allowed for three actors,” Gordon explains. “Didn’t know who those characters were for a long time. But I knew that I had a collection of things that needed to get in and I needed to find a container that could hold them.”

An especially revelatory interview with a nurse resulted in a character. An early interview with a faith leader who mentioned a woman who’d been in the choir and volunteered to sing at funerals when no one else would, conjured another. The third was a gay man, because gay men featured predominantly in all of the interviews.

“At that point,” he says, “you stop talking, get rid of your notes, and start writing. And hopefully it all comes together.”

Gordon is grateful to have assembled an A-list cast including Cherene Snow as the nurse, out actor Bill Kux is the gay guy, and the brilliant Kathleen Chalfant best known on Broadway for her part in the original production of Tony Kushner’s seminal “Angels in America,” plays the chorister.

The work’s conceit is monologues resembling interviews. The unnamed gay character, a young man finding his way sexually and having a great time, brings the names he wants to remember – mostly casual sex partners. Some stories are short: He recalls a guy he had sex with in a train station bathroom. He’d forgotten all about him until he saw his obituary photo in the paper.

For the playwright, “These Don’t Easily Scatter” is more than a static memorial.

“I’m interested in how history tends to be promoted in physically inactive objects. I think it can come in other forms and if they’re more fluid history can actively live on.”

A lot of his work is place-based plays – typically he gets a commission to travel to a location and write something specific to the place. And that’s what he’s done in Philadelphia.

“It’s important that the work is freestanding enough so it can be presented as a piece of theater someplace else where nobody knows about the story,” he adds. “It’s also important to give something back to the generous people involved in the process, and to commemorate those who have died, if not by name, then by remembrance.”

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