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:
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Drew Pisarra’s ‘dangerously funny and queerly inventive brain’
‘You’re Pretty Gay’ shatters expectations and social mores
Is there anything more absurd than this, wondered gay poet and writer Drew Pisarra. Pisarra, then, was an assistant to a paralegal at a toothpaste company.
Fiercely protective of the pattern on its toothpaste, they wrote letters to rivals who, they felt, were infringing on their copyright.
Even when their competitors were in countries in the middle of a civil war, “They would write back, ‘we can’t respond now, we’re in a war,’” Pisarra said.
But that didn’t soften the heart of the toothpaste company. They’d insist that “this most important matter be dealt with as soon as the war ends,” Pisarra said.
If you think that authors don’t encounter the absurdity and grit of everyday life or that all writers do is drink coffee (or sip stronger libations) while looking at the sunset, you haven’t met Pisarra.
Pisarra, 56, whose new short story collection “You’re Pretty Gay” is just out from Chaffinch Press, has worked at everything from ventriloquism to domestic work.
The word “unique” is so hackneyed that it’s a cliche to say it’s a cliche. But there’s no other way to describe “You’re Pretty Gay.”
This collection “is a prime example of Drew Pisarra’s dangerously funny and queerly inventive brain,” said Kevin Sampsell, author of “This Is Between Us.” “Each story is its own performance, its own shattering of expectations and social mores.”
Pisarra, who lives in Manhattan, gives readers a mosaic of wit, surrealism, sex, queerness, memory, mortality and self-discovery.
In “You’re Pretty Gay,” there are gay bars in New York and New Orleans.
You’ll find everything from adolescent bullies fighting over a rare caterpillar to a character taking an AIDS test and, later, meeting up with Mrs. Claus.
“Mrs. Claus I didn’t even know you were alive,” says the narrator of “Arctic Chill.” “I didn’t even know you were real. I haven’t received a gift from you or your husband in ten years.”
Another of Pisarra’s tales revolves around a trip to hell. “I love traveling,” says the narrator of “The Hat from Hell, “I got this hat when I was in Hell back in 1992.”
In “Granny,” siblings gather after their mother’s death. “All anyone could remember of her was that chair, how she sat in it for the last 40 years,” Pisarra writes, “immobile as ‘Jeopardy’ and the ‘Wheel of Fortune’ glared at her night after night.”
Pisarra’s characters yearn to find love, sex, and who they really are.
“In my quest to bed mankind, I tended to avoid perfection’s rejection,” says the narrator of “Every Man for Myself.”
Pisarra, whose first short story collection “Publick Spanking” was published in 1996, was born in Orange, N.J. When he was in the third grade, he moved to Maryland. There, except for living in Oxon Hill for a year, he grew up in Silver Spring.
When Pisarra was growing up, being gay wasn’t even remotely on the horizon. “There was such denial in the culture then,” Pisarra said.
From early on, he had feelings for men. “I had a crush on a boy in kindergarten,” Pisarra said.
He consulted books and a priest, which wasn’t helpful. They said he’d grow out of it.
“As a teenager, I recognized that I hadn’t outgrown it,” Pisarra said.
Pisarra was a college freshman when he came out. “I sobbed the night I came out,” he said.
He was out in college, Pisarra said, “but I wasn’t getting laid.” That changed when he moved to New Orleans after college.
Pisarra graduated from Hofstra University in 1987 with a bachelor’s degree in theater.
In college, a professor had the students sit in a circle. Then, the teacher told them how she thought they’d be cast.
“She told me, ‘you’re a grotesque,’”Pisarra said, “‘You won’t work until you’re in your fifties. Because your face and body don’t match.’”
Pisarra was relieved to hear this. His sense of relief was related to being a young gay man in the late 1980s.
“I wasn’t interested in being closeted,” Pisarra said, “I wrote. I wanted to perform. I wasn’t interested in conforming.”
Since then, Pisarra has been creating – performing and writing his own material. Some of the stories in “You’re Pretty Gay” were originally created for the stage.
“I don’t write that often,” Pisarra said, “I started writing the stories in ‘You’re Pretty Gay’ 20 years ago.”
A prodigious reader, Pisarra has always “written to some degree,” he said.
Pisarra got turned on to writing poetry when he went to a meeting of a gay and lesbian writers group.
“There were, like, 10 people in this apartment,” Pisarra said, “there was a terrible woman sitting next to me.”
He would have dropped out of the group, if he hadn’t met writer Mare Davis, now his close friend.
“I said to her, ‘I never want to see any of these people again except you,’” Pisarra said, “She inspired me to get into poetry.”
Davis wrote the introduction to Pisarra’s poetry collection “Infinity Standing Up” (Capturing Fire Press).
Released in 2019, the volume of sexy, playful sonnets received glowing reviews from the Washington Post, the Blade and other outlets.
“Devour me! Think me not some crazy nut!,” Pisarra writes in one of his sonnets.
With lines like these, he gives Shakespeare a run for his money.
Pisarra has held a variety of jobs – many of which have involved the arts. He has helped homeless people with mental health issues to find housing.
“I ran a writers group for them,” Pisarra said, “I encouraged a super-talented woman to send her work out.”
The woman and Pisarra submitted their work to the same magazine. “Her work was accepted. Mine wasn’t,” he said, “I was thrilled!”
In an unusual career twist, Pisarra, who received a literary grant from the Café Royal Cultural Foundation, toured a ventriloquist act entitled “Singularly Grotesque.” He created the act after the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art commissioned him to develop a new solo piece.
“I was wandering around the library aisles and I found two (self-help) pamphlets on talking with ‘multiple’ selves,’” Pisarra said, “and I thought this is ventriloquism in a nutshell.”
Pisarra hadn’t watched much TV. But that didn’t keep him from interviewing with AMC to be its director of digital media.
“I thought why not,” Pisarra said, “it would be a chance to see what else is out there in the world.”
He worked on the websites for “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad.” “It was a pleasure to be part of the online team for these cultural phenomena!” Pisarra said.
With Molly Gross, Pisarra co-founded Saint Flashlight. In this project, he and Gross find inventive ways to get poetry into public spaces.
One of the project’s most innovative efforts has been putting haiku on movie marquees. It’s fun to see people, looking up, counting the syllables, Pisarra said. You sweat when you put the letters up on the marquee, he added.
“It’s part of the fun! It makes you feel like you’re making something matter,” Pisarra said.
He doesn’t want poetry to be confined to “The New Yorker.” “It should push the envelope,” Pisarra said, “It’s not just for the upper crust.”
Calendar: July 23-29
Events in the week to come
Friday, July 23
Friday Tea Time and social for older LGBTQ adults will be at 2 p.m. on Zoom. You are welcome to bring your own beverage. For access to the Zoom link, email [email protected].
“Trans Support Group” will be hosted on Zoom at 7 p.m. This event is intended to provide emotionally and physically safe space for transgender people and those who may be questioning their gender identity/expression to join in community and learn from one another. All who identify under the trans umbrella or are unsure, and seek to continually reinforce principles of respect, acceptance, and protection through ongoing input from our attendees are welcome.
Saturday, July 24
The “Gay District Meeting” will be at 8 p.m. via Zoom. Gay District is a community-based organization focused on building understanding of gay culture and personal identity, awareness of community events and civil rights for gay, bi, trans, queer, questioning and inter-sexed men between the ages of 18 and 35 in the D.C. metropolitan area. For more information, visit gaydistrict.org.
Join the DC Center in volunteering at Food & Friends from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. at 219 Riggs Road, N.E. Food and Friends prepares and delivers meals and groceries to people living with HIV, cancer, and other life challenging illnesses. Up to five volunteers are needed every month. If you need a ride from the Fort Totten Metro, call the Food and Friends shuttle at 202- 669-6437.
Sunday, July 25
“Crafternoons with Shop Made in DC!” will be at 12 p.m. at 1353 Wisconsin Ave., N.W. Guests are encouraged to bring a project or come and make one at Shop Made in DC’s classroom table. There will be various art supplies available. For more information, visit Eventbrite.
Monday, July 26
The Center Aging Coffee Drop-in will be at 10 a.m. at the DC Center. LGBT Older Adults and friends are invited for friendly conversations and current issues that you might be dealing with. For more information visit Center Aging’s Facebook or website.
Tuesday, July 27
Join Center Faith for Intersectional Faith Forums at 7 p.m. online. In this Forum, attendees will hear from panelists who participated in the LGBT history event “Stepping OUT on Faith” in 2014. These pioneers will speak about their interfaith spiritual experiences of the AIDS Memorial Quilt of the Names Project Foundation displayed on the National Mall 1987 that led to establishing Center Faith. For more information, visit Center Faith’s Facebook page.
Genderqueer DC support group will be on Zoom at 7 p.m. All those who identify as bigender, agender, genderfluid, or are not 100% cisgender are welcome to attend. For more information visit genderqueerdc.org or Genderqueer DC’s Facebook.
Wednesday, July 28
Join the DC Center for its virtual job club, a weekly job support program to help job entrants and seekers, including the long-term unemployed, improve self-confidence, motivation, resilience and productivity for effective job searches and networking. The event begins on Zoom at 6 p.m. For more information, email [email protected].
Friendship Place’s LGBTQ+ will host the final session of a free webinar series titled “Advocacy, Resistance, and LGBTQ+ Resilience” at 12 p.m. This event will be a panel conversation focused on the vital work of advocacy and resistance to ensure access and rights for the LGBTQ+ community. The panel will also touch on the importance of self-care in the work of advocacy and resilience that comes from community. For more information, visit capitalpride.org.
Thursday, July 29
“Queer Book Club” will be at 7 p.m. via Skype. This month’s book discussion will be “Black Boy Out of Time” by Hari Ziyad. If you are interested in participating, please email [email protected].
The Mayor’s Office will host a “Veterans Roundtable” on Thursday, July 29 at 12 p.m. This event aims to connect the District’s veterans with information, resources, and organizations that may be beneficial to a successful military transition.
It will be an informal discussion that revolves around varying topics including housing, employment, healthcare, and legal services. Upon conclusion of the discussion, all resource providers in attendance offer feedback on any topics discussed or how they can assist the veteran or their family in a positive capacity.
The event will be hosted in person and will highlight BIPOC Veteran Mental Health Awareness with speakers from the DC VA Medical Center. For more information, visit Eventbrite.
Meet Theater J’s new managing director
David Lloyd Olson strives to create equitable, inclusive space
Beginning in mid-August, David Lloyd Olson will be Theater J’s new managing director. As such, he’s charged with getting butts in seats, but there’s more to it than that. He explains via phone from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where he was vacationing last week, “My goal is to create a space that’s equitable, inclusive, and everyone is supported with the resources they need to create the best art possible in their current circumstances that means I’m doing my job well.”
Housed in the Edlavitch DC Jewish Community Center (EDCJCC) on 16th Street in Dupont Circle, Theater J, the nation’s largest and most prominent Jewish theater, is slated to reopen in late September. While new hire Olson will focus on financial matters and marketing, veteran artistic director Adam Immerwahr is responsible for what happens on stage. Neither of the co-executives reports to each other but rather to EDJCC’s CEO Dava Schub. “It’s a leadership model that works,” says Olson, “because you don’t have the business leading the arts.”
Olson likes Schub’s vision for creating safe space at EDCJCC for LGBTQI+ and people of color, especially Jews of color, and her belief that more energy is made when a company is housed in a community center. “It meshes with my idea of what a theater should be more than a transactional relationship, but rather creating dialogue with community and using the platform – literally our stage – to participate in the conversation with the community.”
Additionally, Olson’s getting on board with Theater J allows for a geographical reunion with his husband Jonah Richmond. Over the last two years, Olson has been managing director at Quintessence Theatre Group in Philadelphia while Richmond has remained at the couple’s place in D.C. and worked at EPA. Olson says “Philadelphia was a great experience but it was tough going back and forth. It’s good to be home.”
Olson’s career has been mostly Washington area-based, and his vitae boasts stretches at GALA Hispanic Theatre, Arena Stage, the Shakespeare Theatre Company, and Pointless Theatre.
While at University of Maryland, he spent a lot of time making theater with fellow theater majors. Olson was curious how to lift fellow artists and identify resources that would assist them in reaching their greatest potential.
He was interested in directing, acting, and puppetry (UMD is Jim Henson’s alma mater). After scoring a terrific success performing in the Fringe Festival with “Sleeping Beauty: A Puppet Ballet,” a beautiful, well received piece, he became part of the Pointless Theatre where he took on the role of managing director, producer, and nonprofit administrator.
With puppetry, the work speaks for itself. If the puppeteer is doing their job expertly, they fall away and the puppet takes center stage. Similarly, very much of what Olson does as managing director is behind the scenes — essential to the production taking place, but audiences don’t see him.
Growing up in the suburbs of Atlanta, young Olson was part of a Jewish community that frowned on his sexuality. He later found acceptance at Adas Israel Congregation, the Washington synagogue where he married his husband in 2014.
As a kid, he was encouraged to be as assimilated as possible. Despite being partly of Mexican ancestry, there was no Spanish spoken at home “It’s reflective of the national conversation we’re having now,” he says. “Same goes with heteronormativity. The idea that the more you can pass as a straight white man, the more opportunities that come your way.”
At Theater J, the job of storytellers is not to say one side or another is right but to tell the story of what it means to be Jewish, says Olson. Differences might include religious practices, ideology, and one’s stand on Palestinian self-determination. But ultimately, he thinks, though divided, a community can remain unbroken.
Looking forward, Olson is eager to see Theater J’s in-person, fall season opener “Becoming Dr. Ruth” starring Naomi Jacobson, a local actor he greatly admires, and staged by talented out actor/director Holly Twyford. He’s also excited about Theater J’s Yiddish Theater Lab dedicated to commissioning English translations and adaptations of Yiddish plays to be presented as readings and possibly productions.
In closing, he adds, “I pinch myself every day about how lucky I am to work in theater, to be among great artists and part of a community.”
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