Monthly Archives: January 2012

Tom Judson – Man of Many Talents

Tom Judson is a 51 year-old man with a body for days, and for each muscle delineation he possesses a concomitant skill.

He is a composer, an actor, a musician who plays at least a dozen instruments from accordion to trombone, a rower, a former male escort, a writer, a world-class chef (please pass the apricot scones), and a home renovator.

Wait did I forget to mention adult film star? How could I not, especially since he won performer of the year in 2005 when he was 40-plus years old.

I know Tom Judson; I mean really know him, No, not in the Biblical sense although we did share a room in Hollywood when I went to cover the Gay Porn Awards. I walked the red carpet with Tom and was standing next to him at the ceremony, where he was nominated for five awards and kept losing one after another. I was there when he bowed his tall, lean frame over to me to whisper, “I am the Susan Lucci of porn.”

’The Susan Lucci of porn.’

This is Tom Judson, he is funny, he is spontaneous and he is self-effacing as only a very bright person can afford to be.

According to Judson, “I took an unusual path and it seems I followed ever diversion my life led me on. When I first stared working in theater in 1980 at places downtown like LaMaMa, I was exclusively a writer of words and music. But back in the day we would all be in each other’s shows as favors. No one was being paid so we leapt in to fill in the blanks. So I started performing because it was hard to get others to perform for free. People seemed to think I had something going on as a performer.

“But I always stayed a musician, I play a dozen instruments: winds, brass and keyboards, it was a hobby to learn new instruments, little did I know that my autodidact obsession with diverse instruments would take me to Broadway as an actor, but it did.”

Tale of our times

In 1988, on a lark, a friend dragged Judson to an audition of Sam Mendes production of “Cabaret” where all the actors played instruments on stage. He won a role. In Judson’s one-man show “Canned Ham,” he has a hilarious retelling of his klutzy inability to dance and his manic counting as he moved across the stage, amazed every night that he succeeded.

The one-man show had a run downtown at Dixon Place and in Provincetown, LA and Key West. This poignant, funny, honest tale of the man of many hats is unfolded often wearing nothing but a musical instrument and socks. It is a tale of our times detailing the loss of his husband Bruce to AIDS and the rebuilding of his life.

There is bravery in all of what Judson does. He discloses, details and delights in equal measure and does seem to evince a fearlessness that most lose in the their 20s. After his husband’s death, Judson was touring in the musical “42nd Street,” and was in Minneapolis and went out to a gay bar after the show.

TO CONTINUE READING PLS GO TO     http://www.edgeptown.com/index.php?ch=entertainment&sc=culture&sc2=features&sc3=&id=129077

Instinct at The Lion Theatre

*Published on January 22, 2012 in The Edge 

Matthew Maguire, the two-time OBIE award winner and co-founder with partner Susan Mosakowski of the Creation Company, a longtime fixture on the experimental circuit, has undertaken to pen a straight play. To other denizens of downtown theater, this means the play is about the words, the actors, the sets, the direction, and the flow of the text.

Maggie Bofill and Amirah Vann in "Instinct"

Maggie Bofill and Amirah Vann in “Instinct”   (Source:Gerry Goodstein)
It is not embellished with film, revolving stages, undercurrents of past lives, mythological beings, indigenous musical scores, slow-motion, or choreography; in short all the things I reveled in when I first saw The Creation Company’s work in the late ’80s. Maguire has grown into a playwright who is secure in his ability to tell a story in words utilizing strong characters as his mouthpieces.

“Instinct”, produced by the Creation Company, is the tale of two scientist couples — one straight, one lesbian — both attempting to parse and dissect their relationships and a virulent strain of the communicable disease, SARS.

It seems as if author Maguire spent a great deal of time learning lots of scientific back story; the science was sometimes baffling, the way science is to outsiders, but always enthralling. The piece was originally commissioned by Emory College’s Center for Creativity and the Arts Strategic Initiative and it pits and partners epidemiologists Mara and Daniel, played with gusto and commitment by Kim Blair and Jeffrey Withers, with (and sometimes against) vaccinologists Lydia and Fermina.

I loved the performances of Maggie Bofill as Lydia, a Russian scientist repatriated to Atlanta and addicted to pain killers and in love with a fiery Dominacana, played with equal force by Amirah Vann.

We meet the scientist couples on New Year’s Eve in two sequential scenes played out on a simple, workable set by Ben Kato. Some screens and cubes allow for all the action to unfold in a lab or apartment without the need of deep physical grounding. The opening shows us Maguire’s skill at pithy banter as the couples prod and preen before us, making promises for the coming year, which involve groundbreaking research and love making.

As Mara attempts to seduce Daniel into conceiving a child she utilizes a great scientific argument, “My genes are so good, it would be a shame to waste them.” Daniel is unconvinced. He wants to be a scientist first and fears the world he sees through his microscope. This provides the ongoing tension between this couple even as they are forced to work together to stop an epidemic, which we are told is in danger of becoming a pandemic.

The scenes shift to Lydia and Fermina, who have isolated a new vaccine created by actually cloning one strain from another, if I correctly absorbed the science in between the drugs and their similar fights about whether they would have a child.

Farina is all-in, while phlegmatic Lydia is full of doubt. The dialogue is quick and cinematic, filled with scientific metaphor. Dialogue like “Language can not live without a host so therefore it is a parasite”, made me pause and reflect on the skill of the author. But I often wanted more action.

Finding this urgency onstage is difficult, as we have been spoiled by so many action movies on the same theme — “Contagion” being the most recent — where scientists run and race, fight, and finally win the battle over a virus, alien, or meteor that will destroy the earth. It is a tough call to create this tension with only language, a small set, and very present actors.

Each scene change is punctuated with the duration of the outbreak and the number of casualties: Day 1/7 Dead, Day 28 /978 Dead. There are many scenes in between where the scientists debate rushing to hasty cures or following the slow pace of science.

During this time the scientists grow more and more tired, which draws attention to a silly detail: although they are exhausted, the lesbian couple clings to wearing three-inch heels throughout the exhausting month portrayed on stage.

I would love to know what costume designer Christina Bullard had in mind when she concocted these gals in their gray and red heels toiling endlessly, popping pills, and fighting about commitment and emotional intimacy. At least Mara is wearing sensible flats as she becomes more and more tired, banishing Daniel to the couch and resorting to artificial insemination, and getting pregnant all during this one hellish month.

Sometimes this kind of detail can distract me, and maybe other audience members, from the finer points being unleashed. And perhaps director Michael Kimmel, who did a fine job moving the players and exhorting emotional performances from them, might have taken a slight reality check in the final rehearsals to see what reduces reality and thus force from “Instinct.”

In the final analysis I was wrapped up in the characters and dialogue, but kept seeing it as a movie. Maybe that will emerge from this showing. Imagine a great stage writer giving film actors some meaty, bright text with which to pepper an action movie. Please pass the popcorn.

“Instinct” plays through February 4 at The Lion Theatre, 410 West 42nd St. For info or tickets call 212-239-6200 or visit www.creationproduction.org or www.telecharge.com 

A Gay Small Town N.Y. Mayor Runs for Congress

*published on Jan 18, 2012 on EDGE

Wappingers Falls Mayor Matt Alexander is certainly not shy about the fact that he is gay.

Gay Wappingers Falls Mayor Matt Alexander hopes to unseat first-term Congresswoman Nan Hayworth in November. (Source:Mike Fricchione)

He has a committed partner who helps with his fundraising and stands right by his side, but Alexander is not just a gay politician. He is quick to point out he believes it is time for people to be elected on the basis of their work ethic, education and ability to get jobs for unemployed Americans.

“Families are struggling and we have a Congress who is delivering for the wealthy and special interests but not for working families,” said Alexander. “We feel that in the Hudson Valley and we know that we need all levels of government working together to set families back on track and bring jobs back to our communities. I believe that the federal government should work more closely with municipal officials to identify local needs. With the right investment, local governments can be the incubators for job growth-but that takes federal representatives who acknowledge their responsibility and step up to the plate. We all have a role to play.”

Wappingers Falls, a village of 5,000 people in Dutchess County, has seen a dramatic revival under Alexander’s mayoralty.

“I originally came to the Hudson Valley when my father was hired to work at West Point,” said Alexander, who earned his Eagle Scout ranking at the military college after he transferred from his original Boy Scout troop in his native Alabama. “I loved it up here, I graduated from Cornwall High School and after finishing college at Notre Dame, I was drawn back here.”

Alexander holds an accounting degree and is a certified public accountant who worked at Deloitte and Touche in Manhattan. He left this work because he found it “unsatisfying and unrewarding.”

“I wanted to use my accounting skills to help small businesses,” he said.

Alexander used his experience and turned around several small companies-including a Cornwall paper recycling mill that was about to close. He then opened an antiques store on Main Street in Wappingers Falls.

“It was from the business on Main Street that I got called to public service,” said Alexander. “I watched the stores be shuttered more and more each week and I wanted to do something about it. Year after year nothing gets done and the area was becoming more depressed. Then one day I said to myself enough. And so I decided to run for mayor and I won. I have been here for seven years now and the town is on an upswing.”

Alexander has worked with the Hudson River Watershed Alliance and now heads the Wappinger Watershed Inter-municipal Council. He hopes to use a bi-partisan approach in his effort to unseat first-term incumbent Republican Congresswoman Nan Hayworth in November and represent New York’s 19th Congressional District on Capitol Hill.

Alexander, who has received endorsements from both Democrats and Republicans in his mayoral campaigns, noted he has worked with the Wappingers Falls Civic Association the Greater Southern Dutchess Chamber of Commerce and other business and revitalization groups.

“The federal government should be working together with localities to identify needs, bolster economies and create jobs,” said Alexander. “I have an opponent… who believes that the federal government’s only job is and this is a quote, “interstate highways and defense. This leaves too many smaller communities to fend for themselves and to flounder. I want to help.”

Retiring Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank, New York Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and Edward Albee, Estelle Parsons and other luminaries have already backed Alexander’s campaign. Frank and Maloney will host a fundraiser for Alexander in Tribeca on Thursday.

“Growing up in Alabama I never imagined that someone gay could be in Congress and now Barney Frank is doing an event for me,” said Alexander.

Paradise Lost: a review

* published on Jan 11, 2012 in EDGE

If you are going to do a one-person show you better be remarkable. I mean quirky, or possess an incredible voice, or a presence that can hold the stage and the audience, even if the show is less than 60 minutes. Paul Van Dyck is not that performer. He wishes he were, and he may grow to be, but right now on a cold winter night at the Horse Trade Theater’s Encore festival at the Kraine Theater, he is not that man.

Paul Van Dyck in "Paradise Lost" (Source:Emily Owens PR)

And “Paradise Lost” is not the show unless you were seeing it for the National Theater Conference, which many folks in the audience seemed to be, and you wanted to book it for a Bible college somewhere in the Bible belt. I should share my prejudices here: I am a fallen Catholic. Well really, I jumped.

I barraged the nuns with so many questions; I timed prayers, pushing for a faster Act of Contrition, and insisted on wearing boy’s clothes when not in uniform. Finally the beleaguered nuns told my mother I was not Catholic School girl; HOORAY, and they tossed me out. So the strict Judeo-Christian interpretation of the creation myth does not hold a lot of truck with me. Early on I saw it as a way to control those who might buck the system in a more full throated way. You know Marx’s adage, “Religion is the opium of the people.”

So it was tough for me to sit through the retelling of Milton’s 17th century “Paradise Lost”, itself a retelling of the Bible story of Adam and Eve. Anyone need refreshing on the horrible sexist nature of that story? Well it is all about Eve; she is the bad girl. She gets them tossed, but Adam has to stay married.

It is all about the birth of shame, the thing that really binds us to so much horror in our current lives. It is the tale of a vengeful god bestowing painful childbirth on Eve as further punishment. It’s not enough that she has to go forth naked — and it is raining. And she has to stay with Adam, who is a weak putz. Adam is doomed to make war, wreak vengeance, torture, and vent, all because of an apple offered by the serpent.

I don’t want to sit and hear a distilled version of Milton’s exact text spouted by an actor with a less-than-compelling voice, even if there are occasional Rolling Stones songs — “Sympathy for the Devil”, of course. And there was multi-media as promised, flames projected onto muslin curtains depicted the devil cast out of heaven. Van Dyck takes off his tee shirt — he is a cute enough white boy — and he becomes God by wrapping the curtains around his arms and projecting wings. It works well enough, but I am sick of God as a white boy. Anyone else?

In between the appearances of God, Adam and Eve are introduced; they are small puppets with wooden limbs that resemble sausages. Eve is saucy with fiery red yarn hair and Adam sounds like Rick Perry, only he actually knows his lines. But the drawl and Bible talk really took me somewhere else.

And for me, it needed to really go somewhere else. I needed a commentary, not just a retelling. I needed a second voice which said, we can’t listen to this and swallow, hook, line and sinker, the message that humans were conceived in sin and so therefore we must struggle, toil, be punished because a mythical man had his rib stolen in the night and from that woman was created and she continues to this day to make mischief.

In fact, “Paradise Lost” clearly reiterated the message that things would go a whole lot better if women were “obedient.” I think this obedience to husband as master is why Michele Bachmann became a lawyer and was running for President; her husband and God told her to, and as a woman she is not entitled to free will.

I don’t want to see more retelling of a story, a myth that seems to have landed us all in a world of hurt through unthinking adherence to principles which may have worked thousands of years ago. Where is the “Paradise Lost” for our age? That is the show I want to see.

 

“Paradise Lost” ran through January 9 as part of the Horse Trade Theater’s Encore festival at The Kraine Theater, 85 East 4th St. For info, visit www.horsetrade.info

Music’s ’wunderkind’ Nico Muhly :: not ambitious, merely busy

*published on Jan 9, 2012 on EDGE

Composer Nico Muhly turned 30 at the end of August. He has been called a wunderkind, a restless listener, a composer who paints the sky and an artist whose name appears on every list of who’s hot.

Nico Muhly

I had the privilege of writing one of the first pieces about him, a profile for Gay City News in 2004 when he was performing his master’s concert in preparation for graduating from the Juilliard School. Muhly studied composition with John Rouse and John Corigliano. He undertook this degree program whilst pursuing a B.A. in English Literature at Columbia University. He says he loves to be busy.
Read the Gay City News story.

And busy he is. Muhly worked with Philip Glass for years, since he was a teenager, first as an editor, then as a keyboardist, and now as a conductor for numerous film and stage projects. He worked with Bjork, Anthony and the Johnsons and composed ballets for Benjamin Millepied. Muhly stays with Millepied and his wife Natalie Portman and their baby in L.A.; his life is like that, he becomes friends with all those around him. It is natural to be drawn to him.

’Two Boys’ a landmark

His most celebrated work to date is his opera “Two Boys,” which premiered last June at London’s English National Opera in a co-production with New York’s Metropolitan Opera. The work will receive its American premiere at the Met next year. The opera, with a libretto by Craig Lucas and direction by Bartlett Sher, is based on a real-life incident that took place in Manchester, England in 2003 that reveals the darker side of social networking. Told like a police procedural, the story concerns the attempted murder of one boy by another, who claims to have been instructed to do so by someone on the Internet. Like in most “Law and Order” episodes, there’s much more to this than meets they eye.

Nico Muhly (upper); A scene from "Two Boys" (lower) from the English National Opera production.

In reviewing the London production, New York Times critic Zachary Woolfe wrote: “Serious and radiant, ’Two Boys’ is a landmark in the career of an important artist. Confidently staking his claim to the operatic tradition, Mr. Muhly has added to it a work of dark beauty.”

He recently composed a new opera entitled “Dark Sisters,” with a libretto by playwright (“Sons of the Prophet”) Stephen Karam, which premiered in NYC with the Gotham Opera Company this past November. The work explored polygamous cults in the Western Unites States and the music was alternately dark and melodic, creepy, terrifying and spine tingling. It was riveting and off putting, just like the subject it made operatic. The audience leapt to its feet when the curtain dropped cheering, the entire ensemble.

Watch this clip about Nico Muhly’s piece “Seeing is Believing:”

Working in opera

When I interviewed Muhly he spoke about how strange opera is as a medium because it is ” not a closed system like writing a concerto or a symphony. With opera there are lots of extraneous concerns and I become attuned to nearly everyone’s needs. How are the singers feeling, the projectionist, the guys backstage? It all has to come together to make a work that takes years to come to the stage really mesh. In writing the operas, “Two Boys” with Craig and “Dark Sisters” with Stephen, I literally never had the feeling; I wish this would be over. When I work I have a sense of who would be good to work with and it is based on luck and through that process I have found awesome people to collaborate with.”

Nico Muhly is often the smartest person in the room. He is always the fastest. He speaks at a machine gun pace and moves with equal vigor leaping from subjects like culinary experiments mixing pigs’ trotters and braised short ribs, which he is currently cooking, to reading about serial killers Fred and Rosemary West, to training puppy dogs. He schooled his chocolate brown and white Boston bulldog Oskar to be incredibly obedient. As we sat stoop chatting I remarked, “Hey if this composing thing doesn’t work out, I think you have a big career as a dog indoctrinator.”

(Upper) The "Dark Sisters" production team: Nico Muhly (composer), Rebecca Taichman (stage director), Stephen Karam (librettist), and Neal Goren (conductor, co-producer); (lower) A scene from "Dark Sisters" presented by the Gotham Cham

Speaks Icelandic (not well)

Muhly joked that training a dog is the opposite of having children, “you can be much stricter with dogs”. Muhly believes that he and his partner of three years, Ben will ” leave the mishegas surrounding kids to the straight people. I can come in and be an uncle, teach French and take them for romps in Iceland.”

Muhly speaks Icelandic, French and fluent Italian; he lived in Rome for a time with his painter mother and filmmaker father. “I find it relaxing to learn languages. It is like a door to another land and reminds me of playing a hard video game. I don’t speak Icelandic well.” When I said, well most of us can’t even say the name of the volcano, which blanketed the skies with ash in 2010, he rattled off Eyjafallajokull, and deftly returned to talking about dog training. I also understand that in 2012 Muhly will be making a speech in Iceland; you guessed it, in Icelandic. I suppose he is very relaxed after studying so much.

Nico Muhly

I expect a star like Muhly to be uber-self-contained and uninterested in the hoi-poloi, but this young man is the polar opposite. As we sat with our coffees and Oskar enjoying an uncharacteristically warm winter day after the opening of “Dark Sisters,” Muhly’s wonderfully bouncy, oh so informed brain moved from the tedium of technical opera rehearsals and his fear that the singers will be bored and hence be less likely to give good performances, to his desire to develop a way to make tech time more productive so great swaths of time are not given over to standing in one spot as lights and sound cues are set.

Watch this video of Nico Muhly’s “It Goes Without Saying” by Una Lorenzen from the album “Speak Volumes”:

Embraces many genres

Muhly speaks with passion and wonder embracing many genres and projects, really anything where music can be either the main focus, a symphony, concerto or choral work or a more supporting role like movie scores, to major collaborative works like ballets or operas.

After meeting and speaking with Muhly I became fascinated with his blog and the bevy of interviews he gives. He seems relaxed, engaged and nearly surprised that so many people want his time and talent. One foray onto the Internet yielded an interview with John Ritter, a British composer who was working with Muhly a few years ago on a commission for the Aurora Orchestra, a new work for an electronic six-string violin. Ritter described Muhly perfectly as ” somebody from one century and another continent whose music comments on another.” You have the sense that Muhly is constantly watching intently and then translating that observance into art.

With all the commissions, the travel, the accolades, yes there are some detractors out there, but mostly the wunderkind anointers abound, how does Muhly stay so openhearted and on point? The answer is in his response to this question, Is there anything on your list that you are burning to do while still so young and so in demand? The answer: ” I am not ambitious in anyway. ”

Nico Muhly

Not ambitious

I stopped him, I couldn’t help myself saying a version of that sounds like so much malarkey. It was an excited utterance and we laughed, but he pressed on, “I really am not ambitious: I like to be busy. I don’t do five-year plans and I don’t subscribe to the notion that you are supposed to be on some trajectory. I don’t have a list to check off. I want to constantly look around and see what comes to me I want to work with people I like. My goal is to make enough money so I can live in Manhattan. I couldn’t have had a goal to do a six-way collaboration like an opera. I can set up conditions under which I want to work, I want the work to be quality oriented, not goal oriented.”

Nico Muhly

And I believe him. The freckles and the sparkling blue eyes and his almost elfish magical glint took me in. Muhly is brilliant, a genius and still takes the time to share his love of cooking, reading language, travel, animals and his endless projects.
I was inspired. If the notion of keeping busy is what can propel us to such heights – OK the talent factor is enormous- but still forward motion, keeping busy – it all seems to be a great prescription for joy and success. Well, sprinkle in a super smart partner, and big dollops of travel, Muhly is just back from a vacation in Utah and is off to Seattle, Winnipeg and Santa Fe this month. At least it is for one gracious composer living downtown whose New Year’s resolution, sent by email is this: ” I’m gonna eat healthier after I house this short rib.” Bon appétit.

For more on Nico Muhly, visit his website.

Watch this clip of Nico Muhly performing music he composed for the film “The Reader”: