Monthly Archives: February 2012

GMHC Unveils New Campaign to Combat HIV/AIDS Among Young Men of Color

*published on 21 Feb 2012 in The EDGE

Gay Men’s Health Crisis on Valentine’s Day unveiled a new public awareness campaign designed to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS among young men of color.

GMHC launched its "Kiss and Tell" campaign on Valentine’s Day.
GMHC launched its “Kiss and Tell” campaign on Valentine’s Day.  (Source:Mike Ruiz)

The “Kiss and Tell” campaign features a series of photographs of young gay and bisexual men of color talking honestly about the value, benefits and strength derived from open discussion with their friends and partners about the virus. Fashion photographer Mike Ruiz, who was on The A-List, shot the images that the campaign features.

He knows the challenges that these young men face intimately.

“I moved to [New York City] from Montreal as a teenager and I had no direction or guidance and I learned things the very hard way,” Ruiz told EDGE. “I finally got on track and created a reality for myself; I want to share that with the younger generation.”

He said the campaign empowers young black and Latino men who have sex with men.

“We want to take away the stigma,” said Ruiz. “We want to encourage the conversations and not brush things under the carpet. That will perpetuate the epidemic.”

An estimated 1.2 million Americans live with HIV/AIDS. And while epidemiologists note that the epidemic has stabilized in the United States in recent years, it continues to disproportionately impact young people of color.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent data shows that the rate of new infections among black MSM between the ages of 13-29 increased an alarming 48 percent between 2006 and 2009. Given this steady increase, GMHC created CLUB1319 to reach out to MSM of color between the ages of 13-19. The group meets on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 4 – 8:30 p.m. It offers a variety of community forums, workshops, health fairs and other events every three months.

The “Kiss and Tell” campaign came about through a series of CLUB1319 community meetings.

“The young men were reacting with humor to the Army’s ’don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy,” said GMHC spokesperson Krishna Stone. “They wanted the opposite, open honesty.”

GMHC CEO Dr. Marjorie Hill feels that some of the most valuable learning opportunities emanate from what she described as “organic campaigns” that come from “the experiences of the target audience.”

“We are looking for many innovative ways to remove some of the stigma in the black and Hispanic community surrounding sex, homosexual liaisons and HIV/AIDS,” said Hill. “”Kiss and Tell” is a testing, prevention and educational campaign that encourages partners to discuss their sexual history and HIV status.”

She added that the campaign also allows GMHC to be even more visible to the community.

“Yes we embrace and serve people living with HIV/AIDS, but we also want to prevent the disease,” she said. “We are concerned with people who are not yet infected, and we would like to reach those people via a positive and sexy message. That is the “Kiss and Tell” campaign.”

Log onto www.club1319.org for more information.

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Unreachable Eden: theatre review

*published on Feb 13, 2012 in the EDGE

Barbara Kahn can be referred to as an historical playwright. For decades Kahn has penned deeply researched plays often portraying the plight, ascent, or convolutions of Jews, gay activists or other under reported historical figures. Her most recent work“Unreachable Eden” is an extension of an initial work, “The Spring and Fall of Eve Adams” also mounted at the Theater for the New City, where she brings an annual work to the space on the Lower East Side.

Rudy (Robert Gonzales Jr) warns Hella (Gusta Johnson) and Eve Adams (Steph Van Vlack) that they must separate as the Germans invade Paris in 1940 in "Unreachable Eden"
Rudy (Robert Gonzales Jr) warns Hella (Gusta Johnson) and Eve Adams (Steph Van Vlack) that they must separate as the Germans invade Paris in 1940 in “Unreachable Eden”  (Source:Joe Bly)

Eve Adams nee Chava Zloczower, was a Polish, Jewish lesbian who ran a tearoom in Greenwich Village in the late 1920’s. The tearoom held salons featuring poetry, music, and frank sexual discussions where illuminati like Henry and June Miller, poet Maxwell Bodenheim, and others came to mingle and marvel.

Adams was set up in a sting by a homophobic policewoman who alleged that Adams “made unwelcome advances,” which was a charge of “disturbing the peace” and further that Adams disseminated obscene literature, as she offered her book “Lesbian Love” for sale.

These charges unleashed a concatenation of misery and tragedy on Adams. She was deported to Poland, then found her way to Paris where, as an independent bookseller, she encountered Anais Nin, James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, and the Millers again, found love and finally fled to Nice, in the south of France in a failed attempt to escape the Nazis. Eve was captured, returned by transport to her native Poland, to Auschwitz and murdered on arrival.

Sometimes historical works can become bogged down in their own wonderful research and this is one strike against “Unreachable Eden”. At a tad over 90 minutes, with an intermission, the piece, comprised of vignettes from Eve’s life, often consisted of her reading what I assume to be actual letters penned while pining to return to America and the hubbub of her beloved Greenwich Village.

Author Kahn is rightfully proud of the access afforded her by the family of Adams and she attributes her work in the program in a full and nearly academic fashion, but this does not make captivating theater. Prolonged readings of letters, transcripts from deportation hearings, or police logs need to be artfully, not just faithfully integrated to be riveting.

And then there is the music. Composed by Arthur Abrams, the music — and I can’t really fathom why this material was set to music — is too simplistic and often upbeat in the way that TV themes are. One number, “I’ll be your Friend” sung by the Henry Miller character in a New York accent that seems as if he is impersonating Woody Allen, could literally be a cut from “Children’s Television Workshop,” and this is serious important historical work.

On occasion, songs from the era were sung and that seemed to lend a more authentic note to the play. If the musical idea was to punctuate this often-tough work with a lighter note and show off the cast’s talents, historical music might be a better choice.

On a positive note, the actors were for the most part wonderful and Steph Van Vlack, who embodies the brave Eve, is brilliant as is her sweetheart Hella, played with great musical chops by Gusta Johnson. The costumes by Carla Grant gave an air of authenticity to the era, which helped create the time on a small stage.

We don’t get to see enough work about women like Eve Adams; I just want her to have a presentation that matches what seemed to be a brilliant, vivacious mind and spirit.

“Unreachable Eden” runs through February 26 at Theater For The New City, 155 1st Avenue. For info or tickets, call 212-254-1109 or visit www.theaterforthenewcity.net

Created Equal: theatre review

*published on Feb 10, 2012 on the EDGE

“Created Equal” is a full evening of six one-act plays revolving around current political issues produced by The Red Fern Theater and presented, where they are in residence, at the Theater at the 14th Street Y.

"What the Wall Does" by Rob Askins, part of "Created Equal"

“What the Wall Does” by Rob Askins, part of “Created Equal”   (Source:Steven Williams)
First some back story, which I found fascinating regarding the mission of one of the newer non-profit theaters on the downtown scene. The Red Fern was founded in 2006 and “strives to provoke social awareness and change through theatrical productions.” To further this ideal, Red Fern partners each production with a philanthropy whose work can be advanced both through information sharing and a portion of the ticket proceeds.

For this undertaking, the artistic director Melanie Williams announced that in order to avoid the taint of partisanship, Red Fern had partnered with Materials for the Arts, an excellent service organization that has been around for decades and recycles all manner of stuff, making it available for free to artists. This both keeps landfills a little less full and allows designers, painters, directors to “shop” for free in the materials warehouse.

In “Created Equal”, each of the six plays is by a different writer and director, and only a few actors overlap, meaning the program is huge and 21 actors all bow for the final curtain call. Impressive. These six plays were not created equally, but rather ranged over the political landscape with pathos, humor (both black and frothy), and even had a musical twist to them.

The actors were for the most part talented, all had great creds and endless education, making me sad that part of our political commitments do not extend to valuing, educating, and employing artists they way other countries and cultures do. But that was my internal digress as I read nearly every bio at what seemed like an interminable intermission.

The first piece, “Occupied” written by J. Holtam and directed by Julie Foh was a pithy joke on the Occupy movement. Five actors argue about what they will present as their one-off for the afternoon protest rally. They utilize the hand signals of the Occupy gang and fight about whose rights are at the top of the tally ticker: women, gay, global warming, income, or gender inequality. I didn’t love this play, as there was too much showing and shouting rather than being and occupying the space.

The next was “Pull” with a subtitle of Emma’s getting married if her family doesn’t shoot him first, written by Anna Moench and directed by artistic director Williams. The three actors in this play were great. Pepper Binkley as the about-to-be bride, her Montana gun-toting sis played with swagger by Dana Berger, and the vegan, mouthy, tech-addicted, super reality, loud -speaking Debargo Sanyal was beyond perfect.

The short of it is that the two sisters change as one moves east and is now engaged to a guy who would never have been natively seen in Montana. The gals go skeet shooting but end up shooting the fiance’s cell phone, as he is so annoying. In between, there are great bits of banter, which illuminate the need for compromise based on the fact that people aren’t perfect.

The third, “Equal Time”, (which in the program is listed as the second, and they were wise to change the order), is a mini-musical. It is so smart, beguiling, and almost politically necessary that the non-partisan League of Women Voters, might consider producing it and running it all of “silly season.” I believe that was Obama’s moniker for the lead up to the elections.

Written by a mother/daughter team of Kristen Lee Rosenfeld for music and Luanne Aronen Rosenfeld for lyrics turned out a mini jewel which asks the question, “Can political debate be more than just song and dance?” There are a mere two candidates in this debate; a fictionalized pretty-boy Harvard grad (Jonathan Todd Ross) who grins manically and finds the light, and an African American woman (Cicily Daniels) in an ill-fitting suit who keeps getting her dander up when her opponent pushes her easily visible buttons.

As the candidates begin to answer questions that seem to have been plucked from real debates with pat answers, the campaign managers begin to sing over them with an internalized dialogue. “If your opponent’s record is spotty, point out that the opponent’s naughty.” Maybe it’s not the Gershwins, but in the end it hit what many of us are bemoaning — the false nature of politicians. The campaign managers who did the heavy lifting in singing and dancing are played by Kirsten Hopkins and Brian Charles Rooney, and were excellent, as were the candidates. I hope to see the full-length version of this work.

After intermission there were three more works: “What the Wall Does” by Rob Askins, directed by Dominic D’Andre is basically about the depraved sex cravings of certain elected officials. There is a red wall with two holes. There is a governor, wonderfully and evilly played by Lou Liberatore, there is his assistant Debargo Sanyal, completely different from his first role and equally compelling. Scott Rad Brown and Anna Van Valin administer oral ministrations from behind the wall. It is a tough, dark play that does manage to point up the slimier side of politics.

“Lex Before Marriage” by Jen Silverman, directed by Jessi D. Hill, explores an impending lesbian wedding where the favorite boy cousin David Jackson (who is great as a disaffected confused youth), and the bride Erin Buckley, all prim and uber-wise, discuss what it means to agree to disagree and still remain loving family.

This play would not be as compelling without a bouncing-off-the-wall character played to insane perfection by Parker Leventer. Leventer morphs from virgin farm girl to experimental bondage lesbian, to wife, to voyeur. She seems to embody the range that human sexuality can assume and her perambulations with a character named “the lesbian” (played with gusto by Stacey Raymond) take the short work to the edges of experimentalism while still parsing gay marriage in a linear format.

In the final play, “America, You Kill Me”, a liberal becomes a nihilist after a horrible accident. And it’s a comedy! Written by Joshua Conkel and directed by Scott Ebersold, it was too gory for me in an up-close-and-personal theater. As one of the more than 50 million Americans without insurance, the thought of a car accident is terrifying for me. I can’t readily travel to the edge of dark humor to decode the potential hilarity in an insured drunk decimating and murdering two college kids and not calling 911 because he can’t go back to jail.

The girl, wonderfully played by Nicole Beckwith, asks her cell phone “Siri call hospital” but the drunk, Tom Butler, crushes it under his big foot. The other student, trapped under rubble and realistically having paroxysms due to shock, is played well by Will Seefried. People did laugh. I did not. I wanted out of the scene of the accident. Do not sit close if you are bad with simulated gore, blood, convulsions, and the lack of recourse for so many of the uninsured.

In all it was exciting to see six new authors, directors, and a host of talent in a new theater. I wish what we were seeing was more uplifting, but then most of us desire equal pay, marriage for all, health care, and public services like education and housing aplenty so we can create and contemplate without the attendant fear. Alas.

“Created Equal” runs through February 12 at The Red Fern Theater, presented in residence the Theater at the 14th Street Y, 344 East 14th St. For info or tickets visit www.redferntheatre.org

 

 

Stopped Bridge of Dreams: a review

*published on January 30, 2012 on EDGE

John Jesserun has been making theater which incorporates text, movement, architecture, film, video, images, sounds, amazing actors and non-linear wonderment for long enough that the MacArthur Foundation has noticed his gleam and awarded him a coveted “genius grant.”

Preston Martin and Black-Eyed Susan in Stopped Bridge of Dreams

Preston Martin and Black-Eyed Susan in Stopped Bridge of Dreams  (Source:Darien Bates)
Jesserun’s back story is intriguing enough to warrant a diversion here, as I believe it sets him apart from many of the perennials working in the downtown or experimental genre. In 1976, he began as a content analyst for CBS TV and then went on to work for Dick Cavett, really one of the smartest people ever to grace the boob tube.

In 1982, he began his iconoclastic serial called “Chang in a Void Moon” which was performed at the Pyramid Club. This was where I first encountered the work, the spirit, and the mind-blowing edges of Jesserun’s art. “Chang” continues now in its 80th episode. His works have been marveled at all over the world from Frankfort to Tokyo, the big apple to the mini-apple. Wherever experimental works reign supreme, Jesserun’s plays and film are seen.

The works are often difficult to explain, there is no clear Act 1 synopsis moving toward an Act 4 dénouement, rather it is dreamscape with story telling woven throughout. In “Stopped Bridge of Dreams,” the work opens with a conversation between a man, in this incarnation Preston Martin and a woman who may or may not be his mother, played by the ever perfect Black-Eyed Susan.

We learn that the table and chairs they sit in, and the projections where we see them from 360 degrees are all on an airplane, which houses a flying brothel. Susan play Madame X, yes the Madame whose voice never rises above a whisper in rage, sweetness, fear, or sadness, and this sotto voce nature draws the audience and cast members in as they literally lean to catch the nuance of every word.

Susan and Martin fight over everything. Is he her son Hiroshi, how many abortions has she had, is he the one who survived, is he kept as a serf on board to service a non-specified clientele who strategically steal his kimono after every song? We learn that Hiroshi, played with a hollowed-out sleaziness by Martin, wants to get off the plane and start a life, whatever that may be.

Films and videos and still images play on the enormous video screens, which bisect the theater presenting mirror images depending on if you are seated to the east or west in the huge cavernous LaMama Annex theater (now renamed the Ellen Stewart Theater after the founder who passed away a year ago).

Sometimes we see close-ups of the actors as they bemoan or change clothes, nap, or wander the halls of the airplane. The rooster unfolds to us; there is the very ripe, beautiful Claire played by Claire Buckingham. She has a waterfall of strawberry blond hair, a lean body, and an un-selfconscious way of stepping in and out of clothes that make it seems as if she really was a sky-locked courtesan.

In fact much of the dialog about the “floating world,” the Japanese moniker for the sex trade, emanates directly from “The Life of an Amorous Woman,” written by Saikaku Ihara in 1686. Before I read this note in the program, I was shocked by the dialog and text, as it seemed as if it came from many different voices. In fact it did, but there were many diverse personages portrayed on the plane and in the play.

Sanghi Choi, Olive Dawley, Ben Forster, Ikechukwu Ufomadu and finally the barista, Daniel Pinheiro, all contributed perfectly to populating the flying brothel of the “floating world.” I love entering a parallel universe and in order to attend this performance I had to tear myself away from Haruki Murakami’s “IQ 84”, a massive novel about two Japanese worlds in juxtaposition, one 1984 and the other IQ84, where different heavenly bodies populate the skies and personages move between worlds, acting as agents listening to voices.

I almost felt as if “Stopped Bridge of Dreams” was an extension of the upheaval of the novel as it asked me, and the audience to further suspend belief in the worlds we know to exist and to open ourselves to all the other contrivances and possibilities orbiting along side us.

If this seems too cerebral, ponder this. I invited two French house guests to the play, a photographer and his young assistant. One spoke good English, the other, not so much, but they both were so excited to have experienced the work. They loved the theater itself — well, nearly everyone does — and we discussed the play long into the night.

For a work which lasts less than 90 minutes — my perfect timeline for experiments as it mirrors a few REM cycles — this piece worked its way into my own dreams and has me thinking about how we connect, give pleasure, and extricate ourselves from difficulty; A great set of grist for my mental mill.

John Jesserun’s “Stopped Bridge of Dreams” runs through February 5 at Ellen Stewart Theatre at LaMama, 66 East 4th Street. For info or tickets call 212-475-7710 or visit www.lamama.org