Thursday, June 29, 2017

Stories with PRIDE

When I was a kid, I was a tomboy. Totally rough 'n tumble, getting scraped knees, climbing trees. I was an adventurer! And on the flip side of this, or maybe the perfect complement of this, was my love for the library. I was from a small town, so the one place which held the treasures of The World - and experience outside of my small town - was the library! There was a special section for kids, which was very colorful, and once I'd riffed my way through "Little Women," I went into the more grown-up part of the library. This was where I found my haven: PLAYS!

It was a small section. I don't think it took up an entire rack, but I read what I could, and this is where I found Lillian Hellman's "The Children's Hour."

This play was terribly distressful, as I'm sure was Ms. Hellmann's intent, but as a kid, I wondered, Why were the kids so nasty? Why did one of the teachers, Martha, feel such shame for loving her friend that she ended up taking drastic measures to end her suffering?

It's something that stayed with me, and when I moved to NYC and was cast as Jeanine, the title character in "The Tragic and Horrible Life of the Singing Nun," I recognized this same pattern of hiding love because of shame. It was heart-breaking! And while "The Nun" was a musical, it indeed had a tragic love story about two women coming to terms with "the love that dare not speak its name."

(Tracey Gilbert in girlscout-wear above played Annie, Jeanine's partner of many years. We reunited to sing some demos for composer Andy Monroe and his musical The Kid, which was a great, modern love story about real-life-writer and LGBTQ activist, Dan Savage, his partner, and their quest to have a child.)

These stories took place from the 1930s to 1980s, so I hoped the Millennium would find "love triumphant" for men and women with same sex partners. I KNEW these stories existed in real life! I had friends in the 90s who had very loving healthy relationships with same sex partners, and they were some of the best relationships I'd ever seen!

So when I got to play Alice B. Toklas in Hell's Belles the Musical, I was delighted to learn about women from the early 1900s who lived an openly gay life in Paris.

I did two productions of the show Off Broadway, so I had two "Gerties": Rachel O'Malley (brunette on the left) and Deb Radloff (brunette on the right). Both lovely ladies! And it was interesting to see how the production went from having Gert 'n Alice in top hats and tails (very George and Gracie) to a Coupla Swells in comfortable shoes! Either way, it was fabulous fun, and we brought down the house every time!

The turn of the screw for the real Gert and Alice (below) was that when Gertrude Stein died, their union wasn't recognized by the Law, so all of Stein's possessions, including paintings by their famous friend Picasso, were taken by Stein's relatives. Alice died in poverty.

So when Marriage Equality finally came into play, I celebrated BIG TIME with my friends because so many unions could FINALLY be recognized!

There's still a long road to hoe, because many same-sex couples are still turned away from vendors when they want to invest in their weddings, and that blows my mind. One of my favorite playwrights, Bekah Brunstetter is writing a new play about a lesbian couple turned away from a bakery. It's called, The Cake. And my friends, Dwayne Heisler and Chris Defrain (above right) were initially denied their marriage license until the  Supreme Court ruling for Marriage Equality.

Theatrically, I'm happy to say, I'm seeing more LGBTQ love stories coming to the fore. I was part of a lesbian love triangle in the sketch-comedy-with-karoke, "Petunia's Coffee House."

My character DAR, became a bit of a hero for me, because she didn't take shit from anyone! She was based on Melissa Ethridge, the motorcycle mamas that lead the Pride March, Thelma and Louise, Stevie Nicks, and Jim Morrison.

Speaking of heroes, one of my favorite actor-playwrights, Joe Gulla, has performed several of his works at Joe's Pub, including The Bronx Queen, and the upcoming Faggy at 50.

I met Joe a few years ago when he was casting his play, Garbo. I didn't get the gig, but he kept calling me back for other projects, and last summer we did a reading of his play, "Sleeping With The Fish" at the LGBTQ Center.

I was the observer of a love affair between two mobsters, and let me tell you: It was delicious!

So where would we be without these stories, these beautiful stories of love and pride? Love is part of every human experience, and I hope we continue to grow with PRIDE in each other, and recognize that everyone deserves equal rights.

With thanks to Lin-Manuel Miranda. :)

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