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‘Private’ revival

James Waterson, Jeremy Webb, Biana Amato, Autumn Hurlbert, Private Lives, theater, gay news, Washington Blade

James Waterston as Elyot, Jeremy Webb as Victor, Biana Amato as Amanda and Autumn Hurlbert as Sibyl in ‘Private Lives’ at Shakespeare Theatre Festival. (Photo by Scott Suchman; courtesy STC)

‘Private Lives’


Through July 13


Shakespeare Theatre Company


Lansburgh Theatre


450 Seventh St. NW





Theatrical lore says legendary British gay playwright and actor Nöel Coward conjured up “Private Lives” late one night in a Tokyo hotel room in 1929.

In a semi dream state, the renowned sophisticate imagined his lifelong pal and stage star Gertrude Lawrence dressed to the nines playing opposite himself in an urbane comedy about a pair of divorcees who couldn’t live with or without each other. Several weeks later laid up with flu in Shanghai, Coward penned the romantic comedy classic in just four days.

“Private Lives” opened in London in 1930 with Coward and Lawrence (as planned) starring as Amanda and Elyot, the divorced couple who look fabulous behaving badly. Over the years, Coward’s comedy of manners has proved an enduring work. In subsequent crowd-pleasing productions, Amanda and Elyot were played by Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, and later Joan Collins and Keith Baxter.

And now director Maria Aitken brings a gorgeous, funny, alive yet faithful production of Coward’s “Private Lives” to the  Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansbugh Theatre. Before directing, Aitken made her name on the British stage playing some of Coward’s ladies, and it shows. She certainly has a handle on the material. Here she’s expertly offering all that is Coward: witty repartee, amusing situations, travel, soignée evening clothes, smart cocktails and cigarettes incessantly offered from silver cases.

The action kicks off on the Riviera where Amanda and Elyot are honeymooning with their respective spouses, blustering Victor (Jeremy Webb) and spunky, young Sibyl (the diminutive Autumn Hurlbert). Unbeknownst to Amanda and Elyot their luxe hotel rooms overlooking the Mediterranean are located side by side. Naturally, the unaware exes soon meet on their adjacent balconies and smoldering passions reignite.

Once reunited, they’re off to Amanda’s Paris flat. Alone except for occasional interruptions by the sneezy maid Louise (Jane Ridley), the lovers enjoy Bohemian bliss until too much togetherness reminds them of why they divorced in the first place. A brawl ensues.

Played with much grace and power by Amato, Amanda is a moneyed woman of her time. She smokes and drinks. She has affairs without regret. But what’s more interesting is how she refuses to conform to gender roles of the day. No doubt she was a pursued debutante, a flapper and at 30 she’s a twice-married woman of the world who is unafraid to speak openly about sex and relationships. Her ex-husband Elyot played snappishly by Waterston acts without remorse too. Perfectly cast as the iconic battling lovers, they look right together — well made and elegant. They have chemistry.

Again, the production (which enjoyed a successful run at Boston’s Huntington Theatre Company in 2012) is truly well done. Aitken’s team celebrates the era with a great attention to detail. Designer Allen Moyer sets the scene with Raoul Dufy inspired cityscapes on the curtains — scenic seaside Deauville (act one) and romantic Paris (acts two and three). The hotel balconies are perfectly realistic and Amanda’s high-ceiling traditional apartment is updated with lavender walls and African masks by its current occupant. Candice Donnelly makes make Amanda a fashion plate (per Coward’s instruction) in a ravishing Champagne-colored gown and chic street clothes — a sleek jacket, peaked hat and clunky ethnic bangles like those worn by the between-the-war fashionistas seen in the paintings of lesbian portraitist Romaine Brooks and photographs by Man Ray.

Aitken’s handling of Coward’s witty paean to fiery but not sensible love is top notch. It’s the perfect introduction to this Coward gem, and a wonderful refresher for those who haven’t been there in a while.


‘I want to really remember what happened’

World AIDS Day, Vincent Gray, gay news, Washington Blade, Whitman-Walker Health

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and three members of the City Council participated in a candlelight vigil to honor World AIDS Day on Sunday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

About 75 people, including D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and three members of the City Council, raised candles outside a former Whitman-Walker Clinic building at 14th and S streets, N.W., on Sunday night as part of the city’s 26th Annual World AIDS Day commemoration.

“This day has been a day to remember all those who have been affected by the epidemic and to rededicate ourselves not only to continue the fight against HIV but actually finding a cure,” said Whitman-Walker Health Executive Director Don Blanchon, who served as host of the event.

“On this World AIDS Day we have great hope and optimism that we may see the end of this epidemic in the not too distant future,” Blanchon said. “In this year we have seen tremendous advances in the fight. We’ve seen dramatic improved statistics on HIV/AIDS in our city.”

Gray, who pointed to a significant drop in the HIV infection rate in D.C. over the past several years, said he too is optimistic that a cure for AIDS could come sooner rather than later.

“It’s hard to believe that it wasn’t many years ago that we talked about AIDS being a death sentence,” Gray said. “It is not a death sentence anymore. With the advancement of pharmacology, even those who have full-blown AIDS can live a rich life. As long as the people take their medicine and stay on their regimen they can live a full and rich life,” he said.

Blanchon said Whitman-Walker chose to hold this year’s World AIDS Day vigil at the 14th and S Street site because the building at 1407 S St., N.W., was the home of the then Whitman-Walker Clinic during the peak of the AIDS epidemic during the 1980s and early 1990s.

He noted that Whitman-Walker Clinic, which has since been renamed Whitman-Walker Health, moved most of its patient care programs out of the 1407 S St. building in 1993, when it opened its Elizabeth Taylor Building one block away at 14th and U streets, N.W. Whitman-Walker continued to operate other programs in the S Street building until 2007, according to Whitman-Walker spokesperson Chip Lewis.

The JBC Companies real estate development firm, which purchased the 1407 S St. building along with adjacent properties, last month, installed a sculptured vertical column called the Pillar of Fire on the sidewalk outside the building. A plaque at the base of the sculpture says it’s dedicated to the “Whitman-Walker Clinic and the many health care workers who served the LGBT community in this building from 1987 to 2008, the early years of the pandemic.”

D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who served as executive director of Whitman-Walker during its years at the 1407 S St. building, called on those attending the World AIDS Day gathering to remember the dedicated people who worked on AIDS-related causes in the early years of the epidemic.

“Like everybody else who is here, I want to remember. I don’t want to forget. I want to really remember what happened,” Graham said. “And when I was committing to think of the people that I wanted to mention, there became too many names. People who ought to have been with us today are not.”

Among the names Graham mentioned were Gene Frey, a Whitman-Walker official who died in the mid-1980s of AIDS and for whom Whitman-Walker’s Gene Frey Award has been named. Others named were longtime Whitman-Walker supporters and local AIDS advocates Hank Card and Dusty Cunningham, both of whom also died of AIDS.

Others attending the vigil were D.C. Council members David Grosso (I-At-Large) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6). Also attending the event was Dr. Joxel Garcia, director of the D.C. Department of Health; and Michael Kharfen, acting director of the DOH’s HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, STD, and Tuberculosis Administration (HAHSTA).

Rev. Courtenay Miller, pastor of Norbeck Community Church of Silver Spring, Md.; and Rabbi Laurie Green of Bet Mishpachah, the D.C.-based synagogue that caters to the LGBT community, led prayers at the vigil.

Blanchon praised Graham for taking the lead in guiding Whitman-Walker through some of the most difficult times when not many other clinics and health facilities were focusing on AIDS

“In this building a small group of dedicated men and women provided care and compassion when many others would not in our community,” Blanchon told the gathering. “In the epidemic’s darkest hours these individuals gave without question what is the best of humanity – compassion, respect and love in one’s hour of needed.”

He added, “So many of those individuals are no longer with us and yet they live on in our hearts and minds. They were our partners, our family members, our friends, and our work colleagues. And today they are the light and hope that we carry forward in the quest to find a cure for AIDS.”

World AIDS Day, gay news, Washington Blade, Whitman-Walker Health

The 2013 D.C. World AIDS Day vigil drew about 75 participants. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)


Polluted Waters

John Waters, gay news, Washington Blade

John Waters returns to the Birchmere Wednesday. (Photo by Greg Gorman; courtesy Birchmere)

A John Waters Christmas
Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.
Birchmere Music Hall
3701 Mount Vernon Ave.
Alexandria, Va.

Legendary film director returns to the Birchmere for his annual holiday show next week and we never miss a chance to chat him up. His comments have been slightly edited for length.


JOHN WATERS: Ho ho ho! They used to always say when I was young in the ‘60s they had a march that was, “Ho ho Ho Chi Minh.” Then later they yelled, “Ho ho homosexual.” It could mean lot of different things.

BLADE: Tell us about the “I Am Divine” documentary. I know you participated. Do you feel Divine is finally getting her due with this?

WATERS: I think Divine always got a certain amount of great acclaim. I think Divine changed drag queens. There’s no such thing almost anymore as a normal drag queen. They’re all kind of hip, they’re all kind of edgy, so I think Divine was appreciated. But I think what this movie did — and I’m just a talking head in it but I encouraged Jeffrey (Schwarz) and gave him contacts I had and told everybody to do the film — was really show what Divine was like in real life. People thought he walked around like the Divine character every day, which he never did and he was not a transvestite, he didn’t want to be a woman. He was an actor. He certainly was gay, he was a drag queen but he hated wearing it — it was hot, he was fat, he was sweating, all the time, he said, “Oh the hell women go through.” But I think the movie shows him for what he really was — a much shyer, nicer person. That was a character he played and once we established that character, and turned him around and shocked people more by having him play a housewife, a loving mother, then he got good reviews. And I think it was frustrating to him. I was always happy when he had success away from me … because ‘til the day he died they brought up about the eating shit thing. … I could never live up to it and he could never live it down. It’s true, and so I understand the dilemma he was in. It’s not easy to get parts when you’re a 300-pound man no matter what you want to play but he did pretty well with it, and it’s just a shame because I think that “Married With Children” thing would have been a hit.

BLADE: What’s the strangest question you’ve ever had during the Q&A session in your show?

WATERS: Just recently a woman said, “Have you ever eaten pussy” and I said, “Once, really a long time ago.” And another question at a nightclub in New York, a straight guy in the audience and he was straight, I think, said, “You know I’ve never kissed a guy, can I make out with you?” I said, “Sure come up,” and he was really cute and we did the audience went crazy, his girlfriend applauded. But then — I hate to say this — but then an old leather queen said, “Can I?” and I said, “No, the kissing booth is shut.” But that was a new one for me but mostly no, I think most of the time the questions are pretty good. The only bad ones are when they just want to talk about themselves.

BLADE: You’ve said how hard it is to get financing in recent years. Lots of indie artists and filmmakers are doing these Kickstarter campaigns. Would you ever do one?

WATERS: I wouldn’t. But you know Jeffrey raised a lot of money for “I Am Divine” that way. If I was younger and making “Female Trouble,” you’re damn right I would. But I think for me it’s a little much for me to publicly beg. I own three homes, it’s not like I don’t have a penny. It just doesn’t seem to me that I’m a filmmaker who is struggling to begin, so I would feel uncomfortable doing it but I totally understand why other people do it and I think it’s a great idea.

BLADE: Are you still interested in making films?

WATERS: Of course I have a desire to. With “Fruitcake,” I don’t even talk about it anymore because it’s been like five years and it didn’t happen but I had a really good Hollywood development deal and they liked it and then everything changed. But I’ve been lucky, my whole life, I’m a writer. I wrote all my movies, I wrote my stage show, I’ve written a bunch of books they’re all still in print. Even “Shock Value,” which came out in 1980. Luckily I have several careers and they’re equally important to me. I don’t ever think one is better. I never say, “Oh I’m really a filmmaker but I also write books,” I don’t think that. … I would make another movie in a minute, yeah. But what am I going to do next? Probably write another book. My new book comes out next June. My last one was a best seller. I’ve had good luck with that.

BLADE: What’s the book in June?

WATERS: “Car Sick.” I hitch-hiked across America. It comes out June 3. I just saw the cover this week, it looks great.

BLADE: Has it typically taken any special negotiating to get stars who were well known before your films to be in them? People like the Kathleen Turners or the Johnny Depps?

WATERS: Well if they hesitated, it was maybe with their agent before they met with me. The fact that they had meetings with me, it usually meant they were interested in doing it. I tried to bring up anything they were uptight about in the script, the very first thing. … I think they think the critics even if they hate the movie, it will give them some street cred by not taking themselves so seriously and playing with their image which most of them all do. And if it’s a bomb, I get blamed, they don’t. It hasn’t been that hard. I’ve tried to get meetings with Meryl Streep and it’s never happened but I’ve met her at a party and she was real sweet. I don’t think she’s knocking down my door to work with me. But I’ve had really good luck. The stars that I like are the ones that generally have a sense of humor about themselves they’ve had some success for awhile. The worse ones are generally people that got a huge amount of success in their first project and are young. They’re the ones that need that school that Motown used to have where they teach you how to do interviews and be gracious about success. … Johnny Depp was wonderful. He was at the height of his career but he was giving trouble to everybody but me. He had a TV show at the time and I think that’s why he came along with us — he didn’t want to be a teen idol.

BLADE: So did you ask Chris Isaak if he was going to be comfortable masturbating on the toilet for you?

WATERS: You know I can’t remember. I know that he read the script and it had that in that. I’m sure I told him, “We’re not gonna show your dick.” I don’t know if I said that, but certainly I got along with Chris. He’s pretty much a wild man, he might have shown it. No, I’m just kidding.

BLADE: You’ve spoken before about the influence of Herschell Gordon Lewis’s film “Blood Feast.” Did you see it when it first came out in 1963?

WATERS: Oh yeah. I still have the vomit bag.

BLADE: I can’t imagine how that must have seemed at the time. Were you scared?

WATERS: No, we were roaring. We were on our asses laughing. I saw it at the drive in, which were so different then from the way they are now. Now they’re for families but back then, that’s where you went to have sex, to get drunk and do drugs. We went every night. In the winter when you had heaters in the cars, and that’s when “Blood Feast” would play in the worst weather, like in January at the drive in and everybody would honk on the horn when they saw gore. Today they honk on the horn when they see tits, then they honked on the horn for gore. I was shocked when I first went but we were roaring with laugher. The main reasons we all went was because of this vomit bag, which was a brilliant, brilliant marketing gimmick. … We were shocked because nobody had ever seen a gore movie, that was the first one and it wasn’t illegal.

BLADE: Is camp better when it’s unintentional?

WATERS: Well certainly “Showgirls,” no matter what he says today, he did not mean that to be funny. And that’s why it’s so good. He says today it’s a comedy. I’ve always said with “Mommie Dearest” if two scenes had been taken out … she would have won the Oscar. That’s why the Liberace movie was not camp until he talked about cunnilingus and cancer. I think there are some movies to this day, where it’s hard to tell. I just came back from Liverpool, I did my spoken word show and also had a master movie class on the movie “Boom” with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. To this day, you don’t know if it’s so bad it’s good, the tone is so hard to read. Tennessee Williams said it was the best movie ever made of his material. I love that it’s so confusing. I think Russ Meyer later tried to be campy for the intellectuals and his films are not nearly as good as when he just made them for real people who were just jerking off looking at big tits.

BLADE: Did Robert Maier talk to you about his 2011 book “Low Budget Hell: Making Underground Movies with John Waters”?

WATERS: No, he didn’t really.

BLADE: Did you read it? Any thoughts?

WATERS: Yeah. I’ll just say one thing — I thought it was kind of disgruntled. Kind of sour grapes from someone I thought was my friend.

BLADE: You tour with another show as well, but it seems the Christmas show has a special place in your heart. Is that fair to say?

WATERS: I really do like Christmas, I’m not lying, but I also recognize that many people hate it and it’s a tough, tough time of the year to get through for some. I do like 13 cities and always feel like Johnny Mathis or Brenda Lee doing a Christmas tour. I just love the fact that I’m working. I’m like a drag queen on Halloween — if it’s Christmas, I’m working.

BLADE: How much does it change from year to year on average?

WATERS: I add new material all the time. If you haven’t seen it for five years, there would be lots of new material but even if you just saw it last year, there would still be some new material. I can’t tell you the exact amount but it’s always changing.


Whitman-Walker to expand into new Logan Circle building

Whitman-Walker Health, gay news, Washington Blade

Whitman-Walker plans to rent nearly 43,000 square feet of office space in the new building under construction at 1525 14th St., N.W. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Whitman-Walker Health on Tuesday announced it will lease nearly 43,000 square feet in a building currently under construction at 1525 14th St., N.W., between P and Q Streets in Logan Circle.

Chip Lewis, spokesperson for Whitman-Walker, told the Washington Blade the new location will house most of the agency’s health care services once it opens in mid-2014. Whitman-Walker’s administrative offices, along with a handful of patient programs will remain at the Elizabeth Taylor Medical Center at 1701 14th St., N.W.

The organization’s Max Robinson Center is located on Martin Luther King Jr., Avenue, S.E., in Anacostia.

“We are going to be clearly expanding our capacity for patients,” Lewis said. “We are going to be expanding our services. We are going to be adding some new services, so it’s going to be quite a big deal when it comes together.”

The Blade will provide more details as they become available.


Whitman-Walker reports surplus

Whitman-Walker Health, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON—Whitman-Walker Health earlier this month reported a roughly $2.4 million surplus.

“Our health center business model continued to produce strong results in 2012,” Whitman-Walker Health Executive Director Don Blanchon said.

The windfall of $31 million in total revenues from last year comes as the organization continues to prepare to relocate most of its health care services into a building currently under construction on 14th Street, N.W., in Logan Circle in mid-2014. Whitman-Walker’s administrative offices and a handful of patient programs will remain at the Elizabeth Taylor Medical Center at 1701 14th St., N.W.

The organization also reported it provided health care services to 13,618 people in 2012.