Oct 17, 2014

Big River: Come Back to the Raft, Huck Honey

The homoerotic import of Huckleberry Finn and Jim the escaped slave rafting down the Mississippi has been well-known for many years.  Even homophobes notice.

 In 1961, Leslie Fiedler wrote "Come Back to the Raft Again, Huck Honey," bemoaning that Huck and Jim, like many men and boys in classic American literature, are afraid to grow up and establish "mature" heterosexual relationships, so they fall in love with men.

When both you and your intended audience are fully aware of the gay subtext, how will you build a stage musical out of Huckleberry Finn that adequately avoids it?

Especially when you know that the actors will be much closer in age than the 14-year old Huck and adult Jim of the novel?

That was the problem that Roger Miller and William Hauptman faced when they wrote Big River, which premiered on Broadway in 1985, at the height of the 1980s homophobic backlash.  In that political climate, no way could they allow the slightest hint of Jim and Huck liking each other!

So they had Huck and Jim explicitly reject the idea that they could have any kind of romantic bond:

I see the friendship in you eyes that you see in mine
But we're worlds apart, worlds apart
Together, but worlds apart

Then they gave Jim s a quest: to go to the North, make some money, and buy his family out of slavery.

And the newly heterosexual Huck gets a girlfriend, Mary Jane Wilkes, who asks him to stay in Arkansas with her:

Did the morning come too early
Was the night not long enough
Does a tear of hesitation
Fall on everything you touch

He decides to move on, not because he isn't interested, but because he made a vow to help Jim escape to the North.

Finally,  they defer the homoeroticism onto the Duke and the King, two gay-vague villains of the old, simpering school.  The "Royal Nonesuch" show, which they advertise to grift the townsfolk,  purports to be a horror of gender indeterminancy:

Well, it ain't no woman and it ain't no man
And it don't wear very many clothes
So says I, if you look her in the eye
You're better off looking up her nose

It's actually the Duke and the King mooning the audience.

Does it work?  Does Big River adequately erase the gay potential?

Not really.  This scene could just as easily be from Romeo and Juliet.

It takes a lot more than that to keep gay subtexts away.

See also: Huck and Jim on the Raft

Oct 16, 2014

"La Belle Vie": Boy Meets Girl, Yet Again

Jean Denizot's La Belle Vie (The Good Life) is the winner in the Venice Film Festival's Europa Cinemas Label and is getting reviews like: "a masterpiece!"

Sigh.  Here we go again.

Brothers Sylvain and Pierre (Zacharie Chasseriaud, Jules Pelissier) have on the run with their father Yves (Nicolas Bouchaud) for 11 years, ever since he lost them in a custody battle with their mother.   They spend their time splashing around naked under a waterfall, paddling down the Loire River, and reading Huckleberry Finn.  

But the homoromantic idyll vanishes when 18-year old Pierre disappears after stealing a horse, leaving 16-year old Sylvain alone with his father.

Without his older brother, Sylvain is horribly lonely.  Until he meets Gilda -- "his first girl, his first crush, and the first stop on his way to the good life."

I guess there's no way on Earth that Sylvain could ever have met a boy.

Nope.  According to Hollywood, or in this case, cinema francais, male relationships are irrelevant or destructive.  They may be ok for children, but eventually all men grow up, and gaze longingly at the girls walking in slow motion into their lives.  Hetero-romantic desire is the only road to happiness -- as James Brown tells us,  a man is nothing, nothing at all, without a woman.

I've seen it all before, from The Summer of '42 on down, over and over and over and over.

Oct 12, 2014

10 Stage Plays with Unexpected Beefcake

You should go to the theater as often as possible, even to productions that don't seem to have any gay content.  If you can't get to the great theater capitals of New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, try your local community theater or high school drama club.

Why the productions that don't have any obvious gay content?   Because you never know when a director or is going to call for a theater hunk to take his shirt off, and the beefcake is more intense and immediate when it's live.

Of course, you might have to deal with actors gushing at each other that everyone on Earth longs for hetero-romance, that the Meaning of Life lies in men and women kissing, but you hear that a thousand times a day anyway.

Here is a random assortment of 10 stage plays that yielded unexpected beefcake.

1. Gabriel, by Moira Buffini, about a naked man who is washed up onto the beach in the Channel Islands during the Nazi occupation of World War II.  He has amnesia, so he is christened "Gabriel."  Hetero-romance ensues.  Lane Aaron Rosen (top) stars off-Broadway.

2. Unity(1918), by Kevin Kerr, is a favorite of university theater departments in Canada.  It's set in a small town in Saskatchewan during a flu epidemic, with a soldier returning from World War I involved in hetero-romance.

3. The Play about the Baby, not one of gay playwright Edward Albee's more popular dramas, was performed off-Broadway in 2001.  It's a sort of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf redux, set in a timeless world where an older couple, The Man and the Woman, try to explain the hopelessness of hetero-romance to a younger couple, The Boy and the Girl.

The Boy was played by a nude David Burtka (now married to Neil Patrick Harris).

4. Shakespeare is always good for some beefcake scenes.  How about Jon Michael Hill (now starring in Elementary) as a rather buffed Ariel in The Tempest at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago?

5. King Lear actually has nudity in the stage directions.  Only the elderly king is required to be nude, but in this Orange County production, his buddy Edwin (Shaun Anthony) strips down, too.

More after the break.

6. Farragut North is a very boring drama about politics, here featuring soap hunk Eric Sheffer Stevens as the shirtless politico,  with his doting wife in the background.

7. Speaking of politics, Obama Spy Drama, currently playing in Los Angeles, pairs off President Obama (Travis Snyder-Eaton) and Vladimir Putin (Christopher Robert Smith) as competitors for the mind and soul of Edward Snowden. Don't get too excited -- there's lots of hetero-romance in addition to the shirtless presidential machismo.

8. I'm not a big fan of Sam Shepherd, but at least soapster Jake Silbermann unbuttons his shirt for True West, about two brothers, one a politician and the other a thief.

9. A musical about finding a place to urinate?  That's the premise of Urinetown, which sets its hetero-romance in a future dystopia, where those who can't pay for public urinals are forced into a prison colony (there are no bushes around?).  At the London premiere, Richard Fleeshman played Bobby Strong, who died fighting for urinary freedom.

10. A musical about spree murder?  That's the premise of Bonnie and Clyde, which sets its hetero-romance among sociopathic thugs in Depression-era Kansas.  The Broadway production closed after four weeks, but at least it featured Clyde (former teen idol Jeremy Jordan) playing the guitar in the bathtub.

See also: The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas; and Tarzan: The Stage Musical.

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