Tiger, tiger, burning bright
by Roberto Friedman
The particulars of the disastrous Iraq war meet universal truths in the Tony-nominated and Pulitzer finalist play Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo by Rajiv Joseph, directed by Bill English, now playing at the San Francisco Playhouse. Two American Marines and an Iraqi translator are haunted by violence, wartime atrocities and the spirits of the departed, both human and animal. It's a tough-minded play, but it's not as much about American adventurism in the Middle East as it is about basic existential questions: Why are we here? Is there true meaning to life? Are the dead more alive than the living?
As usual with this scrappy little theatre company, the production values, set, costumes and props are first-rate. The cast is absolutely committed to a challenging script. Craig Marker and Gabriel Marin are full-on convincing and infuriating as the innocent/corrupt Marines. The Iraqis are portrayed as every bit as morally compromised as the Americans, with fully developed portrayals by Kuros Charney as an Arabic translator and Pomme Koch terrifying as the monster Uday Hussein. But the play truly comes into itself with Bay Area theatre veteran Will Marchetti 's star turn as the Tiger who haunts the streets of war-torn Baghdad attempting to find meaning. The celebrity actor Robin Williams played the part in New York, but it's hard to imagine a more ferocious performance than Marchetti's. He tears into the role as if it were red meat.
Bengal Tiger playwright Rajiv Joseph was just awarded the Steinberg Playwright Award along with The Flick playwright Annie Baker, the New York Times reported last week. The honor, bestowed biannually to playwrights in mid-career, brings a cash reward of $50,000. Based on the power and brute force of this play now on the Playhouse boards, the prize is well-deserved.
Photo: Steven Underhill
Speaking of theatrical events, Out There was in the audience on Tuesday night for the opening night of Beautiful – The Carole King Musical now in its pre-Broadway run at the Curran Theatre in SF (through Oct. 20). Photographer Steven Underhill was a stage-door Johnny capturing for his camera the show's star Jessie Mueller; Douglas Lyons, who plays one of The Drifters; and Jarrod Spector, who played Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys, here and on Broadway. Look for theatre critic Richard Dodds' review of Beautiful in next week's edition.
Of course, LGBT people and LGBT loving have existed across cultures and throughout time, but we often get lost in the hetero universe of history texts and art books. That's why the new book A Little Gay History – Desire and Diversity Across the World by R.B. Parkinson (Columbia University Press) is a nice little corrective. The book traces same-sex portrayals in 40 art objects drawn from the British Museum's collection, from ancient Egyptian papyri to modern art. Parkinson is a curator of ancient Egyptian culture at the British Museum, but he proves himself adept at locating gay imagery throughout all of art history.
A few highlights: Parkinson finds what he calls "the earliest known chat-up line in human history" in a poem from ancient Egypt, around 1800 BC. "One male god tries to seduce another by saying, 'What a lovely backside you have!'" A well-worn line even then, we're sure. Carvings of phalli recur throughout history, often misinterpreted by modern viewers as signs for brothels or sex for sale, when "these carvings are almost certainly protective devices to ward off evil."
Erotic scenes were not uncommon in Roman art, and same-sex depictions show how "man-on-man sex was just another sort of desire in the Roman world, provided that a Roman man remained the active partner." The silver "Warren Cup" (ca. 27 BC-14 AD) depicts two cross-generational male couples having sex on opposite sides, and in one scene, "another boy, probably himself a slave, looks in at the door and observes the sensuous and tender scene, just as we are doing." Voyeurism incarnate.
And so it goes, with same-sex love found depicted in British history, Japanese art, and exquisite drawings from the Persian court. Parkinson finds evidence of LGBT eroticism in Polynesian culture, Sioux lore, and African initiation rites. The slim volume concludes with a consideration of a pack of playing cards showing photos of drag queens across modern-day Japan. So near and yet so far.
Miss Cline to you
To celebrate the kickoff of their 20th Anniversary Season, Smuin Ballet will host their LGBT Night tonight (Thurs., Oct. 10). $50 gets attendees a ticket to the XXtremes fall program, featuring Jiri Kylian's acclaimed Return to a Strange Land, Amy Seiwert 's ballet Dear Miss Cline (a country romp danced to the music of Patsy Cline), and Carmina Burana, a well-loved Michael Smuin work. In the Dear Miss Cline spirit, the country-themed post-performance party will offer appetizers, beer and wine, hard cider, and a square-dancing lesson from the LGBT square-dance club Foggy City Dancers. $10 of every ticket will be donated to REAF (Richmond/Ermet AIDS Foundation). Tickets and season subscriptions are available at www.smuinballet.org or by calling (415) 912-1899.