How’d Jonah Hill Fare Playing a Gay Man in Gus Van Sant’s Newest Film?

Also, a Nixon finally worth voting for!

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot is the new Gus Van Sant film based on the life of John Callahan, the cartoonist who dealt with alcoholism and becoming paralyzed as a result of trusting another alcoholic to drive. In the film, John (Joaquin Phoenix) goes to AA meetings presided over by Donnie (Jonah Hill), a gay man who has an unconventional and irreverent approach to his leadership role, but who also gets serious, preaching the importance of faith and, ultimately, forgiveness of everyone who may have landed you in this spot—including yourself.

Donnie calls his alcoholic minions his “piggies” and he refers to Christ as “Chuckie,” but beneath his flamboyance (and the fact that a muscleman with a small penis is working his lawn), he has pathos, especially when he feigns a quick cough to alert John that he’s come down with AIDS.

Hill is a good actor and I liked the unselfconscious way his character’s sexuality was dealt with—both by the script and by John—but the film overall isn’t always that riveting. Still, a couple of music world stars get to shine in supporting roles—namely Beth Ditto and Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon as Phoenix’s fellow addicts. They rock.

Hail, Mary

Joan Marcus
From left: Kayli Carter, Ryan Foust, and Susan Pourfar in Mary Page Marlowe.

Tracy Letts won a Tony for his tightly wound George in a 2012 revival of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and he expertly played the complicated dad in last year’s Oscar-nominated Ladybird. He’s even better known as the playwright of works like the blistering Pulitzer winner August: Osage County and the more formulaic Superior Donuts. His new play, Mary Page Marlowe, directed by Lila Neugebauer at Second Stage Theater’s Tony Kiser Theatre, is a worthy addition to his credits.

A sextet of female actors play Mary at different ages, most of them getting to do more than one scene, and the chronology is carefully jumbled so that the pieces of Mary’s life come together in offbeat ways. I usually don’t care for this kind of studied exercise in time, but at least it’s not all done backward (like Betrayal or Merrily We Roll Along), and for the most part, Letts’s writing is crisp and far from boring.

You can call it Six Tall Women, or Five Ladies, a Girl, and a Baby, as Letts delves into the life of a CPA who’s had three husbands, two children, a drinking problem, and a feeling that she has no control over her life. Mary is convinced that things just happen to her and she’s merely playing out the roles assigned to her by men, whether it be wife, mother, employee, or even side-dish. But she—and we—come to see that her life is more than just one big accident and that the random moments actually add up to something, for better or worse.

The play starts with a terrific Susan Pourfar as Mary at 40, having to tell her kids about the ramifications of the family breakup (perhaps passing on behavior from her own parents). Tatiana Maslany (Mary aged 27 and 36) and Marcia Debonis (her shrink) are extraordinary in discussing fate versus chance and whether Mary’s life trajectory is really out of her hands. Kellie Overbey is sensational as Mary at 50, preparing herself for deserved punishment while screaming back at her husband, “Don’t tell me how I feel!” And Blair Brown is good as the older Mary, who seems to have landed in a more appreciative state of mind, but with heavy underpinnings of pathos. (The weird, symbolic ending at a dry cleaner will probably prompt discussion for a long time, though it didn’t really work for me.)

The set seems too bland, but it has to cover a lot of bases with quick changes. The production itself, though, is an intriguing experiment in time and punishment. If you see it the same weekend as the Gus Van Sant film, the result can comprise an offbeat, little car-accident double bill.

La Chanz

Tired of overheated dramas and overbearing musicals? Well, Mummenschanz is completely silent (except for the sounds of laughter and applause, of course). The long-running troupe that specializes in “sculptural puppetry and visual antics” has mounted yet another show done without a soundtrack, and you probably won’t miss the noise.

Combining new and old vignettes, you & me—concocted by co-founder Floriana Frassetto—plays at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College, where it weaves a spell thanks to an ongoing assortment of masks, floating objects, and constantly morphing figures. As onstage images continually change—and an egg keeps growing—the Mummenschanzers seems to be saying that with the slightest provocation, something immaterial can become major and something alarming can become beautiful.

Plumbing the quirks of the human condition, the show gets even more out of its objects by incorporating audience participation. (People are brought up to draw on a troupe member’s black mask of a face, and later, a big red ball gets volleyed back and forth ad delirium.) By the time two figures end up having upside-down violins for heads, you can forgive the fact that a little music is played; Mummenschanz plays by their own rules so intently, they’re allowed to break them once in a while. But they never break that egg!

Finally, a Nixon Worth Voting For

Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty
Another funny troupe, Unitard, delivered their usual hilarity to Joe’s Pub last week, satirizing the pretensions, foibles, and corruption of modern life with tireless elan. Nora Burns played a ditz who can’t remember where she met anyone, David Ilku was an Isaac Mizrahi-like designer hawking his wares on TV with lots of food analogies and white male privilege, and Mike Albo was a patronizing multidisciplinary artist who fled New York and can’t stop yapping about how much better Berlin is.

Together, the three played depressed Russian hackers wantonly toying with Americans’ minds, as well as irritated hemorrhoids dangling from Donald Trump’s ass, and Albo and Ilku portrayed polyamorous lovers who live by specific rules of cheating. (“You can come in their mouth, but you can’t hold hands.”) Hilarious!

By the way, Nora Burns invited me to perform last week at an LGBTQ benefit at Cutting Room for Cynthia Nixon, the famed actor (Sex and the City) who is running for the Democratic nomination for New York State Governor. Cynthia has evolved tremendously as a candidate, and was positively inspiring as she talked about the need to improve our schools, fix the subway system, legalize pot, and reverse the fact that so many jails stays happen because the inmates are poor and can’t afford bail. She also talked movingly about how her mother stood up to her misbehaving dad by taking young Cynthia and walking away. (That became a metaphor for standing up to Trump and his ilk.) And she impressively said she refused to accept corporate money (unlike Governor Andrew Cuomo) because she doesn’t want to be compromised. Finally, a politician who actually seems to mean what she’s saying.

At one point, Cynthia said she’d recently done a movie with one of the evening’s performers—Denis O’Hare—and they were stoic to both stay in the New York that they love. I glanced smilingly at Denis because he had just told me that he, his husband Hugo, and their son Declan are moving to Paris next month! They are tired of being angry in Trump’s America, and besides, Declan (like Hugo) is black, and they fear possible police brutality against him simply for that reason. [Full interview to come.]

Backstage, the event’s co-host, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, was joking to O’Hare that they’re the only two gay actors who aren’t in The Boys in The Band. Another performer, drag queen Marti Gould Cummings, said he’s been appointed to NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s new Nightlife Advisory Board, and rumor has it he’s running for New York State Assembly and has already received donations (from people, not corporations). I can see a Nixon/Cummings ticket for 2020.

Michael Musto is the long running, award-winning entertainment journalist and TV commentator.