Love was in the air at RuPaul’s DragCon at the Javits Center in New York this weekend. Trinity K. Bonet (Season 6) told me she’s promoting Lambda Legal Defense Fund and is designing an Atlanta fashion show filled with “legal superhero looks.” Speaking of heroism, I asked her if Bianca del Rio—who used to tease her on the show—ever apologized, and she said, “Yes.” “She’s a decent person,” I interjected, nobly. “But don’t tell anyone or it’ll ruin her career,” I laughed. “She picks and chooses when she’s an angel,” said Trinity. “They prefer the devil. I love her, though.”
At another booth, I asked Dusty Rae Bottoms (Season 10) if she’s made up with girls that were mean to her. “No! Absolutely not!” she exclaimed, fuming. “I’m never talking to them! They’re all c**ts!” I was thrilled with the exciting dish, until Dusty disappointed me by saying she was kidding and they’re all friends. Wah! In fact, she and Kameron Michaels ended up having lunch together and made up over peanut butter fudge. Said Dusty, “If a friendship can’t be fixed over peanut butter fudge, I don’t want it!”
I went up to Kameron herself (her handler was porn star Boomer Banks, by the way) and asked for her side of the story. “We had lunch the week of the finale,” she related. “I think she paid. We said, ‘Let’s just do this for ourselves. Let’s not take any pictures.’ We went to a chocolate store for dessert and fans noticed us, and it was everywhere. So much for our discretion.”
In her own booth, Trixie Mattel told me she didn’t have to make up with anyone from the show because no one was mean to her. “No one takes me seriously,” she said. “It would be like shooting fish in a barrel. What are they gonna say—‘You wear too much makeup?’ ” Yikes. I almost wanted to make fun of her just to make her feel better, but she was too nice!
Rather than ask Asia O’Hara about those darned butterflies, I asked her what’s been exciting in her life lately. “I do a lot of traveling and meeting interesting people,” she responded. “It’s interesting to learn what so many people took from the show. It reminds me of strengths and weaknesses that I didn’t even know I had.”
And finally, I floated like a butterfly over to Drag Race judge Ross Matthews, who said he j’adores all the contestants because “I fall in love with them the second I see them.” “So, you’re basically the Paula Abdul?” I wondered. “I’m the Paula Abdul,” he replied, “but more alert.”
And the Oscar Race Has Begun
And now, on to, basically, FilmCon: At the New York Film Festival, I saw If Beale Street Could Talk, directed by Barry Jenkins (Moonlight), who adapted the novel by gay writer James Baldwin. It’s a beautifully made film about a pregnant Harlem woman in the 1970s who’s fiercely determined to prove her man is not guilty of the rape he was convicted of.
Another powerful film about how black lives matter, The Hate U Give, is about to open soon, providing a welcome trend of great importance. As for another one, brace yourselves for all the troubled boy films coming—Beautiful Boy, Boy Erased, and Ben Is Back. When someone’s ready to make Beautiful Old Queen Erased, I’m game.
Also at the festival: The Favourite by Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster) is a funny and insightful look at a royal 18th Century power struggle, with Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) sending the Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz) into a tizzy of jealousy when new servant Abigail Hill (Emma Stone) comes around and curries favor. Devious, sometimes barbaric behavior is exposed, and the women find that to lesbian it up with the queen can be the way to her heart. (“I like it when she puts her tongue inside me,” is a classic line, wryly delivered by the wonderful Colman). It’s all rather eye-popping—with wide-angle shots and Sandy Powell’s breathtaking costumes—and the result adds new layers of wit and wickedness to the old fashioned period drama.
At the fest, I also checked out the hallucinatorily kitschy Portuguese film Diamantino, which has a hot guy, 50-foot puppies, lesbianism, a fake nun, and an anti-Trump message, all as the aforementioned hot guy grows women’s breasts. You can’t say, “It’s been done.”
I’ll Never Get Over This Hill
Show biz legend Murray Hill just debuted his best show ever, Murray Hill: About to Break, written by Murray and directed by Scott Wittman, at Joe’s Pub. A riotous evening which elevates self-deprecation to new heights of artistry, the show had Mur welcoming the “mixed, diverse group of white people,” taunting audience members to make out and reveal sexual secrets, and lamenting his own fate with a sort of bemused irritation. (“I just want to come up in the second page of my google search.”) There are even intimations that Murray was actually born a woman, which gives various meanings to a serious song he does, “The Girl I Left Behind.” Best of all is a segment where Murray tells real-life show biz horror stories he’s experienced, like having At Home With Amy Sedaris write a character based on him, then asking him to audition for it strictly as a formality, then telling him he wasn’t right for the part! Another story had the never-shy Sharon Needles recently going up to Murray and saying, “I’ve never seen you up close before. I thought you looked old because of makeup!” Show biz.
In other male news: “I’m here for ALW,” said producer Jordan Roth at the American Theatre Wing’s gala at Cipriani 42nd Street last week. “That sounds like a disease!” I cringed. Then I realized he meant Andrew Lloyd Webber, the wildly rich composer who was being honored that evening. Oh, yes, I was there for him, too. I became devout after Jesus Christ Superstar, slept my way to a ticket for Evita, and let more than half my face cheer for Phantom.
The evening featured wonderful performances by Broadway notables like Katrina Lenk (whom a young lady at my table kept calling “Tony winner Katrina Lenk”) and Norm Lewis. Lloyd Webber himself was gracious, while stressing the importance of promoting music and the other arts in education, especially in these critical times. The only weird moment was an ATW spokesperson sitting onstage on a stool that she said had been sat on many times by Patti LuPone, so it meant good vibes. I thought, “But she sued him!” then realized, “Well, she performed for him at the Grammys,” and let it rest. Sometimes I’m the disease.
Feel the Bernhardt
Broadway’s drag obsession surfaces again in Theresa Rebeck’s Bernhardt/Hamlet, in which the late, great thesp Sarah Bernhardt dares to tackle Shakespeare’s greatest male role in 1899. Men had traditionally taken on women’s roles in the bard’s plays, after all, so why not this reversal? Besides, the play informs us, Bernhardt is hard up for money at this point and needs an audience grabber, plus she’s too old for Ophelia and thinks Gertrude isn’t nearly thrilling enough. With a fiery feminism, Bernhardt eschews bland roles—and she’s tired of dying every night as Camille—so she goes for a character who at least gets to spew some great verbiage and kill some others before he expires himself!
It’s a strong premise, and the Moritz von Stuelpnagel-directed production is well designed by Beowulf Boritt (sets) and Toni-Leslie James (costumes). At the center is Janet McTeer, who won a Tony for rivetingly upsetting the patriarchy in A Doll’s House and who also played a man before, as Petrucchio in a revisionist version of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. So she’s a natural fit here, and haunting when she does a scene from Hamlet—even if she’s asked her married lover, Edmund Rostand (Jason Butler Harner), to rewrite it.
McTeer’s Bernhardt is impetuous, sardonic, and assertive in captivating ways, and she makes no secret of loathing her rival, Eleanora Duse, who she feels experiences no emotions onstage but her own. In Act Two, the divine Sarah manages to tell off Rostand for making the lead female role in his Cyrano de Bergerac an empty vessel. (Yes, the second half of this work is more like Bernhardt/Cyrano. I hoped in vain that there’d be a third act with Sandra Bernhard as Dashiell Hammett.) The play meanders into some dullness and has some heavy-handed dialogue (“You are Sarah Bernhard…”), but also a lot of witty banter—and the actress reveals at one point that she was infatuated with a female sculptor. I bet she had a hard time molding Sarah.
Trans-Atlantic Flap Hits Broadway
In The Nap, Richard Bean’s absurdist comedy about snooker playing and other antics in Sheffield, England, Alexandra Billings (Transparent) plays Waxy Bush, a transgender beauty parlor owner/gangster with one arm, and the jokes come fast and furious. There are remarks about her trans state, and Waxy even makes a joke about it, saying she wanted to be a young, attractive woman, but transitioned in time for a hysterectomy.
A man seated near me kept emitting “Jesus!” in response to some of the dialogue, and when intermission came, a trans woman next to me bolted for the exit, muttering “Don’t make fun of trans!” But while the play intentionally addresses gender on a sort of glorified Mel Brooks level, it’s a comedy (and we have to laugh at ourselves sometimes), plus the characters are generally coarse vulgarians who are supposed to say the wrong thing a lot. That’s the point!
What’s more, Billings is a trans actor and choosy about the roles she’ll play. And she’s terrific as the character—who may not turn out to be as wicked as she seems—carrying on with total authority, even as she emits malapropisms like saying she’s full of hope and is therefore an “optometrist,” and pronouncing half-finished wisdoms like, “Beauty is only skin.” That last gimmick was already used in the flop musical Gettin’ The Band Back Together, but it’s transitioned better in this show.