October 11, 2019

I went to the theater tonight to see David Strickland and Caleb Clark in Terrific New Theater’s production of ‘The Story of My Life’. It’s a two person chamber musical about which I knew next to nothing but I always enjoy watching both of them on stage (and I’ve been sharing the stage with David since he was twelve) so I knew I couldn’t miss it. It’s the story of Tom and Alvin, childhood friends who grow up, eventually grow apart but who always remain part of each other’s lives and stories. Tom, the more traditional one, becomes a famous author. Alvin, the more eccentric one, stays in the small town running his father’s bookstore. The book and the lyrics are structured around the stories of their time together, and separate and how their young lives cast long shadows on their maturity. It ended up being very moving for me as it rang all sorts of personal chords. How do you compose an obituary for someone who is the other half of your story? (I’ve had to do that twice). Why is it necessary to tell our stories and what do they mean to us? (Which is I suppose what I’ve been doing with my infamous long posts over the last eighteen months). What is the process of writing and what do books mean? (A big question for me who has always been affected by tsondoku (google it if you don’t already know what it means)).

The performances were superb. (I could never handle a two person musical. We’ll see if I can handle a two person play this spring). Tam DeBolt‘s direction and Sam Tumminello‘s music direction were both spot on. I just wish the score had been a bit stronger. Way too much was cribbed from better pieces – mainly Sondheim (a lot of Sunday in the Park and Pacific Overtures) but also Stephen Schwartz (with a big ballad straight out of Meadowlark). It will have a long shelf life as it’s a showcase for two strong male talents that has minimal technical requirements. If you’re in town and free either this weekend or next, by all means go.

I kept tearing up at odd times, not at the moments that script and score was telegraphing, but at quiet things where two male characters were just comfortable with each other and enjoying each others company. I think it’s because it would bring on flashes of times spent with Steve or Tommy or maybe with a number of other close platonic male friends I’ve had over the years. I don’t really have one of those at the moment and really haven’t since Thurston Howell III moved to South Carolina and I think my psyche misses having someone around to fill that role.

Today, October 11, is National Coming Out Day. The first one was in 1988, just before I officially came out. I think I was aware that it was happening and I was, at the time, grappling mightily with whom I was. I had moved to Sacramento to start my internship the previous June and, with being, in a new city, was dabbling with dating men. At the time, I was hopelessly smitten with a man I had met in New York City a year or so earlier but whom I had recognized as a pathologic personality. I had sent him packing, but we had corresponded some by mail and then, in that October, he had suddenly turned up in Sacramento on a Greyhound bus. When i did not welcome him with open arms, he immediately joined the navy, washed out of basic training within a month,and then turned up on my doorstep again around Thanksgiving. I ultimately bought him a bus ticket back to NYC after his pathologies continued to rear their ugly heads and never saw him again. (He did pop back into my life briefly several decades later looking for money. To date, I think he’s the only person I’ve ever had to block from my Facebook. Some things never change.)

By the new year, after that whole experience, I was emotionally exhausted, confused, starting to come out socially but still firmly closeted at work, and in the middle of internship in an era before the rules on work hours took effect. Not a good combination. In short, I was a mess. That is how Steve found me when we met in February and his force of nature personality helped free my emotional self and allowed me to put all the pieces in place to live an authentic life as an out gay man. By the second national coming out day on October 11, 1989, we were a couple, I was out in every facet of my life and finally on my way to becoming a whole adult. I sometimes wonder what might have happened if I had not met Steve and I shudder.

One of my biggest problems regarding my coming out process was a significant lack of role models. In the late 70s disco era of my high school years, I was aware of gay society in Seattle and where to find it on Capitol Hill but it was full of, to me, much older men who were only interested in superficial things. There was no one, to my knowledge, at my high school or in my group of friends who was LGBTQ or whom I could confide my confused feelings about such things. College wasn’t much better – there were gay men involved in theater but I had this studious double science major side to me that didn’t gibe with them particularly and then, being in the SF Bay area at the beginnings of the HIV epidemic, really clamped down my feelings further.

Medical education comes with an enormous unwritten curriculum about what a doctor is and should be. Everything you do is scrutinized as the system tries to mold you into a certain type. I don’t cotton well to such treatment and rebelled in lots of little ways. This led me to a lot of unhappiness (and the worst depression of my adult life – there was a time in my third year when I could barely get out of bed) med school sponsored therapy sessions with a very nice counselor (with whom I never mentioned my sexuality – I wonder if he guessed that was the elephant in the room), and a feeling that if I wanted to be a success in my chosen career field, I would need to remain closeted. Or, if I should happen to come out, I would have to go into HIV medicine – that was seen in the late 80s as the only really acceptable choice for openly gay men. Residency, when I got there, wasn’t much better. There were a few faculty I suspected were LGBTQ but they were firmly closeted.

Then, everything changed. The early 90s brought new visibility. I came out. Several med students arrived who were open from the get go. A faculty member friend came out. I wasn’t alone. I had Steve at home who believed in me. I fell into the correct career path. I no longer hid who I was, I decided to live a complete and authentic life and let the chips fall where they may. I’ve lost out on career opportunities as a gay man that a straight man would have been offered and, especially early in my career, I realized I would have to be twice as good to receive half the credit, but the ability to live and breathe and just be one flawed but striving human being has more than made up for that. These days, when I am lecturing to med students, I’ll usually casually drop in a reference to the fact that I’m a gay man. I think it’s important for them to hear that. And I know there’s a student out there who needs to know he or she will be successful despite what they are feeling about themselves. If I’d had role models and encouragement in my early training, life might have turned out different but it’s meant that in a lot of ways I am one of the pioneers of out gay medical faculty and maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

October 6, 2019

Lenox Square Apple Store

Dateline: Atlanta, Georgia

I should have written this last night but by the time I came in and got myself settled, I just wasn’t in the mood for some reason. I had a lot to say but the actual physical act of getting out the laptop and letting my fingers dance across the keyboard just didn’t appeal for some reason. Writing when I am out of town is good discipline but I have a feeling that my psyche needed to turn that part of me off last night, at least temporarily, for some reason.

The cooler weather began to descend on the Southeast yesterday with a light breeze full of the promise of fall so I did some walking through this section of Atlanta. Atlanta has never been one of my favorite cities. It has no real sense of place or purpose and everything feels like it was created out of whole cloth starting in the Reagan 80s and exists primarily as a gathering spot for people to make money. Buckhead is full of shiny upscale buildings and hotels and shops but it’s missing a soul.

I ended up at Lenox Square mall and hit the Apple Store. Back when we were first together, Tommy and I would make pilgrimages here before Birmingham had its own and Tommy would emerge with the latest and greatest iPhone/iPad/Mac and I would emerge with a bill. My phone has had battery problems so I had it replaced while I explored Brooks Brothers, Nieman Marcus, Bloomingdales and other quality retailers. I bought nothing. I can’t say much for men’s fashion at the moment. There were a couple of Versace shirts that I liked but for $900, Donatella better be hand delivering to the house and she was not in evidence.

Phone repaired and lunch eaten, off on another walk and then a mid afternoon nap before heading down to midtown for the evening. A shout out to those who suggested a performance of ‘Becoming Nancy’ at the Alliance which I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s not quite ready for Broadway (the second act is too long,the whole thing needs to be tightened, the first act climax is not well staged, and the scenic design is uninspired) but it’s got the makings of a good show and has one of the better scores I’ve heard in the last few years.

Zachary Sayle in Becoming Nancy

‘Becoming Nancy’ is based on a British young adult novel of the same name and takes place in East Dulwich, a London suburb that’s a lot like its name. The time is 1979, the disco era is about to give way to Thatcher/Reagan capitalism and we meet young David Starr – a theater kid obsessed with music and musicals who desperately wants the role of Fagin in the school production of Oliver. To his shock, he’s given the role of Nancy as he’s the only student who can sing her big ballad, As Long As He Needs Me, effectively. He decides to rise to the challenge, and finds that unleashing his inner Nancy leads to family complications with his traditional parents, loving aunt, loutish sister… and then there’s the gorgeous footballer Maxie who has been cast as Bill Sikes, the love interest. Anyone with any knowledge of cultural history, the construction of musical comedies, and the current vogue for LGBTQ empowerment stories can see where the show is going to go and it ticks off the plot points one by one but the energetic and talented cast carries us along on a feel good ride. It’s a bit similar to last seasons The Prom (which also originated at The Alliance) and has echoes of Love, Simon (which takes place in Atlanta).

The show connected with me in some unusual ways. Young David, the lead, is played by Zachary Sayle who was a Birmingham theater kid back when Tommy and I were getting our start. I never did a show with him. He was Ralphie in Center Stage’s production of ‘A Christmas Story’ back in the day (one of the few CS productions I wasn’t a part of) and shortly after got the part of Ralphie in the musical version in its pre-Broadway try out and hasn’t looked back. Watching him, made me think back on all of the other theater kids I’ve seen grow up over the last fifteen years, especially the boys who are committed to doing good work in a culture that denigrates performing arts (and elevates football to a religion). David is seventeen in 1979, making us exactly the same age so I found myself reflecting back on my confused and angst ridden and hormonal teen years. Theater ended up saving me the way it saved him; it was finding my tribe, the people with whom I fit and who gave me acceptance. I wasn’t able to be open about myself for some years but I hesitate to think what might have happened had I not had that community giving me constructive support and encouragement. Of course, I was backstage during my youth; the performing didn’t come until much later.

There’s one number partway through the first act where the football (European style) team and the drama kids are both showing themselves and the audience that they aren’t that different. Both activities are about learning to work together as a team to create something more than any of them could do as individuals. I think that was my favorite message moment in the show. Some of the other messages are a bit heavy handed. David’s best friend, a young black woman, has a great power ballad to her childhood friend who has joined a nativist/racist movement lamenting about how all he can see now is the color of her skin. That whole subplot, where neo-Nazis turn on the ‘others’ and there’s a riot at a Rock Against Racism concert, carries a lot of baggage in Trump’s America but I’m not sure that a musical comedy of this nature can carry all that weight. The end of the show, where the school finally performs Oliver (with nods to the original score, and the costumes and staging from the film version) is a hoot, especially to those who have some idea how musical theater actually works. We see it mainly from a backstage perspective and I was giggling throughout.

This is its last weekend, but I think it’s got a future. Give it another try out run or two to tinker and they’ve got a show.

October 4, 2019

Buckhead, Atlanta, Georgia

Dateline: Atlanta, Georgia

And it’s time for a quick weekend getaway. I’ve been tethered to the house most of the last few months and this was the first weekend since returning from Europe that didn’t have a bunch of stuff that had to get done. I was originally going to go to the beach, but then the HVAC died and the only time I could be home for a prolonged period of time for it to be replaced during business hours was Friday afternoon. They didn’t finish it up and ask for a very large check until nearly 6:30 and I wasn’t going to drive until Midnight or one am so that meant retooling plans to somewhere somewhat closer to home. Therefore, I threw some things in a suitcase, hopped in the car and decided to spend a weekend in Atlanta, something I haven’t done in a while. It’s not my favorite city, especially in this sweltering weather, but it’s urban, close by, and I got a deal on the Buckhead Hampton Inn.

I think I’ll look for something at the theater or a film that will never come to Birmingham for tomorrow evening, and I am walking distance from Lenox Square so I’ll do some upscale window shopping while I’m here as well. I’ve also made a Sunday brunch date with an old high school friend whom I haven’t seen in decades so it should be a relatively pleasant weekend away from the world of geriatrics and the world of theatrical rehearsals.

The New Sidewalk Theater

I went down to the Pizitz (an old downtown department store redone as yuppie condos and an international food hall) last night for dinner and to check out the new movie theater in the basement. Around the same time that Steve and I moved to Birmingham, a gang of crazy locals started up a local film festival known as Sidewalk. It’s grown in size and prestige over the years and they have just built a two screen theater in the Pizitz basement so that Birmingham finally has a place to see films other than the ones that open wide at every cineplex in the country. The space is great, reminding me a bit of an updated Harvard Exit (one of my high school hang outs in Seattle during the heyday of revival houses) and I was able to have cocktails, Chicken Shwarma from Eli’s Jerusalem Grill, and enjoy the film all without leaving the air conditioned environment. (A plus when it’s over 100 degrees in October). The movie was ‘The Death of Dick Long’ which was filmed locally last year and several friends are in the cast. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It reminded me a lot of early Coen Brothers and MNM will be weighing in on it soon.

I’m planning on lying in tomorrow morning before going out to explore. If I get a burst of energy, I have two projects with me – the next chapter of the book I’m writing and my lines for ‘Dear Brutus’. It remains to be seen how constructive I’ll actually get. I’m going to wrack my brain and see if I can come up with an Atlanta story for y’all from my past as well.

October 1, 2019

Time for another long post I suppose. It’s been a few weeks. I’ve had some ups and some downs – last week in particular was rough and I’m not entirely certain why. I just know that life’s minor annoyances were getting to me and causing some major emotional swings. I think it’s because I don’t have anyone with whom to share them and let off steam. It’s caused me to be a bit short with people (sorry if I’ve been rude to any of you). In the past, when I would get like this, it was usually a sign that I needed some time away. I actually have a free weekend coming up so I’m thinking I should use it to escape somewhere for a couple of days but I’m having a hard time getting myself out of a rut to plan anything.

It’s at least partly the weather. Here we are the first week of October and it was about 100 degrees out today. We’ve had week after week of hot and humid and no rain. Everyone in North Central Alabama is miserable. Things are finally supposed to start cooling down this weekend but I’ll believe it when it actually happens. The never ending July has put a huge stress on my HVAC causing the downstairs unit to more or less give up the ghost. (It is cooling down to about 80, but no lower). It is due to be replaced on Friday and I will be many thousands of dollars poorer. Having to write that check makes me not want to spend too much on myself at the moment. It’s my Scottish heritage showing. The heat stress is also wreaking havoc on the landscaping and lawns, despite my remembering to water (and having the water bill to prove it). I’ve never been much of a yard person, and this climate makes that even more so, and I’m more than ready to downsize into a condo on that score. It’s going to take a while to get my life in order in other departments though.

A lot of the energy over the last couple of weeks went into this year’s Politically Incorrect Cabaret – Demo-loution which we performed last Saturday evening to a sold out crowd. I wrote the show over Labor Day weekend but in the three and a half weeks between first draft and performance, so much insanity has erupted in DC that it was already somewhat out of date by the time we got it on stage. At least we had made the wise decision to focus more on the Democratic side of the coin this time around because there’s no way I could have written a satire on what’s happened to the Trump administration over just the last week. Instead, we had Elizabeth Warren doing ‘Imagine’, Kamala Harris doing William Finn’s ‘Change’, a ‘September Song’ sung to Bernie Sanders, and Marianne Williamson with her version of ‘The Rainbow Connection’. My opening number was a rewrite of ‘Dance Ten, Looks Three’ rewritten as ‘Thoughts and Prayers’. With luck, we’ll do another date or two of this show somewhere but it will need some retooling for political changes which, if anything, seem to be speeding up.

I’m having a dispute with the management of the storage company where Tommy and I stored all of our theatrical crap including the physical assets of CenterStage productions. The overhead lights (cheap fluorescents) have burned out and, when I asked that they be replaced so I can see what I’m doing in there, I was informed that it would be too expensive for them to do so (high ceiling) and I should just bring a flashlight. This is not sitting well with me and I haven’t decided what my next response is. They’re part of a national chain so I suppose I could call their corporate and complain. I could always just move out but that’s going to be a job and a half. I need to come up with a long range plan for all that stuff as part of my downsizing but I don’t know that anyone else has adequate storage either. If anyone from the Birmingham theater community has a brilliant idea or two, I’m willing to listen. In the meantime, I guess I bring a flashlight.

I don’t have a theater rehearsal for the next three weeks. My next project, Dear Brutus, has first read on the 21st. The only thing on the docket outside of work is Symphony chorus rehearsals (a Brahms piece and Borodin’s Polsovetsian Dances ) for a concert right after Halloween and church choir. I suppose I better start working on my Dear Brutus lines. It’s a play I hadn’t encountered before. Sort of an EM Forester cast of characters gets caught up in A Midsummer Nights Dream fantasy written by JM Barrie of Peter Pan fame. My character, an artist, is dissipated and unhappy, but comes alive when he meets the daughter he might have had in the enchanted wood. I’ve also set a goal for myself of completing two chapters of the book I’m working on over the next few weeks as I have less on my plate. I’m tackling some of my ideas around aging and dementia.

Two relatively brief trips coming up: SF Bay area from 10/23-27 for my 35th Stanford Reunion. (I’m trying to decide if I bring my red sport coat). Then Seattle for Thanksgiving week. I’m here for the holidays and toying with the idea of reviving Tommy and my famous Sunday after Christmas open house but haven’t fully decided. If I do, it will be a different kind of party and I don’t know yet what that would look like.

I haven’t told a story for a while. I’m trying to think of a good Stanford one that I haven’t already written down. The early 80s were a transitional time socially with the rise of Reaganism and it was very much reflected in my college experience. When I arrived at the tail end of the Carter presidency, the upper class people (sophisticated older adults of 20 and 21) took classes based on interests and trying to be well rounded individuals. When I graduated three and a half years later, the under class people (impossibly naive children of 18) took classes based on how they might impact their earning power later in life. It was a huge cultural sea change brought about by the rise of the Yuppie. I did a combination. I was a double science major in chemistry and biology but I also took at least one course a quarter that was something different – Japanese religious traditions, History of the Roman Empire, Introduction to Petroleum Engineering, Shakespeare, History of the American Musical Theater. I think I had courses in 19 different departments by the time I graduated. I remember my first quarter. My father drove me down and dropped me off at the dorm for Freshman orientation along with two suitcases of clothes, four boxes of books, a bicycle, a typewriter, and a box of miscellaneous school supplies. The internet was in its infancy, there was no web, there was no word processing and registration required thousands of us milling around the floor of the basketball arena doing everything by hand. I loved it.

Most of my college life was based around classes, dorm life, and theater. I didn’t leave campus too often. I didn’t have a car and the Stanford campus is huge, requiring a couple mile walk just to get anywhere. I did partake in a lot of the usual rituals, including football games. I have one college football claim to fame. I was at Stanford in the fall of 82 when Big Game (the rivalry game between Stanford and UC Berkeley) was played at that other school. I had stage managed the Gaieties that year (a theatrical spoofing campus life that is produced every year at Big Game weekend) and a bunch of us from the show went up to Berkeley together to see the game. At the end of the game, Stanford had won. Hooray! However, in one of the most famous plays ever, the ball not having been whistled dead, was carried back by Berkeley for a last minute touchdown through the Stanford band which had prematurely rushed the field including a poor tackled trombonist. We were sitting just above that end zone but couldn’t follow the whole thing and sheer pandemonium broke out in the stands as no one could quite figure out just what had happened. It wasn’t until we could get out of the stadium and see the newscast and replays that we were able to fully figure it out. I’ve been to a few college football games since that one but I am unlikely to ever witness anything quite like that again.

September 14, 2019

The Ansager is returning

It feels like it’s time for a long post. It’s been a few weeks since I last checked in. There isn’t a whole lot going on. I’m in a fairly decent frame of mind. I don’t think I need to exorcise any demons tonight so this may be less exciting than some of my other missives but once I start writing, you never know where things might end up.

The theatrical life at the moment is about Politically Incorrect Cabaret. I’ve been the headwriter and emcee since the show was invented in 2004 and, to my knowledge, I’m the only cast member that’s been in every single performance of every single edition. I’ve become quite fond of the Ansager as he allows me to let my id play and I get to say incredibly inappropriate things in public. The shows are semi-improv so I get to riff off the audience and pick on them in various ways – always fun when they’re full of people you know. I pretty much locked myself in the house Labor Day Weekend to write this latest edition and it’s the usual hodgepodge – Capital Steps type parody, serious Brecht, improvisational dance, political barbs, and the Ansager and the Waffle House Lady trying to hold the whole thing together.

We’ve got two weeks to finish everything up and get it on stage. One show only on Saturday night, the 28th. We usually do another performance or two out of town once a show has been put together and rehearsed, but that hasn’t materialized yet for this one. It may still happen. I’ve never quite figured out why PIC works as well as it does. It always feels like a bit of a mess in rehearsal, but then you get it front of an audience and it just gels. I guess that’s because of the semi-improv nature of the beast. It has to have an audience or it just doesn’t work. We rehearse the music fairly tightly to keep that together, but the rest of it, while there is a script, tends to wander far afield from anything on the page during performance.

It’s been unbearably hot and sticky the last few weeks. Well in the 90s and 90% humidity. Usually by mid September things start to cool off but not this year. Both the electric bill (A/C) and water bill (sprinklers) are way up. I suppose this is the local version of climate change. I don’t think the human race is on its way out. We’re quite resourceful, but I think the next fifty years or so are going to be awfully interesting as eight billion people start competing for water and food resources.

I have two quick trips to the west coast coming up. To the SF Bay area in late October and to Seattle for Thanksgiving. If you’re in either of those areas and would like to get together, let me know. I thought about a trip for the holidays again, but I’ll be in rehearsal for Cabaret so that’s out. The way things are going, it looks like I’ll be booked pretty solidly for stage work all season. The next project after PIC is J M Barrie’s play Dear Brutus for Belltower Players, then Cabaret. I’ve also agreed to do The Gin Game next spring. I haven’t decided yet if I’m flattered or terrified. However, the way to get me motivated and intensely interested in something in life is to hand me a challenge. The woman I’m cast opposite has impressive Broadway, London and film credits – I met her tonight for the first time at her Birthday party. I think we’ll get along quite well. She’s African American and part of the goal of the production is to get black and white Birmingham theater working closer together and being more mutually supportive. I’m still not sure how someone like me gets cast in a two character play opposite the woman who had the Nell Carter part in the original London production of Ain’t Misbehavin’.

Not much happening at work. UAB is tranquil, at least in the Geriatrics Division and most of my patients seem to be rocking along in the ‘getting older, but stable’ category. One of my patients, whom I have had since I first got here 21 years ago, brought me a present last week. She was cleaning things out and she found the clipping from the UAB paper announcing ‘Duxbury joining Geriatrics Program’ that she cut out before I first arrived and when she made initial appointments for her and her husband. There I was, early 30s me staring out from a UC Davis headshot decorating a yellowing news clipping from the last millennium. The office staff found it amusing. It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was the young whippersnapper around the division but now I’m the old man and the institutional memory.

I went to see The Goldfinch on Friday night. I enjoyed the book immensely and was curious to see what sort of film they made of it. It’s gotten some fairly nasty reviews but it’s not that bad. It has some crucial miscasting and it’s about twenty minutes too long and suffers a bit from its non-linear storytelling but it doesn’t deserve the pigpile of vituperative prose that seems to be coming at it. MNM will weigh in shortly. I’m not completely sure what to do with her. Usually I have a bit of a storyline or an idea mapped out in my head of where her life is heading, but at the moment I don’t have much. Something will eventually come to me. Something always does.

Nothing terribly cathartic tonight poppets, and I can’t think of any terribly intriguing stories either. I’m not sure if this is a good or a bad thing. I’ll check in again around PIC time if not before.

August 29, 2019

And it’s time for another long post. It’s been a few weeks since the last one. I haven’t been up to doing a lot of writing as all energies were directed at staying current at work during the week and making Choir Boy the best that it could be evenings and weekends. That’s going to change this long weekend which is being reserved for a lot of writing. I need to knock out the first draft of the 2019 Politically Incorrect Cabaret: Demo-lution, finish up another chapter on the book I’m writing, and write a new column and get poor MNM out of her troubles in Mittel-Europa. I’ve got a three day weekend in which to do it where I have nothing scheduled. I had thought about going to NOLA for Southern Decadence but that was such a Tommy and Andy thing to do, that I decided the time was not yet quite ripe to head out into that melee on my own.

Choir Boy had a very successful run. I can never properly gauge my own performances on stage to figure out whether I’m any good or not but I got plenty of feedback from people whose opinions I trust that not only was I decent in the role, but that the whole production was exceptional. I think that can be laid at the feet of Carlton Bell who founded Birmingham Black Repertory Company and directed the show. As a young man of color and non-binary identity, he was able to bring an enormous amount of lived experience to that script and help each of us as actors find the intricacies in the subtext to really make the show come alive with lots of specific moments. That together with Aija Penix‘s brilliant a cappella arrangements of the music and Rachel Simonne‘s step choreography (which I fortunately did not have to participate in) made for a full theatrical experience for the audience. One of the administrators I work with at the VA, an African American woman, who isn’t a theater goer, came and told me today how she and her daughter were blown away by how good the show was and how well it spoke to the POC in the audience. She also found my introductory scene (one of the most embarrassing character introductions I’ve ever had to play) hysterically funny. I was happy about that as I was so afraid it might come across as purely offensive. For those who haven’t seen the show, I was playing the older white teacher who comes out of retirement to help push the boys at an African American boys school to higher levels of achievement. He comes in and immediately makes a couple of unintentionally racist comments as he tries to break the ice. He does redeem himself ultimately, but it’s hardly a good first impression. I did have a couple of good scenes later in the show, including one where I had to make a transition from joy and spazz dancing to explosive righteous anger and sadness in about two minutes.

Spending a lot of time under pressure with an African American cast and production staff was an intense, but enjoyable experience that helped me better understand myself. I am not of the Deep South. I am of the West Coast and, as a white person, I didn’t pick up a lot of the baggage that white southerners seem to have as I don’t come from that cultural milieu. I think it’s helped me see some of the fault lines in Alabama society within both the Black and the White communities a little more clearly. I don’t claim to be perfect or the most woke of individuals but I think I do a pretty good job at connecting one to one through common humanity. It’s one of the things that makes me good at that other job that occupies my weekdays. I hope that everyone involved in Choir Boy liked me and the job I did well enough to welcome me back into the African American theater community for future projects that require old white guys.

The 2019-20 theater season is promising to be a busy one. The confirmed bookings coming up include my usual turn as the Ansager for Politically Incorrect. In December, I’m playing Dearth in Dear Brutus for Belltower Players. In January, I’m Herr Schultz in Cabaret at the Virginia Samford Theater. I’ve got three more things taking shape after that but I won’t jinx them by naming them before plans are final. This means I won’t get around for my big 2020 trip until late summer/early fall of 2020. I’m going to get together in a few weeks with my travel agent to start batting around ideas. Things that are on my mind include India, China, Peru/Galapagos, Middle East/Egypt and South Africa. I’m still looking for a potential travel buddy if anyone might be interested in talking further.

I got together this evening with Ellise and Diane, the other two members of the troika behind Politically Incorrect Cabaret. We’ve been doing this for more than fifteen years now. The first show was in April of 2004 at the old Moonlight Cafe in Vestavia. LaDonna Smith was running the Birmingham Improv Festival at the time and had asked Diane to create an Improv cabaret for the final night at the venue. Ellise and I had done a couple of church things together where I played the cabaret emcee and she played a variation on Marlene Dietrich and we had met Diane a year previously when we had all been involved with a production of Lysistrata as an anti-war protest. Tommy was also in that Lysistrata as one of the soldiers and I will never forget him walking up the aisle (we did it in the old UU church) with a large balloon phallus strapped to his waist. Diane had the idea of using the Berlin cabaret of the between the wars as the model. I refined my emcee character into the traditional Ansager of the Berlin Cabaret and Ellise and I wrote some sketches and parodies. We were a hit and, before we knew it, we kept going and going and going with a new show every few years.

It’s been hard to come up with a new show in the era of Trump. We actually had an idea and had a show written last year, but Tommy became ill just before we were going to start rehearsing it so it never happened. We’ve got a new concept for this year that we think will work. The thing is we have to not make it about Trump. He’s satire proof. Nothing we can write will be as crazy as reality a month later. We also don’t want to draw the too easy parallels to the rise of Hitler and make the mistakes the Berlin cabaret of the 30s made when dealing with the Nazis. They treated them as buffoons and made the audience laugh and feel good about themselves. We think we need to do something a bit different and make the audience uncomfortable and willing to do something about the present to create a different future.

It’s odd. You meet someone, you work with them on a project, you go your separate ways, and then you collaborate on something that takes on a life of its own and grows into something you never expected and in turn shapes you and your life. When I first played the Emcee for a church thing, it was less than a week after I first met Tommy and I had no idea he was going to be anything in my life other than a nice date. When we did Lysistrata together a few months later, we were dating occasionally, but hadn’t yet settled into being a couple. When we did the first PIC a year after that, we were an entrenched unit, living together, and PIC launched us into the world of Birmingham theater that would shape both of our lives during all of our time together. The show Cabaret also has a weird trajectory in my life. I was too young to have seen the original production or the movie in its original release (I was ten when it came out). I saw the film for the first time in high school and studied the show in college in my musical theater class. My sophomore year of college, Cabaret was the big spring musical. Both Craig Mollerstuen, my roommate and I worked stage crew on it. The show wasn’t the best due to some very odd directorial choices but it did have one amazing moment at the end of the first act. As the cast began to sing Tomorrow Belongs To Me, the stage crew dressed as Nazis appeared through all the wings and pass throughs and the ushers, also dressed as Nazis (and borrowed from the university chorus) marched down the aisles in the house joining in. Frisson. The show opened with a lit marquee sign spelling CABARET which was supposed to light up one letter at a time. Opening night Craig, who was up on the light bridge, was supposed to throw the switches to light the letters up in order. Something happened in the blackout and he tripped over a cord and the B and the A came on at the wrong time. For years we referred to the night that he hung a large BA over Memorial Auditorium, We were sophomores. We didn’t know any better. It may not have been the best production, but it was the show that helped introduce us to Vickie Rozell and helped us understand what made good theater and what made it both succeed and fail.

I’ve seen many productions of Cabaret since then – college, community, and professional. The Studio 54 staging was the first show that Tommy and I saw together in New York – the night we both got smashed on Southern Comfort Manhattans and neither of us could quite remember how we got back to the hotel. In 2007, when CenterStage did Cabaret, I auditioned for the Emcee.Melissa Bailey was smart enough not to cast me and to rather give the role to Chris Sams who was brilliant in the part. I was given Herr Schultz instead, a part I felt I was much too young for at 45 but it was still a great role and I enjoyed my time on the show. Now, nearly thirteen years later, I’m about to revisit that same role on the same stage and once again Chris is playing the Emcee. I’m definitely old enough this time and I’m going to be interested in what my life experiences over the last few years will allow me to bring to the role. Is time standing still? Is it moving in circles? I wonder if Hal Prince and Kander and Ebb knew when they were creating the piece in the mid 60s that it was going to serve as a leitmotif to a geriatrician in the deep south of the 21st century. The threads are many, the pattern complex, and the tapestry can only be viewed in hindsight.

August 16, 2019

I haven’t done a long post for a while. Something like three weeks now. Some of it has been because I’ve been busy. Some of it has been because I’ve been in a better place emotionally (probably because I have been busy). Some of it has been because I’ve been writing on a few other projects.

The last couple of weeks have been devoted to the rehearsal process for Choir Boy, the inaugural production of Birmingham Black Repertory Theater (Opens on Thursday at Birmingham Festival Theater tickets at http://bftonline.org). It’s been a while since I’ve done a drama or had a major line heavy acting role and I was really afraid I wasn’t going to be up to the challenge. I did get the lines down more or less. I know where they all go and the emotional impact and connection for each one. Now if I could just get the words to come out in the right order and wouldn’t get rattled by the addition of new technical elements. The play was on Broadway last season (and won a couple of Tonys) and this is the first production since the Broadway run anywhere so I feel a need to do my role and the piece justice. As I’m following Austin Pendleton in the part, those are pretty big shoes to fill. I seem to be doing something right, because even in rehearsal, I’m getting compliments from people I respect and in whom I am in awe of for their talents. The gig seems to be opening some doors for future projects as well. I’m in talks for a possibility next spring that both elates and terrifies me if it comes to pass. We have four more techs to get everything right. It’s about ninety percent there so I have a good idea of what the final product will be and I think audiences will be pleased. N.B. Birmingham Festival Theater is in the midst of a major fund raiser – make a donation if you can. I did.

In other news on the theatrical front, I did a brief film gig playing a congregant for Eternal World Television Network. Yes, the world headquarters of the Catholic Church’s cable station is just down the street from me in Irondale and lots of friends have had gigs with them for years, especially singers. They needed a mixed crowd for a couple of hours to shoot B roll footage of congregational responses to the mass. So, if you happen to have insomnia, are channel surfing late night and come across EWTN, you may catch a glimpse of me in the fourth pew house left on the end. I’m also working with my other usual partners in crime, Diane McNaronand Ellise Pruitt Mayor on a 2019 edition of Politically Incorrect Cabaret scheduled for September 28th at the Clubhouse on Highland. I can’t really do much while Choir Boy is in rehearsal (my brain is getting too old to hold more than one project at a time) so I have to lock myself away Labor Day week to get the script, such as it is for PIC, hammered out. I do have Labor Day weekend off. Maybe I’ll carry my trusty laptop somewhere secluded and work.

I’ve been missing Tommy the last few weeks for practical reasons. When I came home to discover water all over the basement floor from a leaky HVAC, there was no one to share clean up duties and cuss words with and I had to get all the evaluations and repairs done around my work schedule which is always a bit difficult as I am so locked in with outpatient appointments. All is now well. As I kept mopping things up, I discovered that three problems had actually happened relatively simultaneously. The HVAC drain line had clogged leading to the water flood. The excess water and moisture in the air had done in the aged dehumidifier that keeps the damp out of the basement and, for good measure, something with very sharp teeth, had discovered where I keep the extra cans of beer and soda for parties and was puncturing them and sending sprays of carbonation all over the place. One HVAC repair, two new dehumidifiers, and three cats to roam the basement later, and the floor seems to be staying dry. It will need some repainting before I resell. I’ll add that chore to my never ending punch list.

I should tell a story. One that came up this week, after the news came out that Tommy’s old boss was fined $1.5 million dollars for defrauding federal health programs, involves Tommy’s stay at Birmingham Health Care. As most of you know, Tommy was a renaissance man with a number of different career paths over his life. He had been a major mover and shaker in the Birmingham gay community in the 1980s and was one of the committed volunteers that helped put together the HIV programs that would grow into Birmingham AIDS Outreach and AIDS Alabama. At the time, he was a professional chef and baker working for the Sheraton, Continental Bakery and even operating his own restaurant with his brother – Classic Pizza and Barbeque in the Clay Chalkville area. He got tired of restaurant hours and, with his health care volunteerism behind him, went to Jeff State and got his RN degree, starting out as a Pediatric Nurse at Childrens and UAB. He had this social justice component, however, and when Birmingham Healthcare for the Homeless, under the leadership of Jonathan Dunning, began making significant inroads into underserved populations, he headed over there and took a job as an ambulatory nurse.

Tommy, being one of the most competent people ever, soon rose from clinic nurse, to chief nurse, to chief nursing officer. At the same time, Birmingham Healthcare for the Homeless changed itself into a multisite Federally Qualified Health Center, dropping the Homeless part of its name as its programs expanded. This is what he was doing when we met each other in late 2002. In 2003, BHC moved from its downtown location into an old plastic surgery clinic on southside, greatly increasing its footprint. They opened more satellites, and started to swallow other FQHCs around the state. Tommy, as chief nursing officer (#4 in the company) was put in charge of ethics and compliance and making sure that the federal grants were adhered to. He was busy, but things were going relatively well for a year or so. In late 2004 and early 2005, Jonathan and Sharon Waltz, his number 2, started to treat him radically differently, making impossible demands on him, denigrating his work etc. etc. The last straw for me was when they sent him on a long scheduled vacation with a grant proposal that he was supposed to have completed the day we got back. We spent most of the cruise together in the cabin writing the thing. Tommy was sure something was up with Jonathan and Sharon but couldn’t quite put his finger on it. I encouraged him to quit and do something different as he was being badly abused. I hadn’t expected him to go back for a music degree, but that’s another story altogether. He did quit in the spring of 2005. Shortly thereafter, per various court cases, with their pesky ethical compliance officer out of the way, Jonathan and Sharon embarked on a series of schemes to enrich themselves at federal expense. (You can google the news articles on it all, published after the whole house of cards came tumbling down around 2012). Jonathan and Sharon also hooked up in a long term affair that produced two children so Tommy’s suspicions were at last corroborated. Once the FBI got involved, we both expected a call to find out what we knew, but it never came. Tommy was gone before the shenanigans got going. We had a lot of fun reading the news pieces to each other as they came out and indulging in a certain schadenfreude. Jonathan is in the clink for another 12 years or so. Sharon seems to have escaped jail time, but continued her grifts after the collapse of BHC and these seem to have landed her in new hot water.

That’s probably more than any of you ever wanted to know about local health care scandals. I can give you more juicy details if you buy me a margarita.