As summer cools down, the fall theater season in New York heats up with lengthier runs of higher-profile productions. Throughout the month of June, however, live shows are about as brief and bawdy as the outfits seen marching down Fifth Avenue at the pride parade. And nothing makes me prouder to be a gay theatergoer than hot one-night stands and extremely limited engagements.
OK, so a lesbian couple walks into Town Hall carrying just-bought mini blinds from Home Depot. No, it's not the setup for a bad gay joke; fittingly, it's the first thing I saw at Sandra Bernhard's Without You I'm Nothing: The 20th Anniversary Show. This one-night-only NYC performance was presented as part of a monthlong concert series by Josh Wood Productions called Summerwood: The Other Pride Celebration, which partially benefited Heritage of Pride. I hadn't read anything about the show's recent limited engagement in London's West End, so I expected a word-for-word re-creation of Bernhard's satirical 1987 solo masterpiece (I guess "20th" had a better ring than "22nd"), but it turned out to be a "best of" spliced with new stand-up about her girlfriend, daughter, and Stevie Nicks.
I've practically worn out my VHS copy of the 1990 film version of Without You I'm Nothing , but the feisty crowd on June 10 reenacted her revived material (especially her queer-empowerment monologue set to Sylvester's "Mighty Real") like we were at a Rocky Horror screening. (Unfamiliar with Bernhard's legacy, my boyfriend Nick couldn't understand how a classic line like "There must've been dust on that mint" could earn riotous applause.) Among her newer material, Bernhard refashioned Dolly Parton's "Jolene" as "Jolie," a fantasy number that imagined a love triangle between Bernhard and Brangelina. New York gay club comic Hedda Lettuce has been doing the same bit for years, but if Sandy's going to steal, at least she's stealing from drag queens.
Audra McDonald and Anne Hathaway
Speaking of drag and deception, the hottest (and cheapest) ticket in town in June was the Shakespeare in the Park production of Twelfth Night , Shakespeare's gender-bending comedy of mistaken identities at Central Park's outdoor Delacorte Theater. Clearly capitalizing on the popularity of RuPaul's Drag Race , this summer's stellar season (which also includes The Bacchae by Euripides in August) has gone so far as to use the promise of "Cross-dressing in the Park" on posters and other promotional materials. But what's really giving the drag king community more street cred than it's had in years is the fact that America's sweetheart Anne Hathaway, playing Viola disguised as a boy, enjoys the first girl-on-girl kiss of her career with Private Practice 's Audra McDonald as Olivia.
On Saturday, June 20, the evening I attended, it had been lightly drizzling for hours. The show's publicists assured me that they hadn't canceled a performance due to bad weather yet; even so, many soggy seats remained empty for the usually sold-out free show. After a wet but wonderful first act, someone made an announcement over the loudspeaker that the actors were "holding for precipitation" shortly after the second act began. Without missing a beat, Nick peeked out from under his hoodie and said, "I didn't know this show had audience precipitation." (Like guys who wear "mom jeans," Nick tells corny "dad jokes.") I wanted to stay for Hathaway's Sapphic smooch, but after a few endless minutes listening to the sound of rustling ponchos, I pulled an "I'm a Celebrity Journalist, Get Me Out of Here!"