Trying on alternative lives
by Roberto Friedman
Biographies can be great reads. They let you walk a mile in another woman's shoes. Here are brief mentions of three new bios that have recently come across our desk. Look for reviews to come.
1. The publisher's release portrays Call Me Debbie: True Confessions of a Down-to-Earth Diva (Harper), by Deborah Voigt with Natasha Stoynoff , as "a tell-all memoir about Voigt's private battles with and ultimate recovery from her food addiction, alcoholism, and other self-destructive tendencies that ultimately led this brilliantly gifted and internationally loved starlet to the brink of personal destruction." But that doesn't begin to describe the journey that the dramatic soprano Voigt took after being fired from a Royal Opera House production because she was deemed too big to fit into her "little black dress."
"When you look at someone whose face is buried in fat, which mine was because I tend to carry weight in my face, and it was getting bigger and bigger, expressions don't read as clearly, especially on a big stage. That's why in my heavier days the makeup artists used to try to 'paint on' features for me by shading and contouring the sides and underneath my face."
Voigt eventually slimmed down, then took the opera world by storm. Once-fat girls rule.
2. Out at Home – The True Story of Glenn Burke, Baseball's First Openly Gay Player (Berkley Books), by Glenn Burke with Erik Sherman , and with a foreword by Billy Bean , includes a new afterword by co-author Sherman reflecting on the two decades since Burke's death from AIDS-related complications.
Burke was a California native who played Major League Baseball as an outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1970s. He had support from family and Castro-based friends, but was traded to the Oakland Athletics and eventually hounded out of pro baseball by prejudice and macho intolerance. Only long after his death is he being recognized as the gay pioneer he was.
"The Dodgers just never gave me a chance. They blackballed me, and that fact still bothers me to this day. Little did they know who else was gay in the baseball world."
3. Next month American Conservatory Theater will celebrate the publication of artistic director Carey Perloff's new memoir Beautiful Chaos – A Life i n the Theater (City Lights). Perloff, the firecracker behind the incendiary success of the theatre-company-school, will be interviewed by KQED-FM's Forum host Michael Krasny on Sunday, March 8, at 7 p.m., at ACT Theater, 415 Geary St., SF. The event is free, though reservations are required. The public can go to act-sf.org for more information.
Seduced by pleasure
Last Thursday night Out There was in the house for the party Courtesans, Cooks, Samurai and Servants, the opening event for the exhibition Seduction: Japan's Floating World at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. Per the AAM: "In Edo-period Japan (1615-1868), the most celebrated destination for hedonists was the Yoshiwara, a walled and moated pleasure district where patrons could abandon the rigors of daily life in pursuit of sensual delights. With more than 60 works of art, Seduction: Japan's Floating World examines the decadent lifestyle associated with Edo's (present-day Tokyo) entertainment districts and the enticing though complicated world of the Yoshiwara."
If the museum wasn't quite a red-light district for the occasion, there was plenty of divertissement to be found. Party entertainment included performance artist Midori staging tableaux vivants, DJ Proof (Massive Selector) spinning discs, erotic haiku readings, belly dance performances, and a sake-flight tasting. It was great to see so many young people, LGBT people, folks in costume and sexy get-up, and art-lovers on the frolic. We had truly arrived at our idea of a Pleasure Dome.
Renowned British actor Derek Jacobi took the London (1986) and Broadway theatre communities (1987, three Tony nominations) by storm in Breaking the Code, a biographical drama about the gay mathematical genius Alan Turing . The teleplay was produced by the BBC in 1996, and broadcast on PBS in the USA. Currently, The Imitation Game (2014), a feature film about Turing, the crucial part he played in defeating the Nazi war machine, and his eventual martyrdom on the cross of English homophobia, is in theatrical release, with Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing wowing critics and audiences. It was nominated for eight Academy Awards and five Golden Globe Awards. Activists are trying to get Turing's homosexuality conviction (and others convicted in the UK) overturned. No less a figure than Queen Elizabeth II pardoned Turing in 2013.
Now Breaking the Code, by playwright Hugh Whitemore and directed by John Fisher , plays Theatre Rhino in a limited run, March 4-21, at the Eureka Theatre in SF. Opening night is Sat., March 7. Look for a review in these pages. Tickets & info: TheRhino.org.