Will "The Chronicles of Firma" Ever Cease to Be a 'Gay Fantasy Series'?

by Pat Nelson Childs

As we progress into a new millenium, I sometimes reflect sadly on how little has been done to "normalize" gayness in our society. Of course, I mean American society, because Europe and even our neighbors to the north are light years ahead of us in this respect. To be fair, our government doesn't execute gays (if you ever saw the video of the two gay Iranian teens being executed, you might think twice about how bad things are for us here), and we've reached a point where even most conservative pundits support legal rights for gays, though generally more in theory than in practice (and no, Ann Coulter doesn't count. The only "value" she represents is the size of her royalty checks). Even President Bush has come out (sorry poor choice of words) in favor of civil unions. I point this out simply to illustrate how far we've actually managed to come in the past 20 years in some respects. A sitting Republican president (and staunch Christian Conservative) publicly expressing support for civil unions? If that isn't progress, I don't know what is.

But these things are more in the nature of political progress. What I've always been more interested in (and think is far more important) is achieving the "normalization" of alternative sexualities, a state in which the sight of two men sharing a kiss on a bus or in a TV commercial doesn't immediately produce waves of indignant outrage and endless punditry about the decline of Western civilization. Does it strike anyone else as odd that gays can adopt children in most states with the blessing of the majority, but that same majority goes absolutely ape shit if two girls hold hands on the bus? Gays can adopt children as long as they don't show any love for one another? Isn't that going to produce a way more fucked-up kid than one who just happens to have two mommies?

Snehal Desai: Interview

By Jeff Walsh

Snehal Desai is 28 years old, and only finished his master's degree in directing from Yale University three months ago, but he's already made his way to San Francisco with his one-man show.

"Finding Ways to Prove You're NOT an Al Qaeda Terrorist When You're Brown (and other stories of the gIndian) is Desai's one-man show exploring his life as a gay Indian through monologues that explore his sexual, spiritual, pharmaceutical, and cultural dimensions. From ex-boyfriends who both invent and then eroticize his curry-scented skin to family members who keep pushing him toward arranged marriages, the show moves quickly through its various terrains.

Some of the show's best moments take place when Desai's character (we'll get into the whole non-autobiographical one-man show aspect in the interview) visits India and finds the country's openness about same-sex intimacy refreshing, even if it isn't completely indicative of its acceptance of homosexuality. He also explores the pain of queer children forced to confirm to that society's will, yet at the same time finds poetry and beauty in a kite-flying competition that encapsulates the best qualities of the human spirit, if we could all looking at one another the same way permanently.

I saw the show tonight, but spoke with Desai yesterday, catching up with him in middle of tech rehearsal for his West coast premiere. Here's what we said:

Chad Allen: Interview

By Jeff Walsh

Chad Allen has a lot on his plate.

His latest entries to the Donald Strachey gay detective movies, "On The Other Hand, Death" and "Ice Blues," the third and fourth installments, are being released soon.

"Save Me," the movie he produced with Robert Gant and Judith Light, comes to theaters in September.

And, at present, he's finishing up a successful run of a play with Valerie Harper as Talullah Bankhead. But he's no stranger to theater, recently doing Douglas Carter Beane's "Little Dog Laughed," which required him to get naked onstage.

But what's most surprising is that for how long he's been out and doing good work as an actor, activist, and role model, this is his first interview in Oasis. This oversight is officially corrected.

I first remember Chad from his role on "Our House" in 1986 (yeah, yeah, you weren't born yet, I get it) when he was only 12 (and in the business for seven years at that point). He later went on to a regular role on "Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman."

In 1996, when he was 21, photos of him kissing a guy in a hot tub appeared in The Globe tabloid. They were sold to the rag by Allen's then-boyfriend (I'd never heard that tidbit before, but Wikipedia doesn't lie).

He waited until 2001 to officially come out, and has since been very open about his past partying and drug addiction, his spiritual journey, and his new role as: an openly gay activist, an actor doing great work, and and "old fogie" who’s more interested in hanging out at home with his boyfriend and dogs.

I bring up his past both to give context to some of what we talk about in the interview, but mainly because in "Save Me," his character starts as a drug-addicted party boy who cleans up to find love and a better life, which (aside from the ex-gay ministry setting), seems to touch on Allen's own journey, as well.

Chad and I spoke on the phone last week. Here's what we said:

Save Me: Movie Review

By Jeff Walsh

"Save Me" is an independent movie opening in theaters in September, and it is the first production from Mythgarden, the production house started by openly gay actors Chad Allen and Robert Gant.

In the opening scene we see Mark (Allen) doing drugs, drinking, and having hot vacant sex with a hot vacant guy -- bottoming and bottoming out. The next morning at check out time, the motel owner finds Mark on the motel room floor, having overdosed.

He wakes up in a hospital room, screaming at his brother and yelling at his mother, who is in the hospital hallway, but unable to even come in the room and look at her son. They pay for him to spend two months at Genesis House, a Christian-run "ex-gay" ministry that can also handle his sobriety issues (they use the same 12 steps to cure people of their sexuality anyway).

At the center, Mark encounters Scott (Gant), another "ex-gay" at the live-in center run by Gayle (Judith Light). I won't spoil the details, but anyone whose ever seen a movie before can figure out where this is going, not that it makes the journey any less interesting to watch.

"On The Other Hand, Death" and "Ice Blues": Movie Reviews

By Jeff Walsh

"On The Other Hand, Death" is the latest Donald Strachey mystery starring Chad Allen (playing now on the Here! Network). But if that's not enough to hold you, a fourth installment called "Ice Blues" is coming out in September. As a fan of the first two Strachey movies, these two have the same fun charm as the earlier outings.

In "On The Other Hand, Death," Strachey investigates the story of an older lesbian couple. One half of the couple (Margot Kidder) is a high school guidance counselor that is a target of harassment since coming out to the school, and the couple is also being harassed for being the only people not willing to sell their home as part of a huge deal to bring a large store chain to their sleepy suburb.

There are other interconnected subplots involving both sides of the lesbian couple's story, but the Strachey stories make it pretty easy to swallow and a fun time. The director really loves putting a lot of classic noir nods throughout the movie, which always make it enjoyable.

Chad Allen is the key to making these work, though, which is evident in that this is the third of four Strachey movies that has been filmed (out of six that are planned) with him in the lead role.

No Regret: Movie Review

By Jeff Walsh

Whoa. I just finished watching what is considered the first “true gay film in Korean cinema,” and if this is how they mark their entrance to world cinema, they are more than welcome to make as many gay movies as they want.

The movie, “No Regret,” apparently shocked Korean audiences when it was first released, and the movie comes out in New York and Los Angeles at the end of July, and in San Francisco at the end of August (check website to see when more cities are added).

Similar to the gay Japanese movie “Boys Love” that I recently reviewed, this is a movie that doesn’t have that cultural take on an old story feel to it. It is a modern, worthwhile movie that depicts the characters’ lives in Seoul, but the emphasis is on story above all else.

Sumin leaves the orphanage where he grew up and goes to Seoul, where to help pay for his studies and cost of living he has to do factory work as well as a second job as a driver. One night, he has to drive Jaemin home. Jaemin is slightly older and rich, and also interested in more than a ride home.

Holding Trevor: Movie Review

By Jeff Walsh

"Holding Trevor" is a film that takes a look at the patterns we find ourselves in in life, and whether or not we can break free of them. In the movie, Trevor is trying to put a big chunk of his past behind him, namely his best friend turned boyfriend turned junkie. The movie starts as he is taking his ex to the hospital after an overdose.

Trevor spends a lot of time with his roommate Andie and their promiscuous musician friend Jake until he meets a hunky doctor named Ephram who offers him a new path.

The movie follows more of an emotional arc than a story arc, in that we are mainly watching characters live their lives and seeing how everyone’s life has more complexities than we want others to know about. In an age where people are constantly hanging out, always connected and sharing their lives, when Trevor is stressed, he drives through the car wash and screams as the car is being soaped down. And when Andie gets big news, she also keeps it a secret.

Another Gay Sequel -- Gays Gone Wild: Movie Review

By Jeff Walsh

If you loved the raunchy, politically incorrect fun of “Another Gay Movie,” you’re in luck, they made a sequel. “Another Gay Sequel: Gays Gone Wild” picks up where the last movie left off, this time sending its horny quartet off to spring break.

I have to say, as a fan of the first movie, it was initially disconcerting that a majority of the main roles were recast. I hadn’t seen the original for a while, so instead of connecting the dots, I just thought I had really forgotten the first one. There were jokes that, in retrospect, were explicitly there to clue you in, such as agents not wanting their clients to do two gay movies in a row. But for whatever reason, it took me a while to figure it out. Having read this, you won’t suffer the same fate.

At spring break, the gay clothing optional resort has a “Gays Gone Wild” contest, where everyone gets a unique rubber stamp and whenever you sleep with someone, you stamp their card and whoever gets the most stamps on their headboard-shaped card wins. The main competition for the boys is a group of Jaspers who are modeled after the trio in “Heathers.” While the first movie stayed focused on mainly parodying gay movies, the sequel takes a broader approach (which makes sense, given that they hit every major gay movie last time). So, it is a bit harder catching all the references since you don’t have as much perspective where they’ll be coming from.

Almost Infamous: Kinsey Sicks Movie Review

By Jeff Walsh

"Almost Infamous" is the new documentary about The Kinsey Sicks from the same people that brought us the amazingly well-shot and entertaining "I Wanna Be A Republican" live concert. The movie recently had its world premiere at the 32nd annual San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival.

It's really two movies in one. The first half sets up the history and back stories of the group and its current and former members, whereas the second half is where it becomes the drag queen equivalent of Metallica's "Some Kind of Monster," where we see the group dealing with the strain of being a touring group about to have their own show in Las Vegas.

I've been a fan of the group for years, so seeing their history was more of a flashback for me than an educational experience. The only San Francisco show I didn't see was their first time singing publicly at Harvey Milk Plaza in the Castro (and, stupidly, the shows they shot for the first movie). But the documentary team got to dig in deep and really introduce us to the boys behind the Kinseys. We get to meet their families, and see how Irwin Keller's mother is the inspiration for Winnie, learn that Ben Schatz (as the lawyer who drafted Clinton's AIDS policies) gave Bill a copy of their first Dragapella CD the night before he was impeached giving him a good laugh during a serious time, and how Chris Dilley and Jeff Manabat had to fill the heels of the members who came before them.

David Sedaris: Interview

By Jeff Walsh

I've been a fan of David Sedaris for years, to the point where many of his stories have become touchstones in my life.

There are people in my life who are more highly valued because I can say "You can't kill the rooster" at an appropriate moment, and nothing more needs to be said. Living in San Francisco, where food is a way of life, Sedaris's "Today's Special" remains my favorite, where the often-beleaguered Sedaris suffers through gourmet cuisine featuring entrees served with a "medley of suffocated peaches" or "mummified lychee nuts."

His latest book, "When You Are Engulfed In Flames," continues the journey millions of readers have taken into his life and features 22 of his humorous essays. It is currently the number one book on the New York Times Best Seller List for hardcover nonfiction. The essays jump decades and moods, with Sedaris as the only constant. There are moments that are touching, uncomfortable, and hilarious, with the largest piece in the book being Sedaris's tale of quitting smoking (which he did solely because his favorite hotels all went non smoking).

Already, my favorite moment in the book is Sedaris having an uncomfortable encounter with a taxi driver taking him from LaGuardia to the West Village in "Town and Country." During the ride, the cab driver starts talking incessantly about sex and finally determines that Sedaris is gay, taunting him non-stop with "Do you like the dick, David?"

I read half of the book and had Sedaris read the other half to me (on audio book, not in person), and I have to say there is a lot of benefit to hearing him read his own work. At this point, I hear his voice when I read the book anyway, but his delivery and characters are really getting better and better.

I met Sedaris for an interview two and a half hours before he was scheduled to do a reading at Books, Inc. in San Francisco. We did the interview in the manager's office while he signed stock for the store to sell after he leaves town. Nearly 75 people were already lined up outside waiting to attend his event that night, and the reading would be completely sold out without question.

The interview was pretty breezy and fun, and flowed pretty well. Given the fact that Sedaris is a known diary keeper, who has gotten famous turning those diaries into humorous essays, I thought that was a good place for us to start our interview, seeing that this is a site largely founded on people writing about their lives.

Here's what we said:

If You Believe In Mermaids, Don't Tell: Book Review

By dykehalo

"If You Believe In Mermaids... Don't Tell" is a new novel by A.A. Phillips that would be a welcome addition to the bookshelf of anyone from ages 9-12. After that, it'd still be an easy quick read, but probably too easy and quick, even for a good story. That said, I can't recall ever reading a book that is specifically about not really fitting into a gender. I think this book could help people who are dealing with gender identity issues but aren’t necessarily transgender.

Todd is a pre-teen boy and for years his father has been pushing him into sports camps every summer, and putting him on sports teams during the school year. When Todd informs his father that this year he wants to hang out by the community pool and dive all summer his father does not accept this as a reasonable way to spend the summer.

His father strongly believes that boys are meant to play sports and diving is not a sport. Todd is handed a stack of sport camp brochures and is made to choose one. However, slipped in between the brochures for sports camps is a brochure to nature camp. Todd chooses the nature camp because even though bugs gross him out he believes that anything is better then a sports camp. Besides, the nature one looks promising with the hopes of a decent lake where Todd can practicing diving.

Robin De Jesus: Anatomy of a Tony Nomination

By Jeff Walsh

When I last interviewed Robin De Jesus in February 2007, it was the afternoon before the opening night of the Off-Broadway run of In The Heights. The show has since shut its doors Off-Broadway, retooled for a proper Broadway run, and has since swept the Tony nominations in the musical category, with 13 nominations including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score, Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical (for show creator Lin-Manuel Miranda), Best Direction and Best Choreography.

But the nomination that brings us together here is Best Featured Performer in a Musical, for which Robin is one of the five nominees. I've been a fan of Robin's since first seeing him in the sweet movie Camp, where he played a gay teen with a straight crush. I'll be seeing In The Heights the next time I'm on the east coast (the show was dark between its Off-Broadway and Broadway runs when I was there last time).

So, between feeling so happy for Robin and figuring I should jump on any chance to feature a 23-year-old openly gay actor nominated for creating a role in a hot show on Broadway, we jumped on the phone recently to capture his life in this unique window before the awards air on CBS on June 15.

A Four Letter Word: Movie Review

By Jeff Walsh

"A Four Letter Word" is a new gay independent comedy playing select theaters (check their website for the release schedule) and, while I didn't hate it, it certainly seemed like it lacked the cohesion that could have made it a better, more enjoyable movie.

But, let's start with the basics. Luke is a sex-friendly, quick-witted hottie who wakes up after a night of bar-hopping in a pile of naked strangers -- clearly not the first time this has happened. He works at Gayborhood, a sex store in NYC's gay Chelsea district with his co-worker Zeke. Luke is a free spirit who happens to meet Stephen, who challenges him to question whether he really could give up his life of random sex with strangers and settle down. There is also a cute young interracial couple, Peter and Derek, who are making the big transition of moving in together. On top of that, Peter's boss, Marilyn, is engaged and maniacally planning her wedding.

Those are the stories in a nutshell. If you don't quite see the relationships linking the first three characters to the latter three, I didn't either and I saw the movie twice. There are some scenes where you see them all interact, but even then they never gel as being all one large group of friends. They're just funny lesser stories to cut to in between telling Luke's story.

Boys Love: DVD Review

By Jeff Walsh

"Boys Love" is a Japanese movie that doesn't need much translation. A lot of foreign movies require you to make assumptions about what life is like there in addition to the story that's actually being told, but Boys Love is a very modern film set in Japan, but with a universal, relatable story.

Mamiya is a young shy editor at a magazine whose first assignment as a writer is to interview teen model, Noel. Over the course of the interview, Noel makes a sexual play for Mamiya. Again, what could have turned into an angsty quest to determine his sexuality is avoided, and we only know Mamiya is drawn to Noel. Sexuality is a huge element to the film, but a largely unspoken one.

Noel (Takumi Saitoh) handles his role well, since it seems like it would be easy to find fault in the role of someone in the spotlight that exudes charisma. It would be easy not to buy into the conceit that this person would not draw such attention in real life (then again, I still think that about Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan, I don't get what the fuss is about). Whereas Mamiya (Yoshikazu Kotani) seems like it would be the easier role, playing the shy, non-famous journalist.

A Tale of Two Comics

By Jeff Walsh

Two groundbreaking gay comics are out this month with new specials. Jason Stuart: Making It To The Middle (airing on here! TV) and Suzanne Westenhoefer: A Bottom On Top (airing on LOGO, and available on DVD) are two examples of gay standup pioneers still doing their thing. Both filmed their specials away from the traditional gay cities, both have acts that largely deal with them being gay, but on many levels they couldn't be more different.

Stuart comes across as very caring, down to earth and nice in the interview segments during his special, but onstage that's all gone. His act was just too ADD and superficially gay for me (the ADD thing is saying a lot for a comic, since they all tend to go from one topic to another, often without any transition). It just seemed more like a lot of interplay with the audience, mincing and quips, "brokeback" moments with a cute guy in the front row, and a frenzy and rush that never lets up. But that pace also robs us of getting to know Stuart better.

Westenhoefer, on the other hand, goes onstage without much of a script, and most of her show is improvised. But, she just seems so calm and natural onstage, just letting the stories unspool, but always bringing the funny at regular intervals.

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