Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A Show, a Discussion, and a Q&A with Armistead

Acclaimed “Tales of the City” writer Amistead Maupin appeared on May 17, 2009 at a Theatre Rhinoceros and Word for Word Performing Arts Company triple play show at Theater Rhino’s 16th Street locale for a “three on a Party” presentation, on stage through June 7.

Calling Maupin “our muse,” Theatre Rhinoceros Executive Director John Fisher affirmed his admiration for Maupin’s work while the two relaxed on stage chairs after the play performances.

Repeated references in Maupin’s tales to new age obsessions drew nervous knowing laughter from the audience, and the revelation that he was so conservative in his youth that he worked for Jesse Helms drew muffled gasps. Maupin explained that closeted gays submerge their sexuality in homophobic and hateful surroundings to “keep the lid on.” He let on that conservatives do not mind gays, as long as they hate themselves. Moving to San Francisco was a conscious effort for sexual evolution and for freedom from inhibitions.

An allure of “Tales of the City” was that the gay lead character did not die in the end, and that gay sex can be uplifting and fulfilling. San Francisco is on display with all of its beauty, outrageous characters ---
many of whom are sexual acrobats, and the guessing of which character relates to a real person, and who they interact with kept interest surging when “Tales” was a serial in the San Francisco
Chronicle. But the gay men and their friends who swarmed onto the #8 Market bus in the morning and tore through their Chronicles to read the latest installment of the “Tales” did not know that prudes at the newspaper censored Maupin for certain words and situations. Maupin said that he saves 300 trees a year by reading the Chronicle online, and he said sorrowfully that he is part of the problem that newspapers face now.

It was a warm evening and the auditorium was stuffy, but the audience stayed throughout the three-hour, three-part play presentation and to witness the discussion between Armistead Maupin and John Fisher, a Q&A, and a reception that featured Maupin’s friend, artist Don Bacardy, who was Christopher Isherwood’s lover. Their attention was awarded by Maupin’s revelation that he is working on his 8th “Tales of the City” novel.

When asked, Maupin said that marriage equality is inevitable, though gays have never needed a certificate to signify their commitments. And he said that a commitment can be separate from fidelity. As for gays in the military, Maupin related the blatant homoeroticism that he experienced in the navy. Gay naval tailors even enhanced the butts of gay sailor’s uniforms to intensify their allure.

Asked about Tennessee Williams, whose play and one by Gertrude Stein preceded Maupin’s during the evening, he said that while he was in the closet he avoided Williams’ work because of all the beatings and stabbings of gay men trying to sexually devour “rough trade.” This was a continuous shock on stage that night. After coming out Maupin admired Williams’ work and met him at a party in San Francisco. The dangers of fame was evident at the event as young men jumped next to Williams to have their picture taken, as if they were acquainted with the playwright. Later Maupin and Williams shared a quiet moment outside with a hemp treat.

A reference in Armistead Maupin’s play “Suddenly Home” to a Gay Shame and ACT UP protest at Nordstrom’s in 1988, where 300 activists swarmed onto the spiral escalators to chant about the firing of an HIV-positive employee, is among the best of the pictorial flavor of Maupin’s literary art. Maupin’s play is the third in the three-some, and it is the most accessible.

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