LGBTheater – Rainbow Curtain Stories #9: We can be Genet (just for one day)

Not many authors can say they have a Pulitzer, a Pinter Prize, an Oscar or a Nobel. Even fewer can say they have been quoted by his majesty David Bowie himself in one of his songs. 1972: The Artist Formerly Known As Ziggy Stardust releases Jean Genie, single taken from the all-time-classic Aladdin Sane: the title clearly refers to Jean Genet, French playwright and novelist, who in the meantime was traveling through the Middle East as a journalist, managing to get an interview with Yasser Arafat in Jordan.

Jean Genet.

The rebel spirit of those incredible years, avoiding every definition but the genius one, the definition that transcends definitions… by definition. That’s the definition for both the words’ master from the suburbs of Paris and the Thin White Duke. Bowie earned that epithet from climbing the Olympus of the black music with his bare, pale hands. If music was a car, his said Brixton on the plate, but his passengers were Ray Charles, James Brown, Stevie Wonder. While RCA tried to get the exclusive on the new hit of the Duke, Genet was a couple miles from there, invited in the USA by the Black Panthers as the reporter with the most lethal pen on the revolution side.

As Koltès, Genet stood with the last ones, without considering himself one despite the oppressions he suffered for his sexuality. In his work The Blacks, the French dramatist inverts the poles of Bowie’s game of masks and make-up: he asks the black actors, and at least one spectator if the whole audience is black, to do the whiteface. Cross-dressing has a main role in The Maids, a play about two girls the author wanted to be impersonated by young male boys. 

With a little help from his troubled life, from the more than humble origins, the arrest for homosexuality, and the early death of the man he loved, Genet develops his sense of smell for the world’s bitterness. Cruelty lies in every corner of the world, through the deviated nature of men and the power structure of the society. The only way to display this is through theater in the theater: the characters have their own characters, the tool they use to sadistically impose themselves over the weaker ones. Homosexuality, outstandingly for a gay author, is one of the many means to mask a vision of love solely made of hate and domination.

Thinking about Bowie’s dresses, made of plumes and sparks, before the only coming out as a straight man the history remembers, the ghosts of the two artists seem to merge. Parallel destinies escaping from social, demographical, and sexual identities, who as every parallel line finally met: the Duke dies at 69, Genet at 75, still with the punk attitude of those who are young eternally, always siding with the good. So, here’s the ninth challenge for the Carlo Annoni Prize’s participants: imagine your play as it was music. How would you like it to sound? 

LGBTheater – Rainbow curtain stories #8: Ode to the Masters

Today we’d like to talk about a great author, known for his peculiar personality, a taste for controversy, and, most of all, a fluffy, orange haircut thatsummarizes his style. Don’t worry: he has never been the President of the United States of America. We are talking about Alan Bennett, an English actor, screenwriter, and playwright.

Born in 1934, he wrote his first success in 1960: Beyond the Fringe, a satirical revue who built his fame of a loose cannon, as it contained tons of caricatures of the authorities of the time under the rain of the audience’s laughter. 

The first steps of an author who showed many times not to fear to be misunderstood or considered offensive: the proof will show up in The History Boys, written half a century after Beyond the Fringe, in 2004. Maybe his hair color faded, but his talent didn’t: the play got enthusiastic reviews all around the globe, becoming a true modern classic in Italy at the Elfo Puccini, directed by Ferdinando Bruni and Elio De Capitani.

Alan Bennett.

Eight students, preparing themselves for the admission tests in the main United Kingdom’s universities, face a principal who considers their success a sign of prestige for the whole school. That’s why he decides to hire a new teacher to train his boys for their exams: Irwin, who we will discover to be gay and involved in an affair with his students, along with his elder colleague Hector. 

In a minimalist plot, brighter rather than provocative, a trait peculiar of the queer literature emerges: the guide’s figure. A kind of character who starts his journey in the poetries dedicated to the ephebes of Ancient Greece, ending in the thoughts of Mario Mieli, founder of the homosexual movement in Italy unrightfully accused to be a pedophile by the catholic right-wing, for saying children are free creatures, untouched by a society that promotes heterosexuality. Hector goes against an education that just helps to achieve good grades in university tests, pushing his boys towards an open mind instead.

That makes us think about an era in which the pandemic and the economic crisis affected education and civil rights. Closed schools, banned culture, and even more fuel into the wrath for business are sold as the parachute to save society. So, here it is our eighth challenge for the Carlo Annoni Prize participants: when your characters are drowning in their life, who helps them swim back to the top?

LGBTheater – Rainbow curtain stories #7: Ulysses in Italy

As it took 20 years for Ulysses to come back to Ithaca, it took us seven episodes to come back to Italy. Not because the Mediterranean country needed more time to come out with an LGBT+ playwright, but because we couldn’t decide which one to start with.

After two needed honorable mentions to Pier Paolo Pasolini and Mario Mieli, we went for one of the most controversial Italian authors of the last century: Giovanni Testori.

Giovanni Testori (ph: Valerio Soffientini)

Testori was born, like Sarah Kane, in a deeply religious family, who pushes him towards fascism. He collaborates with some fascist student associations during the years of WW2, in the meantime devoting himself to painting. His real, homosexual identity will be hidden for years until meeting the director Luchino Visconti, gay as well.

It happened during the Fifties’ when Testori focused on narrating the suburbs of Milan, which at the time was all but the modern, European city it is today. L’Arialda, set in the periphery, is the first drama in Italy about a homosexual couple, born from love and not from perversion, as the catholic misconception about the LGBT+ community dictated. That brought to a court both Testori and Visconti, who directed the movie.

The more one tries to shut a genius, the harder it springs back, like a water tube closed with force. A second friendship, with the actor Franco Parenti and one of the first great female directors in Italy, Andrée Ruth Shammah, let Testori see onstage his Trilogia degli Scarrozzanti (roughly Trilogy of the Tramps). The first chapter, Ambleto (from Shakespeare’s Hamlet), written in a fake 17th century French-Lombard creole, contains gay versions of Bard’s characters, surrounded by a surreal and tragicomical, Copi-like atmosphere.

After fascists, Milanese gangsters, and homosexuals, Testori finally met Christians: in the sad years after the death of his mother (1977) he felt an urge for a companion, even a religious one, and he thought anyone else needed to. His last works are religious plays, similar to the ones of the medieval age, still enriched by his style made of a blur distinction between reality and the stage.

Testori dies in 1993. Like Ulysses, who saw mages and sirens before coming back to Ithaca, the contemporary poet sailed through every sea of thought and expression, suspended between the two opposite forces of individual and sexual freedom and the catholic sense of guilt. So, here we are at the seventh challenge for the participants of the Carlo Annoni Prize: when comes the time, for an author, to experiment in its theatre?