Three On A Party – Tennessee and Stein “Oh My!”; Spamalot – Funnyalot!; Flicker Bits – Queer Hip Hop and One More Thing!

by Buzzin' Lee Hartgrave on May 29, 2009


The beginning: Extremely hilarious Monty Python hijinks set the tone for the show. Here’s how it goes: “To the North — the Anglo-Saxons. The South — the French. To the East — nothing but Celts and some people from Scotland!” A great bit is Christopher Sutton (Not Dead Fred) singing – “I’m not dead yet!” Sutton is just wonderful in every part that he plays in the insane musical. What a great talent …

The song that “The Lady of the Lake and the Laker Girls sing (Come With Me) with King Arthur “The Song That Goes Like This” is just amazing as Merle Dandridge blows everyone out of their seat with her fantastic voice. Even before she started to sing – the hormones in the audience was going crazy. She is a stunning beauty. And that voice – “Wow!” Dandridge shaked the dome of the theater with “The Diva’s Lament” – and if ever there was a true Diva, it would be her.

How much funnier can a show get when you have a gold plated cast like John Cleese as God, John O’Hurley as King Arthur, Matt Allen as a Nun and Sir Galahad played by Ben Davis. And then there is the Handsome Sir Lancelot (Matthew Greer) who turns out to get into a Domestic Partnership with another lad, a King’s son no less.

For me, the most hilarious moments were when they did the send ups about Broadway Musicals like in “The Song That Goes Like this.” This is obviously a spoof of “Phantom” complete with a lighted chandelier hanging over their heads. And there are candles on the stage and even a boat effect. The chandelier falls and some of the lights explode.

At the very end they find the “Holy Grail” in a very unusual place. It was a lot of fun for the audience. That’s a clue. On the opening night Eric Idol actually came up on the stage with his business partner John Dupree. They both got a warm welcome from the San Francisco Audience following the show.

But the fun doesn’t stop there. There are some pyrotechnics employed that literally explodes over the audience. It was a fabulous evening – and for a time in Camelot – er, excuse me, Spamalot — we were all “Knights of the Round Table!” by that GOLDEN GAY!

(((Lee Hartgrave has contributed many articles to the San Francisco Chronicle Sunday Datebook Section and has produced a long-running Arts Segment on PBS KQED)))


RATING: FOUR GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!!!! (highest rating) – trademarked-



Gertrude Stein.


The plays start out with Gertrude Stein’s “Miss Furr and Miss Skeene” and it is absolutely hilarious. The short play is set in 1910 America and Paris. You will hear the word “Gay” frequently in this play – with words like “She is regularly Gay”. Almost every other word is ‘Gay’ – and used in the most intriguing and upper class way.

As you probably know – “Word for Word’s” mission is to tell good stories with simple and elegant, down to the bone acting that keeps your eyes glued to the stage. And when they say “Word for Word” they mean everything. You even hear the Author’s directions (setup) for the next scene. Plus, the staging is always fresh, and inventive.

Miss Furr and Miss Skeene (Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas) show us a fun look at these two women’s lives. It’s a Bohemian world where everyone is using coded words to mean something different than most people would think it would mean. It was an artistic time – and unusual antics in those days were not all that suspicious. There were rumors of course – but that was all there was. Most people probably just thought that the two women were eccentric, which they were, but they were also Gay — in a quite way. Superb acting by JoAnne Winter and Sheila Balter! Also wonderful were ‘The Men’ – Brendan Godfrey and Ryan Tasker. Compelling musical interludes are by Eric Deloria on the Piano. The Blow me away directing by Delia MacDougall is brilliant.

Tennessee Williams.

TWO ON A PARTY – by Tennessee Williams

Following the First play is the Extraordinary Tennessee Williams “TWO ON A PARTY”. Now, in lesser hands this play might not be as fabulous as it is. And we can thank John Fisher for the imaginative and rousing presentation that is on stage. The story gets you so involved, that you don’t want it to end.

In the William’s short story (it is very autobiographical) we go along on a road trip with a very peculiar couple. It’s sex on the road for Two. And not unlike “Suddenly Last Summer” (another William’s play) the woman, of course, is the bait for Billy, who is always looking for a quick roll in the hay with another man. The 1950’s were fraught with danger and forbidden treasures. Cora hooks up with Billy (guess who Billy is?) for the trip. You could find Billy’s and Cora’s all over New York Bar Stools in the 50’s.

Both Billy and Cora have a lust for men that literally control their every thought. This is so hot – that I’m surprised that the pages of the play didn’t ignite. I think it is one of Williams’ best plays. I wonder why it has not been done more often. It is meant to be a short one-act – but it is a bit longer than that. With an intermission you would have a full-fledged Tennessee play. Believe me, you won’t want it to end. The actors are: Sheila Balter — Bar Pianist, Ensemble. Brendan Godfrey- Bartender, Motorcyclist, Ensemble. Ryan Tasker – Billy. Joanne Winter – Cora. –“Remarkable Acting by everyone!” Totally sizzling! Here’s a line to remember: “Age does more damage to a Queen than it does to a woman!” – Cora. She also said: “As you get to know people – if you like them, they begin to look younger to you.”

Love it — and you should see it –it’s electrifying!

Armistead Maupin.

SUDDENLY HOME by Armistead Maupin

The Armistead Maupin play is last. It has some fun moments in it – but after seeing the first two plays, it lacked luster. Maupin is a good writer and columnist – but for some reason his words did not work in his play. It takes place in San Francisco and has all the usual clichés that might go over for a bunch of tourists, but not for us that live here and have heard them all before. It reminded me of a play that I was in once called “Cable Car Comedy”. It was a horrible disaster that was designed for Tourists. Even they didn’t like it. The (recorded) music is great in the Maupin play “Suddenly Home.” It fits the time zone of Herb Caen and the usage of “Baghdad by the Bay” – 1980’s. This tale of same sex relationships has a woman doubting her relationship. And it leaves me in doubt.

The good news is that the same great actors are in this play, as they are in the other two. They are the ones that could turn Stone into Gold. They have it all. On a dime they become, perplexed, appalled, and enthralling. Impressive acting indeed!

RATING: FOUR GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!!!! (for the first two plays)
RATING: TWO GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!! (for the last play)

FLICKER BITS: (micro-reviews)

SOLOS is a film that is inspired by true events. At times erotically intense (steamy) scenes between a student and his teacher ignite the screen. To say the least, this film was banned in its home country for the sexual content. This is a dark film that reaches into the depths of relationships that are complex. It reminds me of someone I know that visited Nicaragua. He fell in love with a young, very religious young man. The young man lets him have his way while he reads a bible. That is not what is in this film – but there are similarities.

Because the student seems to spend more time away from home (with his teacher) the mother tries to get him to stay at home, but fails to convince the boy. There are frank sexual situations. Everything that you see in this “Silent” film has more impact by just looking at the screen than words can describe. Singapore demanded that the sexual scenes by cut out of the film.

But censorship or not – Solos has gone on to win many film awards. Not everyone will like this non-linear method of storytelling. But, from an artistic viewpoint – Solos has taken silent film into the 21st century. It’s gorgeous to look at.

Solos in now available at stores (a two-disc special edition.) Disc one: The feature film. Disc Two: Deleted scenes, A 47 minute conversation with Sir Ian McKellen and a Conversation with John Cameron Mitchell (53 minutes).

You will be amazed at the fantastic pull you will get from just watching a film, without the distraction of language. The language is all in the emotion and movement. It is utterly gripping. The pacing is perfect. The characters are wonderfully drawn.

The Red Dawn production has opened new doors with this film. The direction by Kan Lume and Loo Zihan is Brilliant. The film stars are: Lim Yu-Beng, Goh Guat Kian and Loo Zihan. Sound and Music by Darren NG. All together – they make a great movie viewing experience. The D.V.D. is available now at Stores like Amoeba records.

RATING: FOUR BOXES OF POPCORN: (highest rating) – trademarked-

PICK UP THE MIC – the Evolution of Homo-Hop


Now, comes along a new revolution in the movie “Pic Up The Mic.” Some of the straight rappers have shown were they stand, by rapping their homophobia. Now, to be honest with you – I am not thrilled by Rap. However in this new DVD, Hip Hop and Rap has taken a new turn with the growing underground music scene where gay and lesbian artists are putting a new and fresh spin on the world of Rap and Hip Hop.

Pic Up The Mic is a documentary that covers the rise of queer hip-hop that involves a wide range of artists from Transgender, Lesbians, and Gay Men. And, probably some categories that I am not familiar with. It is great to hear ‘different voices’ on subjects that will give a broader reach to young people. This feature length documentary shows an entire new range of possibilities in the Hip Hop world.

It was shot over a three-year period in San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Minneapolis, and Houston. “Out Artists” are everywhere these days. Hip Hopping along, even (believe it) in the Ozarks. In the film you find out what started Queer Hip Hop and why it’s catching on. LGBT rappers tell their lives through their performances. Here are the words of homohop pioneers Deep Dickollective: “Queer boys doing hip-hop is a revolutionary act!” “Queer girls doing hip-hop is a revolutionary act!” Go head and Hop on that.

This film is on DVD and available at stores like Amoeba Records. It’s a fascinating journey that probably will soon become mainstream. I think it’s a terrific way to let everyone hear these stories. Instead of a one-way street on music – we now get a ‘four lane highway’ of new important music.



Don’t forget (it’s free) at AT&T Ballpark with be a simulcast of “Tosca” on Friday June 5th. Doors open at 6pm at the Ballpark. Info at: Saturday June 4th you might want to go to the Theater at 511 Sutter Street to see “Love, Humiliation and Karaoke.” Now that’s a volatile bunch of stuff.

June 19th – The wonderful Aurora Theatre will open with “Jack Goes Boating”. Well, actually the REAL opening is on June 18th – but they tell some critics it is on the 19th. Tricky no?

On May 29th – you surely will want to be at the Opera House for Verdi’s magnificent Requiem. It’s a special night for Donald Runnicles also – for he will be treated to a tribute for all his years with the Opera.

If you haven’t seen it yet, you still have time. That would be “Wicked” at the Orpheum. But if you want to see Patty Duke in the show, you better catch it quick – cause she may only be in the role of Madame Morrible for a few more months.

On May 30th – Now playing is Mr. Marmalade. He’s a fictional character that a little girl dreamed up. But, what are those toys that she plays with? You will be shocked when you find out. This is a dark comedy – just the kind that you like.



The Photo of Lee Hartgrave Boy Reporter is by Jim Ferreira – Film Noir & Hollywood Glamour.



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Buzzin’ Lee Hartgrave

Buzzin’ Lee Hartgrave is a longtime theater critic in the San Francisco Bay Area. His reviews appear each Friday in Beyond Chron.

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