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Monday, October 24, 2016

Trump's Real Opponent

Finally, the presidential campaign is nearing its conclusion.  We now can glide to November 8 with only a few questions remaining. By what margin will Hillary Clinton triumph? Can she turn a red state or two blue?  Will the obstructionist Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell become an obstructionist Minority Leader?  Will we ever see Paul Ryan grow a spine?  Will his House flip from Clinton’s coattails?  Will Donald Trump ever concede?  #hocopolitics
The last question is the most telling and symbolizes the person the Republican nominee truly is. Trump refused to declare to the world during the final debate on October 19 that he would automatically accept the will of the people.  He will keep us in suspense, he says. 

Trump has vowed to “make America great again” countless times but he is ready to eschew a centuries-old tradition of conceding a loss in a presidential election and leaving a big question mark on a fundamental tenet of our democracy.  He is also undermining our democracy when he claims without any evidence that the election is rigged.
A concession would be a sign of grace and sportsmanship that had been exemplified by Al Gore.  The Democratic hopeful in 2000 had a reason to be bitter but did the right thing anyway.

Trump cannot likely bring himself to concede because to do so would be an admission that, um, he lost.  Only he (in his own mind) knows how to win; losing is an anathema to him.  “Donald Trump, loser.”  It contradicts the image he tries so hard to project.
Many have said this race was Hillary’s to lose.  She has the experience, the money, the historic nature of being the first woman president, and the apparatus to win a national election. 

I say it was Trump’s to lose, and he will have fulfilled that beautifully.
There has been considerable desire for change in this country.  Trump was the vessel to effect that change.  Those who were down on their luck economically, maintain racial distrust, held a concern that illegal immigrants were stealing jobs, and other grievances, did not favor a third term of the Obama Administration that would be perceived with a Clinton presidency. 

Trump romped over his primary opponents partly as a result of all the free media he received, hoping to catch a moment that records his penchant for outlandish rhetoric. 
He also squashed them because they were all afraid of his insults and they didn’t take him seriously until it was too late.  They wasted their time on the debate stage trashing Obama and Clinton but the one obstacle in their path to nomination, Trump, was hardly attacked with gusto.

Voters saw a man with a message of populist nationalism, a chest-thumping visage who condemned political correctness.  He would say things that other politicians wouldn’t dare to utter but were of the same mindset as Trump.  He had the courage to do so; they didn’t.  And then there’s that unyielding rabid hatred of Hillary.
Trump would shake up Washington and restore pride to our country.  He would close our borders and defeat terrorism.  It was an effective message and one that had a chance to catch on more broadly than with just the disgruntled core of his supporters who were mostly white, rural and non-college educated.  Trump claimed, amusingly, he was one of them—gritty, pro-gun, working class—except a million times richer.

On the other hand, Hillary Clinton possesses a resume like no other: a former First Lady whose husband actually produced a budget surplus and kept us out of wars, a two-term U.S. Senator who worked effectively across the aisle, and Secretary of State.  Not insignificantly, she endured a tough primary from Bernie Sanders whose socialist stances forced Clinton to the left in order to keep the peace.
But she had a reputation—an unwelcome one—whereby Clinton had been cast as untrustworthy at best and a criminal at worst from her own actions as well as decades-old propaganda spewed by the extreme right who would never let facts get in the way of their conspiracy theories. 

Courtesy: Jum Urquhartt/Reuters
Hillary has her liabilities, and she has been able to slither out of trouble when the rocks were falling from the cliffs. There was her use of a personal server while Secretary of State and its missing emails, an FBI investigation that did not lead to a criminal indictment but castigated her for being “extremely careless” with her emails, awkward WikiLeaks email disclosures, and a barrage of baseless charges promulgated by Trump Nation and in particular the right-wing Alt-Right, whose leader Stephen Bannon of Breitbart.com fame, eventually oversaw the Trump campaign and its messaging.   
The race between Trump and Clinton—two of the most disliked presidential candidates in history—was underway in full force to the consternation of the country’s voters. Trump was the hero of this disgruntled segment of the GOP regardless of his crass, egotistical personality and his scant knowledge of policy. Clinton was laden by her baggage and was indeed vulnerable despite her strengths.  But as it has turned out, the contest was really between Trump and Trump.

Any non-lunatic Republican—Kasich, Bush or Rubio, for instance, would have defeated Clinton fairly easily given her controversial past and the historical desire on the part of the voters to change the controlling party following two terms in the White House.  But Hillary was carrying a horseshoe in her pocket; she drew Donald J. Trump as her opponent. 
Barring some form of miracle, it is clear that Trump will lose, and he will not be vanquished by Clinton; he will have defeated himself.  While Hillary was under water in the positives-negatives ratio, Trump was even worse.  Never before had two presidential candidates vied for the office with such high negative perceptions from the populace.

There is no need to rehash the myriad well-documented miscues—unforced errors and self-inflicted wounds by Trump—that had undermined his effort to win the election.  Any of these individually could have been detrimental but as an accumulation, they were fatal. 
The key turning point in the campaign that broke open a tight race was undoubtedly his 11 year-old tape recording from Access Hollywood whereby he lewdly bragged about his exploits with women based on his stardom.  His incredulous denial during the second debate that he actually engaged in such activity spawned over 10 women to step forward and chronicle a disturbing pattern of unwanted advances and sexual assault.  This amounts to criminal behavior, but it was Trump who threatened to send Clinton to jail if he was to be elected even though there is no evidence of criminal wrongdoing on her part.

Likeability is crucial to win any political campaign; both candidates are far from likeable.  But Trump had failed to come close.
For starters he attacked the family of a Muslim casualty of the war in Iraq.  He mocked a disabled journalist.  He calls inner cities “hell.”  He wants to ban Muslims from entering the country. He refers to Mexicans as rapists and criminals and condemned a federal judge for being unfair to him based on his Mexican heritage.  He used anti-Semitic imagery on a tweet.  He stiffed contractors.  He employed undocumented immigrants for his construction projects though he assailed such people for entering the country.

He degraded women even before the tape surfaced.  He won’t reveal his tax returns though now we have learned he hasn’t paid Federal income taxes for some 18 years. He boasts of his business acumen but lost nearly a billion dollars—on casinos no less.  He treats nuclear weapons as toys and is ignorant of the purpose of the Purple Heart.
Trump’s personality doesn’t help matters. He is a pathologically narcissistic buffoon with a wafer-thin grasp of policy and what it takes to govern.  A con artist who lies about everything though his campaign paints Clinton as the liar in the race.  Everything is about him, and this self-centered ego was getting old.

He could have won this race had he been somewhat conventional.  Instead, he has scared voters including many Republicans because of his temperament and the harshness and misplacement of his attacks.  The Clinton campaign has exploited this effectively.
In the final analysis, Clinton will have not sent Trump to defeat.  Trump did.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

'FRENZY' Takes on Gay Domestic Violence/Abuse

With his novel entitled Nothing Can Tear Us Apart—FRENZY! (gay/ethnic) that is now available, gay/SGL journalist, motivational speaker and author Wyatt O’Brian Evans paints a striking and realistic portrait of Intimate Partner Violence/Abuse (IPV/A), commonly referred to as domestic violence/abuse in the LGBTQ community.   In many instances, IPV/A is stigmatized and “swept under the rug.”  And it occurs much more than is reported: for example, statistics show that each year, over 500,000 gay/SGL men are battered.
Mr. Evans has researched and written extensively about this issue for print and on line media outlets including Huffington Post Queer Voices, The Rainbow Times, Baltimore Gay Life, Wyattevans.com and Baltimore OUTloud.  Himself an IPV/A survivor, Mr. Evans conducts seminars and workshops on this issue.  

“Nothing Can Tear Us Apart—FRENZY!” is the story of Wesley and Antonio:  two masculine, openly gay/SGL men of color who must confront serious and daunting challenges and obstacles to their monogamous relationship.  Intimate Partner Violence and Abuse is the overarching theme of “FRENZY!” 
Because IPV/A tends to be a taboo subject in the LGBTQ community, the author felt that “Nothing Can Tear Us Apart—FRENZY!” would break through more as a novel--as opposed to a work of nonfiction.  “As fiction, the issue is more palatable, and not such a ‘bitter pill to swallow’,” states Evans.   

The themes addressed in Nothing Can Tear Us Apart—FRENZY!” certainly are universal; therefore the novel strongly resonates with the reader.  Both men and women—be they lesbian, gay, straight, bisexual or transgender—can fully identify with and relate to the journey of the novel’s two protagonists.
According to Mr. Cyrus Webb, host of the internationally popular “Conversations LIVE!” radio program, “Nothing Can Tear Us Apart—FRENZY!” is “deeply engaging and keeps your attention from the first chapter.  This is one of those books you can read and though the main characters are two men, you can see it fitting any situation where love is at the heart of the matter.”

And according to Rev. Sandy Rodgers, author, educator and national radio personality (“Life, Love, Wellness: The Sandy Rodgers Show”), “‘Nothing Can Tear Us Apart – FRENZY!’ is a delectable read. The story deals with so many relevant current day issues of child abuse/violence, unresolved emotional traumas and the solid love in a relationship between two people.
 “The gripping dialogue kept me spellbound in the explicitly-narrated scenes. It was hot, steamy, sexy and mesmerizing while dealing with the pains of childhood abuse and bullying. Unresolved issues will always creep its ugly head back into our adult lives as clearly illustrated by the character of Wesley/Walker. 

 “Intimate Partner Violence and (IPV/A) is alive and well in all segments of society, and every human is affected in some way--either directly or indirectly.  ‘FRENZY!’ deals with this communal issue in a raw yet provocative style. It grabs your attention and maintains it throughout the entire manuscript. Well- written, the story pulls you in like quicksand and never lets you get away. You are caught, hook line and sinker. Masterfully detailed and beautifully written. You get to know each character intimately: I felt like I was present as the story unfolded!   I was totally entwined in the happenings, literally living every word and unable to abandon the work until the end.

 “Wyatt, thank you so much for taking on the task of dealing with such an important topic, adding ‘real life’ to it, and also showing us the beauty of true LOVE between two people. My deepest admiration.”

The release date for “Nothing Can Tear Us Apart—FRENZY!” was October 1.  The book can be purchased online.

 Mr. Evans is available for interviews and appearances.  For booking presentations, media appearances, interviews, and/or book signings, contact: bookings@wyattevans.com .

Monday, October 03, 2016

Sadness, Resignation Linger One Year After Hippo Closing

As the renovated Baltimore Eagle is poised to re-open after being shuttered for four years, there remains a feeling of melancholy and resignation within Baltimore’s LGBT community concerning the Club Hippo’s closing its doors for good. Last October 3, the end of a 43-year icon in Baltimore’s Mount Vernon gayborhood became a reality.
The popular disco and saloon, which had been a must-see Baltimore destination for LGBT and straight people from all over, closed as owner Charles Bowers decided to retire.  The building, which he still owns, has been leased to CVS Health, whose brightly-lit store opened a couple of weeks ago.

Several members of the community expressed nostalgia when it comes to the Hippo but also a feeling of inevitability regarding gay bar closings in general and a concern for the profitability of these establishments.
“For me, the departure of the Hippo from My Vernon signaled what I already knew - that the LGBT community was too well established in Baltimore to not be constrained to just one neighborhood. I can feel comfortable by myself or with my LGBT friends anywhere in town,” explains Mara Drummond, a transwoman who points out she began going to the Hippo in 2006 when she first began her transition.

The grand disco finale on September 25, 2015     Photo: Bob Ford
“The decline of Mount Vernon as the hub of the LGBT community is both sad and joyous,” she says.  “The community has lost some of its self-identity but at the same time has blended comfortably into a much larger community.”
Don Davis the owner of Grand Central, which is situated diagonally across from the building where the Hippo had stood, notes the migration of LGBT folks to other areas and also sees the predictability of gay bars closing because the culture is changing.

“It’s sure a different world. So much of the change with the Internet’s hook up sites and apps, gays are now feeling comfortable with hanging out with their straight friends at the straight places,” says Davis, who had been the Hippo’s bar manager for a brief stint in the seventies.  “It breaks my heart to see the Hippo of 43 years and 27 other gay bars close in the 30 years that I have been in business.”
Davis believes this cultural shift as well as other challenges associated with owning a bar has made such businesses unprofitable.  “I am off almost $25,000 from the same period that I had done last year,” Davis states.  “And this is with the Hippo closing.”

Shawnna Alexander, a drag personality who had performed at the Hippo on and off for 20 years and a former Miss Hippo, is resigned to the bar’s closing but is still sad when is reminded of it.  “It's strange because just as I’m getting over it as everything must change, a Facebook memory will pop up 😞😞and I get a little sad,” Alexander says. “A bigger part of me says it was a smart business move and wish Mr. Bowers nothing but the best.”

The final last call - 1:40 a.m., October 4, 2015
Many drag performers launched their careers at the Hippo yet feel the loss of the bar has not impacted them too negatively.  Danny Carbo, a former employee and a drag performer who goes by the drag name Pamela de la Cruz, says, “The Hippo was not only my place of employment and favorite spot for a night out, it was also Baltimore’s best drag venue. In the year since its closing, we’ve seen several venues, new and old, step up to keep the party going.”
Carbo offers an example. “The standout queen, Brooklyn Heights, has worked tirelessly to keep drag alive in Charm City and has brought new shows to Steampunk Alley, The Depot, and a new drag brunch at Points South Latin Kitchen. Ottobar and The Crown continue to regularly include female illusion in their eclectic events as well.”

Still, Thomas Groves, another former employee, laments the Hippo’s closing.  “This past year had been all about going after my goals and dreams in life. The bar’s closing definitely left a hole in the gay community in Baltimore.”
He adds, “Without the Hippo the community has had a huge void in somewhere to go and unwind, enjoy a show or just hang with friends.”

Sunday, October 02, 2016

There’s a ‘Party’ Going On With Iron Crow

Cast of The Wild Party   Photo: Rob Clatterbuck
I’ve attended some wild parties in my day, but The Wild Party currently being presented by Iron Crow Theatre at their venue at the Baltimore Theatre Project takes the cake.  Decadence rife with minimal clothing worn by some of the guests, abundant booze, love making, sexual ambiguity, a developing dangerous love triangle, jealousy and violence would certainly count as wild.  I bet the chips and dip were spicy, too.  And it’s mostly done to song!
Sean Elias, the new artistic director and CEO for Iron Crow, directs a young talented company in this eccentric musical, which is only the second one since Iron Crow’s inception in 2009 (Hedwig and the Angry Inch).  #hocoarts

Iron Crow, Baltimore’s only queer theatre, prides itself on being edgy and mysterious, dark and unconventional with a strong infusion of queerness.  Kicking off its 2016-17 Season, The Wild Party encompasses these characteristics for sure, and with the level of talent displayed and remarkably creative burlesque-like costuming by Aaron Barlow a.k.a. Betty O’Hellno, it is one of their more entertaining productions. 
The Wild Party is adapted from Joseph Moncure March’s 1928 poem of the same name.  The show in which Andrew Lippa, wrote the book, music and lyrics, opened Off-Broadway in 2000 and received the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Music and the the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Off-Broadway Musical.

Though other characters play significant roles, the principal story takes place in the 1920’s and centers on Queenie and Burrs—her abusive and violent lover. They decide to hold this epic party in the hope of escaping, albeit briefly, their own problematic relationship.  Queenie decides to make Burrs jealous, and when Kate shows up with a mysterious man named Mr. Black, trouble brews, a love triangle drama unfolds, and we’ll leave it at that.
The colorfully odd guests are attired in an eclectic array of costumes that challenge gender norms including young men wearing red stilettos.  Some guests are barely dressed at all.  What a party!

From the entrance in the rear of the stage, they descend down the four steps into a lower level—a metaphor for the debauchery that awaits them. Ryan Haase’s clever set is a bit off center, and I’m sure purposely so, to offer the audience yet another metaphor. Lighting Designer Janine Vreatt’s effective use of dim illumination that creates a foggy, dreamlike quality, underscores the mood.
Though there is some dialogue, most of the plot is carried out by music—a strong attribute given the quality of some of the songs and the vocal prowess by the cast.  Unfortunately, there had been opening night issues concerning evenness with the sound and mics, and hopefully this will be resolved in subsequent performances.

Mr. Elias keeps the action hopping (it is a wild party) and effectively ensures that the actors not featured in a particular scene are still engaging in some form of activity in the background though not distracting.  This adds to the quality of the production.
A few of the songs don’t possess the kind of memorable melodies that one would hum exiting the theater.  But the lyrics from most are quite effective in weaving the story together.  Among the better numbers are, “Raise the Roof,” “Out of the Blue,” “Poor Child,” “A Wild, Wild Party,” “Of All the Luck,” “What is it About Her,” “I’ll Be Here” and “Come With Me.”

Ben Shaver ably conducts the five-piece orchestra situated in the rear of the theater.
There is some dancing under Robert Mintz’s choreography.  However, the relatively small stage containing a number of props and furnishings as well as a sizable cast does not allow for extravagantly free-wheeling moves.

As the tormented Queenie, Allison Bradbury is riveting.  She acts and sings with proficiency and is called on to perform in most of the show’s ballads as a solo or in groups with her sultry soprano voice holding up well by the end.  Her moving song, “Maybe I Like it This Way,” is excellently performed as she reflects on why she puts up with Burrs.
Justin Mazzella turns in a stunning performance and is convincing as the violently passionate Burrs. He displays solid acting skills and range as well as strong vocals in portraying this demanding role.  He performs particularly well with Ms. Bradbury in "Out of the Blue."

The vibrant Kate, who mightily attempts to seduce Burrs, is played effectively by Jessica Bennett.  She performs well in her solos “Look at Me Now,” “The Life of the Party” and the group number “Poor Child.”   
As Black, the man who falls for Queenie, Sylvern Groomes, Jr. does well and is particularly strong in the smooth ballad “I’ll Be Here.”

Valerie Holt plays the lesbian Madeline True, one of the guests, who is searching for love at the party. Her solo “An Old-Fashioned Love Story” was unfortunately marred by audio problems caused by either having a defective mic or she was not mic’d at all.  From what was heard, Ms. Holt has a nice voice.
Allison Bradbury as Queenie and Justin Mazzella as Burrs
Photo: Rob Clatterbuck
Another guest, Eddie, is played energetically by Jesse Marciniak.  He enjoys pugilism and is not shy about flexing, adding an amusing touch.

The lover-brothers Oscar D’Armano (Adam Cooley) and Phil D’Armano (Brice Guerriere) with their flower-laden wigs also add comedy to the already intense party. Appropriately, they perform well in the fun number, “A Wild, Wild Party.”  
Other fine cast members include Emily Small as Delores, Katheryne Daniels as Mae, and Fred Fletcher-Jackson as Sam.

And then there are Terrance Fleming as Eddie and Nick Fruit as Max who look impressively athletic in their um, skimpy costumes.  I told you this is a wild party.
Not all wild parties end well, and this is no exception.  However, it would be wise to get a ticket and attend this party.  You have to provide your own costume though.
Iron Crow’s 2016-17 Season is off to a good start with this well-directed and well-performed production.  It should give all involved something to crow about.

Running time. Two hours and 15 minutes with an intermission.

Advisory: Contains sexual situations, partial nudity and profanity and is not recommended for children.
The Wild Party plays weekends through October 9 at the Baltimore Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St., Baltimore, MD 21201.  For tickets, visit online