Conversations – Lea DeLaria by Sherri Rase

photo by Sophie Holland

photo by Sophie Holland

LeaDeLaria has been a cause célèbre since 1993 when she became the first out gay comic to be featured on late night television when she appeared on Arsenio Hall’s show.  Now a nationwide household name, though she’s been a name in many of our households for the past 25 years and more, Lea is enjoying some well-earned and richly deserved renown.  A gifted jazz singer with Broadway chops, DeLaria revolutionized the portrayal of Hildy Esterhazy in the 1998 Broadway revival of “On The Town” that Entertainment Weekly called “showstopping”.  It garnered her a Drama Desk nomination.  She’s also got an impressive discography including the February 2015 release of her latest work, “House of David delaria+bowie=jazz” on the presciently named Ghostlight Records.

UT:  Your role as Carrie “Big Boo” Black in the Netflix series “Orange is the New Black”, for which you’ve won a Screen Actors Guild award, has put you on the map for many who don’t know your career – do you believe that’s because it’s more difficult for women who choose to be comedians or because it’s more difficult for women to be seen as the talents that they are?

LD:  The industry is what it is, I’m not sure how to respond.  I can point to a million people who are out and successful.  Does it take longer for women or lesbians to become famous?  I don’t think that’s true.  Gender or heterosexism doesn’t have anything to do with the length of time it takes to become famous, with one caveat.  Years ago, in the 1980s, it was us radical bitches who had a different agenda.  We were out performing not to become famous, I wanted to change the world.  That’s why those who come out later might be a little suspect.  Were they not doing well before and coming out might help?  It’s hard to say.

UT:  Back when you MC’d Jersey Pride in Asbury Park (back in 1995 or 1996), you gave a concert at the Paramount the Saturday before the Parade and Rally.  You had a three piece combo working with you and you were SWINGING!  Who were your musical influences growing up and when did you first find you had a jones for jazz?

LD:  When I first began singing it was more about having your own sound. My father was my first influence, he was a jazz pianist as many people know. My first experiences were singing with his combo so I was always into jazz sounds.  From my very early days, Ella Fitzgerald, Betty Carter and many others as singers were influences, but maybe even more were instrumentalists like Coltrane and Sonny Rollins.  They probably influenced me more than singers.  But I’ve always been a fan of jazz.

UT:  How soon after the Arsenio Hall gig did you begin acting?

LD:  Less than a year after I appeared on Arsenio, there was a cameo written for me in the lesbian wedding episode of “Friends”.  Same as they did for Candace Gingrich (who played the minister).  I got to not only hit on Phoebe, part of my backstory was that I got her!  Now when I first appeared on “Matlock”, that was different.  A lot of directors were thinking “she’s a stand-up comedian, what does she know about acting”.  I had to prove to them I could act.  And when I did, my role as Detective Pat Jordan led to a return (as Detective Pat Poletti).  Andy Griffith was a friend, and I think of him as a mentor as well. He taught me how to act for a television camera.


UT:  Your latest CD, House of David, was released in 2015.  It’s ironic that the tribute you did while he was living has become a paean now that he’s passed.  Did you hear from David directly regarding your interpretation of his work?

LD: David started following me on Twitter last February (2015) and his office contacted us and got a copy of the CD. We were trying to figure out how to get him into the concert, when he passed.  As I understand it from his people, he enjoyed it and was listening to it, right before he died.

UT:  What’s the question you always wish you would be asked in an interview?

LD:  I gotta say (laughing, low), I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but there isn’t one!  I’ve lead a very charmed life.

UT:  In terms of being very outspoken and plain-speaking, what benefits have you seen from being so straightforward, honest and correct?

LD: I do a lecture series at universities now and apparently I’m a role model for the LGBTQ community.  I’ve always said, if I’m a role model for the LGBTQ community, then we’re really in some fucking trouble! When I talk to students, I tell them the most important things in life: Love yourself, and no fucks given – don’t apologize for who you are, and life will fall into place.

UT: Did you ever imagine when you were being out and loud and proud that you would ever be where you are today?

LD:  Did I ever think I’d be on One Life to Live for a decade, or get an Obie or be snubbed for a Tony or have an acting career?  When I started out in the 80s no one thought that, because the world was different then.  Did I ever imagine that social media would have everyone from 9 to 90 taking pictures and wanting to talk to me, the moment I walk out of my door?  I’ve been famous for a long time and I’m a little more prepared for this than most people. I haven’t had a day job since 1982. Most of the people who approach to say hello, or get an autograph are very polite.  My fiancée coined the nickname for me “Bull Dyke Santa Claus” because when people just see me, they smile.  But I never imagined this when I began.  All I ever wanted to do was change the world.

GSP’s Thought Provoking “Sex with Strangers”

by Sherri Rase


l to r JoAnna Rhinehart, Kyle Coffman Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Laura Eason’s “Sex with Strangers”, starring JoAnna Rhinehart as Olivia Lago and Kyle Coffman as Ethan Kane, poses a host of interesting questions from the very first moments.  As the play spins out, some of those questions are answered and some are left pendant and consequently the play itself and the effects of it’s thought-bombs will stay with you long after you’ve emerged from the darkness of the theater.

You may not know Eason’s name, but if you’re a fan of “House of Cards” then you already know her work.  She writes complex characters and the ideas ping off one another like the dice in your childhood Pop-o-Matic.  The ideas and their offspring come back again and again as the characters spar, coalesce, change and do all of the things that molecules and electrons do.  Olivia and Ethan initially throw off electrons like there’s going to be an explosion, and when it happens it’s a 180 from GRRRR to O-O-O-OOOOOHHH.

Olivia is at her favorite writer’s retreat, literally far away from “it all”.  She’s a Chicago resident who uses this remote cabin, where there’s wireless but no television or cable, to collect her thoughts.  She’s putting finishing touches on her sophomore novel, though her first effort was nearly two decades previous.  While many loved her novel, it didn’t achieve the numbers she or her publisher had projected.  She withdrew and it’s taken *this long* for her to work through her demons that prevented her completing her second work until now.  In like the big wind from Winnetka sweeps 20-something social media phenom Ethan Kane, whose nom de plume “Ethan Strange” and his blogging about his cocksmanship has made him the darling of the male hipsters and gamers.  His nihilistic pursuit of women to conquer provides grist for the mill and has made him a wealthy man.  Yet this pursuit leaves him empty and he’s searched out (stalked?) someone who’s become his favorite author hoping some of her genius will ignite the “real” book he knows he has within.  When angst-ridden immovable object meets hither-to irresistible force, seismic shifts occur on fault lines that neither knew existed.

Jason Simms’ sets and Michael McDonald’s costumes are well complemented by Scott Killian’s sound and Christopher J. Bailey’s lights.  Eason’s characters shine through Rhinehart and Coffman and while “Ethan Kane” sounds like an alter ego of some kind, his quirky spikey energy is an excellent contrast for “Olivia Lago”, whom some might interpret as “peaceful lake”.  Consider, however, that still waters run deep and lakes have their own secrets as well.

Social media, print versus “soft” or electronic copies of books, cacophonies of reminder and notifications and what does it mean to reveal too much or too little of yourself in a world with a 15-second news cycle?  These and other questions will surely spring to mind and you owe it to yourself to experience “Sex with Strangers” now.

Share this show with someone you love to talk to – you’ll have plenty to say! The run of the show ends March 27, so hurry and visit today for best seating!

Chatham Community Players’ “Lion” ROARS

by Sherri Rase

l to r, Maria Brodeur, Kevern Cameron & Adrian Spizuoco photo by Jill Fischer

l to r, Maria Brodeur, Kevern Cameron & Adrian Spizuoco
photo by Jill Fischer

King Henry II (Kevern Cameron) is in a pickle.  It’s Christmastime in 1183 and France and England as we know them today do not officially exist.  England controls much of what is now France, in the immediate wake of the Norman Conquest, while Henry rules in Brittany, Normandy, and the land his current wife Eleanor (Maria Brodeur) brought with her, the province of Aquitaine.  When they first met, she was married to Louis VII, the French King and son of her guardian Louis VI.  At the time we meet them in James Goldman’s classic, “The Lion in Winter,” now being given in New Jersey by the Chatham Community Players, he’s about 50 and she’s 61–both advanced in age and wiles and moving their children and ward around like pawns in a game of Christmas chess.
Alais (Adriana Spizuoco) is Eleanor’s ward and has become Henry’s mistress during the time that Henry has had Eleanor imprisoned so that she wouldn’t, quite literally, meddle in his affairs.  Alais is conflicted–Eleanor has treated her as a daughter, yet she feels she loves Henry in a way that Eleanor has never done.  However, youth has a hard time remembering that elders were once young and equally hot-blooded, as we discover when Eleanor and Henry remind us of their meeting.
Their sons who survived infancy number four … Henry, the presumptive heir, has died in battle.  This leaves the Henry’s kingdom up for grabs since primogeniture, inheritance by the eldest, has not yet come into fashion.  Richard (Dominick J. Denucci) is Eleanor’s favorite.  He took control of his own army at 16 and now, at 26, he feels he’s the son who should inherit.  Next eldest, and heir of his parents’ wiles, is Geoffrey (Scott Tyler), who ultimately becomes Duke of Brittany, but vies strongly with his brothers to become King, and is a great friend and ally of Alais’s brother Philip (Shane Long), King of France.  Finally is John (Matt Coakley), the youngest brother, who is Henry’s favorite.  He’s only a teen, whose puny body is no match for his great will and even larger temper.  These three brothers are classic in the petulance and pique, as they spar with one another and their parents for supremacy but, as always, we find that age and experience trump youth and enthusiasm.  Henry and Eleanor play their progeny like the virtuosi they are and it’s refreshing to know that my family and yours are not the inventors of Christmas family dysfunction.
This ensemble, headed by Brodeur and Cameron, chews the scenery to sawdust in as intense a version of this play as I’ve ever seen.  Henry roars while Eleanor weaves her web and Richard, Geoffrey and John have no idea of the complicated dance that’s choreographed for them.  Alais is twisted, like a floating needle between two magnets, in her freshness and nuance of her romantic love for Henry and familial love for Eleanor, while Philip is motivated by a different love of his own, as becomes apparent in a Marx Brothers-worthy bedroom scene.  Jim Peskin’s expert direction orchestrates the characters like the parts of a symphony, while Roy Pancirov and Bob Lukasik have created a versatile set design that is as evocative as it is flexible.  Sound by Joe DeVico further adds to the drama and if you fancy the stained glass windows on the set, those are available to grace your home after their work at Henry’s castle in Chinon.
Want to warm up YOUR winter?  This show is more exciting than MMA and more memorable than a night at the fights.  Visit Chatham Community Players’ website at   Reserve NOW!  “The Lion” sleeps after March 19 so get your choice of tickets NOW!