Palm bitch detour; Chekhov served right; Oh no, Ono!
As folks have been raving to me, Fort Lauderdale is, indeed, the new queer mecca. South Beach and Key West seem increasingly to be over as far as gays go. Seventy-five percent of the Lauderdalers are us, I was told—from sunburned retirees to the young, drugged and jobless (lots of those). But forget about investing cheaply down there—all anyone talked about was real estate, with $700,000 beachside condos going up and accounts of property owners who bought shacks for $70,000 seven years ago and are now being offered half a mil by developers for them. As long as you’re not looking for high culture of any kind, there’s lots to do—sex, sunning, clubbing, dining (tons of early bird specials, natch), and, oh yeah, sex.
Even if one had wanted a completely demure little holiday, one would have been hard-pressed to maintain a prim composure, especially, if, as I did, one stayed at the highly recommended Worthington Guest House. At breakfast by the pool the first morning, I was greeted by the sight of fellow guest, porn star Manuel Torres, as well as a nude calendar photo shoot with two absurdly ripped models. I was certainly glad to have transplanted New Yorker desk guy, Scott, a stalwart veteran of Cherry Grove’s legendary Belvedere (oh! the tales), delineate the terrain for me.
What to do but succumb to the cheerful cheapness of it all? My traveling partner was way too obsessed with hooking up with online Floridians, so I rented a car for a ridiculously low daily rate and explored the ghetto of Wilton Manors.
It was like Chelsea with parking and, even on weeknights, the clubs were packed with lemmings who follow a strictly adhered-to nightly schedule as stringent as any in Sitges or Ibiza: “Oh, it’s 12:30—we’ve now gotta leave Alibi for Java Boys! Or is this Jackhammer night?” I guess I have officially reached old fart status, as a quiet, elegantly old-school dinner at Chardees with less frenzied gents d’un age certain proved much more my cuppa.
The gay beach is off Sebastian Street on the main drag—nothing to write home about, really, wedged in as it is between the straight sections. But there’s always The Club, celebrating 40 years of fabulously non-stop business, with its huge pool, free barbecues, spotless, spacious, and modern amenities, and oh-so welcoming clientele. Giuliani Time, thankfully, has never reached the heartland, where local Clubs have remained in business through the AIDS era and beyond, making burgs like Ft. Lauderdale, Cleveland (really spectacular), Columbus, Indianapolis, and St. Louis truly deserving of the title Gotham once held and now has perhaps lost forever: Fun City.
An out-of-season day trip to Palm Beach proved a hoot as, to my mind, nothing is as hilarious as excruciatingly self-conscious displays of wealth. Lots of businesses were shut “For the Season,” including, sadly, the famous thrift shop, The Church Mouse, located in a building that could be a free-standing Armani boutique, as well as Gay Thursday Nights at the Colony Hotel, where you can see millionaires in their favorite pastels. But there were still enough bad face lifts, painfully coordinated Lily Pulitzer ensembles, and over-the-top palazzos to giggle over, as well as the Worth Avenue sales staffs, completely infected by all this conspicuous consumption, swathed in heavy perfume and bling on every appendage—and these were the men! FYI: In Palm Beach a jewelry salesman is known as “a gemologist.”
Far more laid-back was West Palm Beach, with its strip of funky antique shops—I found an Ann Margret souvenir program with her making the “young O mouth” in every picture—and the classic 1950 diner, Howley’s (“Cooked in sight/Must be right”), a definite must for its seriously good food and service.
Back in Former Fun City, I caught NAATCO’s production of Chekhov’s “Ivanov” at the Mint Theatre on August 9,with its all-Asian cast. I was, frankly, wondering how “my people” would carry this off, especially with its shockingly derogatory references to a Jewish character. I remember a Pan Asian Repertory rendition of “The Three Sisters’ that was like slow death, as well as the Lincoln Center 1997 “Ivanov” that was even more so, so am happy to report that this production is a really thrilling evening of theater.
Wonderfully directed by Jonathan Bank, who has set it in some 1980s idea of Russia before the fall of Communism, this difficult, depressing, quite astonishing first play of Chekhov’s comes to vividly teeming life in the hands of its—mostly—highly capable actors. The character of Ivanov is nothing more than a remarkably perceived and deeply felt full-scale portrait of manic depression, and Joel de la Fuente is superb, the best Chekhov stage performance I’ve seen since the mythic Irene Worth in “The Cherry Orchard.” All of Ivanov’s lacerating self-hatred and split second mood swings are brilliantly described by the actor who, with his appealingly young face and dimples, cannot help but invest some saving charm into the character as well.
Michi Barall has the intensity and innocence required by her role of Sasha (hopelessly in love with Ivanov), in spades, and, right before your eyes, grows into lovely, determined womanhood by the final scene. The supporting cast of hangers-on and petty bourgeois is a delight—Orville Mendoza’s boisterous Borkin, C.S. Lee’s very ‘30s-screwball Lebedev, Rochelle Tillman’s fat and flirty Martha, Mia Katigbak’s venal dragon lady, Thom Sesma’s dissipatedly elegant Count Shapelsky.
As Anna, the Jewish woman whom Ivanov lovelessly marries for her money—the role Vivien Leigh, ironically also dying of the tuberculosis which kills her character, played on Broadway with John Gielgud in 1966—Deepti Gupta is a bit one-note in her pathos but there’s no gainsaying the impact of that final confrontation. Preserved on a recording, the way Gielgud spits out the single word “Jewess!” at Leigh can still give you shivers, and, here, when de la Fuente brings down the curtain with an even more hateful variation of the line, you realize at once the power of theater and why Chekhov will never cease being performed. Through September 4; call 212-315-0231.
Contact David Noh at Inthenoh@aol.com.