Turkey Lurkey Time

What does one of the world's greatest male ballet dancers have in common with a middle-aged Latina lesbian? They both love to talk turkey (and trust me, it's not a question of who prefers white meat over dark meat).

  • One may be referring to the time he shot a big, stupid tom turkey at close range in Florida while the other fondly reminisces about how she made a butch dyke nicknamed "Turkey" cry.
  • One may be discussing turkey calls with a bunch of guys who like to go hunting while the other describes how she learned that Turkey survived her rejection and went on to become a fabulously wealthy woman.

Whether you grew up listening to Turkey in the Straw or yearn to spend more time with Turkey in the raw, both tales offered Bay area audiences plenty of gobble-de-gook. Rest assured, neither production should be scorned as a box office turkey.

However, as long as we're talking turkey, it should be noted that there is some dispute over the birth of the Turkey Trot. According to Wikipedia, some claim that the popular dance debuted around 1909 at the Ray Jones Café in Chicago. Others insist that the Turkey Trot was born in 1912 along the Barbary Coast in San Francisco.

The ballroom dancing team of Vernon and Irene Castle helped make the Turkey Trot famous when they performed it on Broadway in 1913's The Sunshine Girl. Can you identify which dancers are performing the Turkey Trot in the following clip?

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Marga Gomez is back at The Marsh with a new one-woman show (her 10th). Unlike previous monologues which were primarily autobiographical, Lovebirds is a beautifully written piece of fiction whose protagonist is a photographer named Polaroid Phillie.


Marga Gomez as Polaroid Phillie in Lovebirds
(Photo by: Patti Meyer)

Having snapped Polaroids of young lovers for decades (including at a popular lesbian bar named Bonnie & Clyde), Phillie is quick to stress the unique value of Polaroids over digital pictures or selfies (which can go viral in the worst way imaginable). Directed by David Schweizer, Lovebirds chronicles Polaroid Phillie's recollections of memorable characters from her personal and professional past. These include:

  • Barbara Ramirez, a budding young lesbian who decides to cut her hair short, check out her luck in a bar for gay women, and avoid any kind of heteronormative interactions with other lesbians. After joining a coven and realizing that too many lesbians are named Barbara, she changes her first name to Dahlia (only to discover that Dahlia has become the hot new name for little girls).
  • Orestes Ramirez, Barbara/Dahlia's father who may be the maitre d' of a nightclub, but whose taste in women is often questionable.
  • Gladys, an aspiring singer with little to no talent who lacks any sense of pitch but has managed to capture the heart of Orestes.
  • Professor Richard Richards, Gladys's pompous husband who suffers from such severe sleep deprivation that he can barely stay awake while lecturing. The irony is that Professor Richards has built his career on the theory that people only need 45 minutes of sleep per day.
  • Aurora, Barbara's women's studies professor at NYU, who is also active in a local coven.


Poster art for Lovebirds

Working on Vola Ruben's simple set (built from storage boxes of all sizes), Gomez seduces her audience with a newfound combination of wit and warmth. Although, in past years, many of her shows have had a harder comedic edge, Lovebirds is filled with nostalgia, romance, and the kind of wistfulness that often accompanies middle age. It's also a bit unnerving to hear someone lovingly refer to "roids" and realize that they are not talking about athletes getting juiced on anabolic steroids.


Marga Gomez as Polaroid Phillie in Lovebirds
(Photo by: Patti Meyer)

The use of Polaroids as nostalgic props offers Gomez convenient jumping-off points for introducing new characters during the course of her monologue. Her newest show never outstays its welcome and leaves the audience feeling warm and cozy inside.

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I recently had an opportunity to read Howard Sherman's excellent piece titled "Who Thinks It's OK To 'Improve' Playwrights' Work?" and heartily recommend it to any and all who itch to update a piece of literature which has not yet entered the public domain. In his piece, Sherman goes to great lengths to explain the difference between exercising one's artistic ideas and violating copyright law.

As artists find inspiration in works from the past, audiences are exposed to more and more "updated" productions of favorite operas. I've seen Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte set in Hawaii during the early 20th century and Gilbert & Sullivan's The Mikado set inside a display of Japanaiserie in Harrods department store. Surfing through YouTube's riches can offer glimpses of the Metropolitan Opera's new take on Verdi's Rigoletto (set in Las Vegas during the heyday of the Rat Pack) as well as the Bavarian State Opera's radical modern-dress approach to La Forza del Destino.

These productions don't attempt to mess with the composer's musical score. However, with more and more techniques now available to create mash-ups that become a brand new piece of art, the term sui generis has never been more applicable to certain productions.

The Berkeley Repertory Theatre recently presented Big Dance Theater's production of Man in a Case, a curious work commissioned by the Hartford Stage Company as a collaboration between Arktype and Baryshnikov Productions. Inspired by two of Anton Chekhov's short stories from 1898's The Little Trilogy (Man in a Case and About Love), this performance piece -- which has been adapted and directed by Paul Lazar and Annie-B Parson -- is a fascinating experience in mixed media which combines music, video, theatre, and dance with Russian literature.


Mikhail Baryshnikov and Tymberly Canale in a moment
from Man in a Case (Photo by: T. Charles Erickson)

With video design by Jeff Larson and lighting by the great Jennifer Tipton, the cast is led by Mikhail Baryshnikov, Tymberly Canale, Chris Giarmo, Paul Lazar, and Aaron Mattocks. Because today's technology allows for astonishing multidisciplinary artistic visions, the Chekhov stories take on new life in ways that were previously unimaginable. As Lazar explains:

"If you were just to take this story and give it to a playwright and ask them to theatrically adapt it, with stage directions, dialogue, etc., that's one way or style of telling it. I think the way we use video and sound (some of the video even has text scrolling through it) in a certain sense makes it more evocative of the experience of reading a story. Not in the sense that we speak the text verbatim -- which we also do -- but that in seeing a play you take some of the language, and the imagery related to the language (sometimes obliquely) to replicate the reading experience. It gives you the experience of imagistic resonance rather than literal representation."

In the following interview, Baryshnikov discusses his early exposures to Chekhov's writing and the genesis of the Man in a Case project.

One of the challenges of experiencing a piece like Man in a Case is that some parts of it defy description, while other parts demand that the audience sit back and let the experience wash over them. For those who primarily think of Baryshnikov from his years as one of the ballet world's greatest stars, it's intriguing to see what he brings to the stage in a speaking role. Tymberly Canale provides a strong foil as his love interest in About Love.


Tymberly Canale and Mikhail Baryshnikov in a scene
from Man in a Case (Photo by: T. Charles Erickson)

Nobody emerges happy in many of Chekhov's works. As a result, whether one sees Baryshnikov as a lonely and paranoid professor of Greek classics who lives in the kind of isolation that makes one think of The Twilight Zone -- or as a sad, unfulfilled lover trying to find a connection to the woman of his dreams -- Man in a Case is difficult to categorize.


Tymberly Canale and Mikhail Baryshnikov in a scene
from Man in a Case (Photo by: T. Charles Erickson)

On one hand, Man in a Case is an evening that pulses with paranoia and expressions of a pained platonic love. On the other hand, the depression gripping some of Chekhov's characters is frequently punctured by dance, song, intriguing video, and a remarkable sense of lyricism. As well as those turkey calls.

To read more of George Heymont go to My Cultural Landscape