Tuesday, August 31, 2010

“MY BETTER HALF”: Drag Queens… and the Men Who ARE Them!

Pics 1 & 2: Two pieces from Rick Odell's "My Better Half"
Photo 3: Rick Odell & Lady Clover Honey
Photo 4: Ripe Gallery owner Cherie Via, Rick Odell, & Lady Clover Honey
Photo 5: Lady Clover Honey & Aunt Barbara's alter ego Robert Suchan
Photo 6: Lady Clover Honey
Photo 7: Robert Suchan, Lady Clover Honey, & Jed Ryan

“MY BETTER HALF”: Drag Queens… and the Men Who ARE Them! Artist Rick Odell on His New Gender-Bending Exhibit
     They say that all of us have two sides to our personality. (And I believe that lots of us have three, four, five, or even more…) Perhaps no other segment of the population explores the fabulousness of that duality better than our drag queens. Long Island artist Rick Odell knows about this phenomenon very well. In his new collection of photography, “My Better Half”, an exclusive sorority of “girls” and their male alter egos interact with each other in the same portrait, making for a very entertaining statement about gender expression as well as the performance aspects of drag. Odell’s subjects have included such well-known New York City and Long Island drag personalities as Lady Clover Honey, Epiphany, Sherry Vine, Madison Mansfield, Carmella Cann, and nationally known homemaker Aunt Barbara, who single-handedly made Tupperware chic again. Odell’s portraits have appeared at several exhibits in the past, including Lady Clover Honey’s Award-winning visual art showcase “Strike A Pose” at New York City’s Leslie Lohman Gay Art Foundation Gallery in November 2008. Odell’s first solo show is currently in exhibit at Ripe Art Gallery in Greenlawn, Long Island, through September 7th. The artist gave an exclusive interview with Jed Ryan about the origins of “My Better Half”… and more!

JR: Congratulations on the show, Rick! So, as a straight guy, where does your affinity for using drag queens as your subjects in “My Better Half“ come from?
RO: I’ve always wanted to do some kind of pro-gay and lesbian type of project. But it was really weird the way this particular project started. I don’t have a lot of experience in it. I went to one drag show, in college. It was on Fire Island. I had a roommate that did it just for fun. We used to do this thing called “Miss Hofstra USA”-- because I went to Hofstra. One fraternity guy had to team up with a sorority, who dressed the guy up in drag. For the most part it was very campy. But every once in a while, you’d get a guy like my roommate who was very good at it. Between the drag show and real life, I saw that there were these different personas. But this was all well over a decade ago. It was always an interest, but I never knew what to do with it. Then, I started doing shoots of “regular” people for a project, and it wasn’t working out too well. One of the teachers suggested that I use people who were more flamboyant, like drag queens. And I thought about just how I wanted to use those drag queens. It wouldn’t have worked for that project I was working on. So, I took three or four months and mentally thought out the process: How would I do it? I thought about shooting a “guy” and a “girl” in their own picture, similar to what Timothy Greenfield-Sanders did a couple of years ago with the book “XXX: 30 Porn-Star Portraits “. He did porn stars, and he shot them first clothed and then nude in the same pose.
JR: Yes, I remember…
RO: He shot them in the studio, and my project was gonna be essentially the same thing with my spin on it. The more I thought about it, I liked his work but didn’t think it was as strong as it could have been. Then I thought about putting the guy and girl together in the same image. But how? Then I listened to an interview with RuPaul on the Howard Stern Show. I don’t know if you’ve ever listened to the Howard Stern Show, but he’s a really good interviewer. He gets people to talk about things they would never talk about! He would egg RuPaul on, and say, “What do you do as guy? And how is that different from what you do as a girl?” Some of the interview was raunchy, but some of it was really good. So, as I was driving to work and listening to the radio, I thought, “I need to incorporate how different those two people are in the same picture.” I decided that I was going to shoot the subject as a guy and as a girl, in the same image. It took me another couple of months to figure out the logistics of doing it. I couldn’t do it with film, and at the time I was really film-based. So, this is my first project with digital as my main medium. Originally, in my very first shoot, the “guy” was gonna be on the left and the “girl” was gonna be on the right, and they were going to look at each other and play off of each other. But during the shoot, I was thinking about how that was too easy to “spot“. How could I get this to be more believable that it’s not the same person? So, I made them start to occupy the same space. The first drag queen subject I used was a classically trained ballet dancer. So, I had “him” start dancing, and then had “her” start dancing, and made sure they knew where they had to be in the space. That was my first image. It was an experiment. We used my assistant, and marked the floor up. If you look at the pictures, you can see all the spots on the floor and stuff like that! The Photoshop work was relatively easy. And then, it just evolved from there. I did about four or five shots in the studio, and then I realized that it needed more than just a white or black background. So, I started to shoot at people’s homes. It was sometimes tough to get people to let me into their home, but once they did, it was really great. My first location shoot was Candy Samples from The Gender Offenders. We had a mutual friend, so I think that’s how I was able to get in a little easier… and it was great. It was one of those that I won’t forget, because it was the first one.
JR: Not to be confused with Candy Samples the adult film star from years ago, I take it?! (Both laugh.). Now, you mentioned this before: The hardest part about the shoots wasn’t the Photo-shopping, like a lot of people think it would be; it was coordinating the schedules of the drag queens!
RO: Yeah, and I feel bad saying it, but some drag queens can be flaky!
JR: No! (Laughs.)
RO: Some people I would e-mail, and it would take me three or four months to hear back, or it would be a back-and-forth thing. A lot of people have their own shows going on, so they may be doing a month-long show, and a clip here and a clip there. Here's a story for you: Lady Clover Honey had a drag queen friend named Rebecca. Originally, when Clover first told her about my project, she didn't want to do it. She said it sounded stupid. Then, we met at The Fresh Fruit Festival that spring, and she said she wanted to do it. We traded e-mails back and forth, and then she became one of those people who just disappeared. I never heard from her again. When I ran into Clover at the Long Island GLBT Film Festival in November, she told me that Rebecca had passed away... in a boating accident. So, sometimes something like that happens; and other times, a subject will just disappear because they are flaky. Trying to get people nailed down can be difficult. And, all these subjects are volunteers, so I can't be strict with them. One of the things I offer them is headshots, both as a man and as a woman. It's like a barter system. Another thing is that it’s hard to describe the project in an e-mail or even over the phone. Sometimes people just don't “get” it until they see it. I'm fortunate that that I now have a body of work that I can show people; those images now help to get subjects. Still, everyone has scheduling conflicts. That's the hardest part about getting the shoots done. Now, I'm trying to shoot more on third party locations, so that's another variable I have to schedule in. I was really fortunate in that my last shoot was at Lucky Cheng's-- and Kitten With A Whip, who I shot, works there. She was able to secure the place and be the contact person for the place.
JR: Cool! So, what's coming up next? There's a book in the works, right?
RO: Hopefully this project will evolve into a book. I've been doing interviews with the drag queens, and getting their stories on how they became who they are, their first time performing, etc… and that‘s the text of the book. That's the next step!

You can see more of Rick Odell‘s work at “My Better Half“ is on exhibit at Ripe Art Gallery in Greenlawn, Long Island through September 7th. Ripe Art Gallery is located at 67A Broadway in Greenlawn, NY. Call 631-239-1805 or visit for more info!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

LADY GAGA: “THE REMIX”: Bow Down to Your Mix Mastress!

     While teasing us with some juicy tidbits about her upcoming follow-up to the mega-successful “The Fame Monster”, the First Lady of Pop is attempting to tide over her groupies with “The Remix”: reworked versions of ten Gaga favorites, just released in the States. Ironically, most of Lady Gaga’s most diehard fans probably already have these songs, since remix albums were released in Europe and Japan (albeit with widely varying track listings) a few months ago. Richard Vission transforms “Just Dance” from its universally appealing vanilla flavor into a heavy, probing, deep house anthem with a tribal, almost industrial beat. Purists may object-- but love it or hate it, this pulsating thump-fest is guaranteed to get you to… well, “just dance”. The LLG Vs. GIG Radio Mix of “Poker Face” gives the 2009 hit a shot of adrenaline, speeding up the tempo and accessorizing the track with a few space-age electronic baubles. Stuart Price’s “Paparazzi” and Sound of Arrow’s “Alejandro” retain their candy-flavored pop tart appeal with a new, smoothly appealing ‘80’s style aura. (Think Madonna’s 1986 “True Blue” album and some of Maddy’s earlier hits.) Passion Pit‘s “Telephone”, which teams Gaga with Beyonce, is the most renegade of the mixes: These guys don‘t just play around with the beat, but also toy with the song’s structure as well. At the risk of giving too much away, I’m not gonna say anymore; listen to it yourself! Shock rocker and Gaga’s Interscope labelmate Marilyn Manson joins the diva for Chew Fu‘s Ghettohouse Fix Mix of “Lovegame“. Gaga‘s pleas to ride your disco stick are joined by Manson’s trademark seething vocals (He rants, “Love! Game! Love! Game!” before screaming “FAME!!!” like a depraved banshee.) as well as Manson rapping. (It sounds exactly as wrong as you think it is.) The darkly decadent “Bad Romance” remix is courtesy of British music man Starsmith, but I’ve declared it “The S&M Remix”. It’s steely, sexy, and slick, with Gaga’s vocals altered ever-so-subtly to sound even more cool and distant. Put another way, it‘s the perfect Gaga song for that night at the after-hours club. You can almost hallucinate our Lady in full dominatrix mode, atop a big black box, overseeing the festivities going on.  Already one of the most dance-friendly songs on “The Fame Monster”, Ms. Gaga pulls out all the clubland tricks with the CD's finale, Monarchy‘s “Stylites“ remix of “Dance in the Dark“.

     “The Remix“ proves that with Gaga‘s hits, love can still be found the second time around… as well as the third, forth, fifth, etc…

Saturday, August 28, 2010

JANITA: “Haunted”: Hauntingly Beautiful

     Originally from Finland, the striking New York City-based singer/songwriter Janita (pronounced YA-nee-tuh) Maria Ervi only goes by her first name. The woman who has had multiple hits in her homeland, received two Finnish Grammy Awards, and was voted “most sensual woman in Finland” by a popular magazine (at age 15!) is ready to gain a lot of new fans with her latest album, “Haunted“. It has been five years since Janita’s last CD, the jazz- and R&B-flavored “Seasons of Life”. For her newest collection of songs, the chanteuse experiments with several musical styles and moods. One thing, however, has not changed: Janita has one of the most sensual voices on the music scene today. That same breathy, sensual voice can also turn it out like a true woman of rock ‘n’ roll, however, when called to duty. The proof is the album’s kickoff track, “Do We Learn”. A real powerhouse of a performance, the bona fide anthem is full of passion and strength. That passion and strength increase in their intensity as the song progresses, as Janita confronts her lover with: “When you set me on fire, then you watch me burn… What do I learn?!” . Almost as if to offer a cool-down period, we get to close our eyes and enjoy the lady’s hypnotic vocals alongside soothing, smooth grooves on the next song, “Last Chance to Run and Hide”. Throughout the rest of the album, the singer demonstrates a nicely wide range-- especially with “Haunted”’s soaring, grand title track and with the quietly beautiful “Believe Me I Know“. “Martian”, the third song, is one of the true highlights of the CD. There’s a pulse-pounding, adrenaline-infused urgency in both the music and Janita’s delivery: Her distinctive voice conveys a mix of fear and fascination with this musical nod to our pop culture’s obsession with aliens (as well as vampires, werewolves, and all other creatures otherworldly). On “Hopelessly Hopeful”, Janita laments, “I look around for you, It‘s kind of sad I know; My friends think I‘m over you, But they don’t know; What do they know… Because I am hopelessly hopeful. Yes, I am hopelessly hopeful.” Oh my… haven’t all of us experienced that feeling at times? Maybe… but it’s rarely put into music as superbly as Janita’s scrumptious delivery, adorned by her crew of very talented musicians. The upbeat, jazz-flavored “House on Fragile Terrain” is another highlight on the album. The song features a smart, instantly addicting rhythm and a nicely playful twang to Janita’s soulful vox. It‘s musically accessorized to perfection by piano and snazzy percussion. “Out to Get You” is one of the more dynamic tracks on the CD: Janita’s voice is full of sass and attitude, although the star never loses her trademark cool restraint. For the finale, “Heal”, she opts for a sparsely adorned, minimalist arrangement to emphasize the song’s unmistakable spiritual message. The track includes some exotic-sounding percussion by Karsh Kale.

     Janita‘s “Haunted” is a superb showcase for a musical artist who is ready to conquer the world, one delectable note at a time.

     Visit for more!

Friday, August 27, 2010

“DEAR HARVEY”: A Love Letter to Mr. Milk

“DEAR HARVEY”: A Love Letter to Mr. Milk

     Anyone who is lamenting the lack of innovation in the world of theater today should not throw in the towel just yet. For truly provocative and original stories and themes, we need look no further than the pageant of American and world history. In many cases, these real stories are just aching to be told again, and they feature some unsung heroes and heroines whose voices are more relevant than ever in 2010. One of these heroes, of the GLBT community and beyond, is the late San Francisco activist and politician Harvey Bernard Milk, who would have turned 80 this year. The 2008 Academy-Award winning feature film “Milk” was likely the first time that many Americans learned about Mr. Milk, who was history’s first openly gay American elected official. Milk, who came out at age 14, was actually born and raised in New York. The City by the Bay, however, became his adopted home. He was nicknamed “The Mayor of Castro Street”, and made his mark in a big way. Milk won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and served until 1978, when he was assassinated at age 48. While the there have been some modest tributes to Milk’s life through the years (most notably the aforementioned feature film, the Award-winning documentary 1984 “The Times of Harvey Milk“, and the high school in New York City named after his honor), many still believe that Mr. Harvey Milk has still never gotten the full respect he deserved as a patriot and politician.

     Even astute followers of LGBT history who may think they know every last tidbit about Harvey will likely learn a few new things about the self-styled politico with Patricia Loughrey’s “Dear Harvey”. Directed by Dan Kirsch and featuring music by Thomas Hodges, the lively and heartfelt piece is constructed of archived speeches, reflections via recent interviews, and written memories by Milk and those who knew Milk best. Most of these voices are or were activists in their own right. They include Harvey’s nephew, activist Stewart Milk (Mark Peters); activist and Imperial Court System royalty Nicole Murray-Ramirez (Vash Boddie); California State Senator Christine Kehoe (Katherine McLeod); Anne Kronenberg (Jacqueline Sydney), Milk’s final campaign manager; and others, including Robin Tyler (Lynne Rosenberg), Daniel Nicolette (Boddie), Mary Stockton (McLeod), Jackie Grover (Rosenberg), Dottie Wine (Sydney), Tom Ammiano (Ira Spector), and others. The seven men and women of the cast all perform with the same positive energy and gusto that characterized Milk himself; as an audience member, you may find yourself holding back from jumping up and breaking into applause-- particularly when we hear Milk’s now-famous line, “My name is Harvey Milk, and I want to recruit you!” Milk‘s contribution to history, GLBT and beyond, comes through in a big way: He encouraged all gays and lesbians to come out en masse. He encouraged all people to get involved in the voting process, regardless of income or ability. He championed for the rights of all, not just minorities. We are also reminded that San Francisco in the early ’70’s, when Milk first arrived, was not yet as tolerant or even as gay-friendly as we may have believed it to be.

      In the hands of a less talented director or less enthusiastic cast, “Dear Harvey” could have come across as a staged reading… and as we all know, stage readings sometimes have the tendency to be static. However, this production is very fluid, fast-moving, and lively. The play is really bolstered by the montage of authentic, vintage photos of Milk and the Castro district. In addition, some creative directorial touches succeed in showing us Harvey Milk the man, not just Harvey Milk the politician. One of these moments is when Milk’s friend Alan Pettit (Ira Spector) recalls the vibe of San Francisco in the 1970’s when he first met Milk: as Donna Summer belts in the background, the actor describes how it was all about “the clone look“ and disco music. It’s here that we learn that Harvey was, apparently, a great dancer! The audience also get to see real letters written to Milk, projected on the screen. Most of them were supportive, but a few showed the same old anti-gay vitriol which exists to this day. Beyond a history lesson, the play innovatively explores, through the words of Milk’s surviving peers, how Milk would have reacted to the current state of our community today, both the bad and the good. This includes the AIDS epidemic alongside the explosion of openly gay and lesbian politicians. A truly provocative moment comes when Scott Striegel, as Milk’s friend and fellow activist Cleve Jones, describes how he went on to found the The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt.

     “Dear Harvey” climaxes with the play’s 22-year old music composer Thomas Hodges reading from a letter he had written to Milk, whose activism inspired him personally and creatively. A passage from the letter reads, “I wish I could have known you, and yet I feel like I do in a weird way.” This is very likely how the audience will feel after seeing this fine play. .

     “Dear Harvey” is playing as part of New York City’s Fringe Festival. There is only one more performance of “Dear Harvey” left, on Saturday August 28th at 8:15PM. At The Soho playhouse, 15 Vandam Street, NYC. For tickets, visit:

Sunday, August 1, 2010

“I LOVE YOU, PHILLIP MORRIS”: The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Men in Love

Pic 1: The "I Love You Phillip Morris" movie poster
Pic 2: Jim Carrey as "Steven Russell" and Rodrigo Santoro as "Jimmy"
Pic 3: Ewan McGregor as "Phillip Morris" and Carrey.

“I LOVE YOU, PHILLIP MORRIS”: The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Men in Love
     If you‘ve always fantasized about seeing funny man Jim Carrey in an explicit gay sex scene, lounging around in black mesh underwear, and sucking face with fellow actor Ewan McGregor, then your chance has finally arrived. In the based-on-fact (believe it or not) black comedy “I Love You, Phillip Morris”, Jim Carrey plays a Jim Carrey-like character named Steven Russell. When we first meet Steven, he’s a Virginia Beach cop with a pretty blonde wife (Leslie Mann) and a seemingly content life, playing the organ at his church and tucking his young daughter into bed every night. He’s also a closeted gay guy, and after surviving a near-fatal car crash, Steven leaves his simple hetero lifestyle and embraces his homo side-- in a big way. Before you can sing your best Miss Ross-style “I’m coming out!”, he finds a new life in Florida, complete with a European model-type boyfriend (Rodrigo Santoro) and expensive new tastes in clothes, jewelry, nightlife, etc. He learns what many of us already know: that being gay can be costly. To finance his new jet-setting ways, Steven turns into a fraud artist extraordinaire. It’s only a matter of time before he gets busted and sent to jail. In prison, Steven falls hard for the blond, blue-eyed Phillip Morris (McGregor) of the movie’s title. It’s true love for Steven and Phillip-- complete with longing stares, full-on kissing scenes, and the two men slow-dancing to Johnny Mathis’ “Chances Are“. Welcome to one of Hollywood’s most unorthodox-- and definitely, most loopy-- love stories.
     That love story is in danger of reaching “The End” when Steven gets released from prison.  Determined to stay with his demure golden boy at all costs, he opens up an impressive bag of tricks. He impersonates a lawyer to get Philip out of jail. He then finagles his way into a job as a CEO to maintain the two‘s lavish lifestyle when his b-friend is finally sprung. That‘s just the beginning, folks. Both Steven and Phillip eventually get sent back to jail, which sets the stage for Steven’s biggest, boldest final scam. As an audience member, be prepared to be duped in a big, big way yourself.

     In the less showy role, Ewan McGregor pretty much dissolves completely into the role of Phillip Morris. As Steve Russell, Jim Carrey is his classically over-the-top self as a man who starts out as just a seemingly needy soul, but whose psychotic tendencies come out full tilt boogie later on. (Think 1996’s “The Cable Guy”.). Carrey still gives us his trademark buffoonery, his rubbery facial acrobatics, and both the physical elasticity and energy level of a ferret who raided the sugar bowl. The movie’s comedic style is very broad; and most of the time, the humor aims for the funny bone of teenage boys.  That said, “I Love You Phillip Morris” has its really spot-on, cleverly funny moments.

     Because of its explicit gay content, “I Love You Phillip Morris” has suffered from delays in its United States theatrical release, despite having made over $15 million in Europe and Taiwan so far. Originally set for Stateside release in April this year, it was postponed until July, then delayed yet again until October 2010. So, I may need to rephrase what I said in the beginning: If you‘ve always fantasized about seeing funny man Jim Carrey in an explicit gay sex scene, lounging around in black mesh underwear, and sucking face with fellow actor Ewan McGregor, well… you may have to wait a little longer.