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Backstory

I am

By: - Columnist
/ 12:40 AM August 09, 2018

The author with Andrew Rannells (center) and Jim Parsons of “The Boys in the Band”

SEATTLE—After the hectic craziness that was “Annie” at the Hollywood Bowl over a week and a half ago (thank you, Bowl audiences, for coming to see us), I headed to New York for a little rest and relaxation. This includes a couple of solo food outings, cocktails with friends and, of course, show watching. For this brief visit, I took in one brand-new magic show, a revival of a play, and a visit to my beloved “island.”

‘In & Of Itself’

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Credit for my awareness of this incredible show must go to my husband, Rob. He was watching a podcast titled “Tested” in July, and the hosts were talking about “In & Of Itself,” created, written and performed by magician Derek Delgaudio. Neil Patrick Harris serves as one of the show’s producers, and Frank Oz is its director.

Before the show begins, the audience is ushered to a wall where there are hundreds of “I AM” cards hanging. We’re told to take just one card. Some of us took one that had our occupations written (I took the “a singer” card), while others swiped the ones with more offbeat descriptions (“a ninja,” for example). Others yet took cards that seemed to tell a deeper story, something more personal. “A husband.” “A daughter.” “An activist.” This part of the show is important, as the show is an examination of identity, interspersed with some amazing magic tricks.

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One would think that the illusions would be its main feature, given that Derek is a magician, and a damned good one. I mean, I was seated only three rows back from the stage, and was flabbergasted with each bit of magic he performed.

However, the part that really got me were his stories and how he told them: about being 6 years old and discovering his mother is gay, and the prejudice that followed; about taking the time to learn tricks with a deck of cards; and ultimately, about how he sees himself and the many layers of that thing called identity.

The bracing honesty with which he speaks is refreshing and relatable. To my eyes and ears, this was where the real magic resided: he created a bridge between his own heart and those of the people in that room.

You only have until Aug. 19 to see this gem. Run to the Daryl Roth Theater (101 East 15th Street)—and be amazed and touched.

‘The Boys in the Band’

Imagine being a gay man in New York City, in the spring of 1968. It’s more than a full year before the Stonewall riots, considered the single most important event leading to the gay liberation movement. A birthday party at the apartment of Michael (Jim Parsons) is about to take place for his friend, Harold (Zachary Quinto).

Throughout the evening, various friends in Michael’s life start arriving: Donald (Matt Bomer), Emory (Robin de Jesus), Bernard (Michael Benjamin Washington), Larry (Andrew Rannells) and Hank (Tuc Watkins), and a male stripper nicknamed The Cowboy (Charlie Carver).

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Later on, after Harold’s fabulous entrance, Michael’s college friend Alan (Brian Hutchison) arrives, and a drunken evening ensues, touching on racism, homophobia, self-loathing, being closeted, becoming uncloseted, mistaken assumptions, drugs and alcohol, and what it means to be gay.

Deftly directed by Joe Mantello, Matt Crowley’s play boasts actors who perfectly inhabit the roles they play. Although the entire ensemble is uniformly excellent, the scene stealer award needs to be given to two gents in particular: Andrew Rannells and Robin de Jesus. They both boast the gift of comic timing and expression, but also display great emotional depth.

If there’s anything “The Boys in the Band” can teach us, it’s that there are ways in which the LGBT community has made advances, and ways in which things have not quite moved at all. There are many areas that still display great bigotry towards the entire community, due to lack of understanding and an unwillingness to reach out.

As dated as the piece might seem to be at the outset, once you’re in the thick of the play, you realize that it’s still relevant and powerful, and that this fictional birthday party could happen today.

And finally . . .

I got to see “Once on This Island” twice, and my only takeaway was this: the pride that I felt sitting in that darkened theater watching people I love and respect perform with such conviction, strength and specificity was overflowing.

The show was such a magical experience that had me running the gamut of emotions, howling with laughter one minute and dropping tears the next. This musical is truly a special piece of theater, and seeing that crowd leap to its feet gave me such joy in my heart.

My friends, thank you for your abundant gifts of music and heart. I am so proud to see and know you.

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TAGS: Annie, Backstory, Hollywood Bowl, I AM
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