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Craving a slice of Tesla's automotive future, but don't have the bank account for the $62,400 sticker price? Fear not. The company's CEO Elon Musk has announced that, in addition to now offering unconditional warranties on all Model S power packs -- even if the user is at fault -- and using Model S and Roadsters as loaners should one's car need to visit a garage, Tesla is also upping its finance terms to make the Model S even more accessible.
Apparently, sales have been strong enough that financing partners have agreed to allow the current 63-month finance term to extend to 72 months. Tesla claims that, after taking deposit and fuel-savings into account, the average user will pay just $580 per month to own the Model S. Business users can expect a monthly rate of $315, once the depreciation benefit is taken into account and with 70 percent of miles driven being for business use.
This comes with a fresh guarantee from Musk, who previously assured owners that the Model S would have a resale value comparable to that of the Mercedes S-Class, that the auto will now have the highest resale value of any premium sedan. Tesla has also updated the "true cost of ownership" section of its website. So if you're curious to see what impact the Model S would have on your automotive -- and financial -- life, head over to teslamotors.com and check it out.
Meanwhile, the company has just announced a Performance Plus package for the Model S, claiming it takes the sedan's handling into supercar territory.
Their reasoning? A journalist told Musk that the Model S handled well, but was out-performed by McLaren's MP4-12C supercar. Instead of suggesting the man Google "obvious statements," Tesla's engineers instead rented the McLaren and set about trying to match its dynamics.
The result? A $6,500 package that fits upgraded dampers, bushings, stabilizer bars and better gripping Michelin tires on the optional $3,500, 21-inch wheels -- which are 20mm wider at the rear. Tesla claims that overall handling and performance are greatly improved, but that ride comfort is also better. On top of all that, Model S's with the package will get six to 12 more miles per charge than standard cars.
It's available now for new orders. Current owners, meanwhile, can retrofit the package to their cars so they don't feel left out. If Tesla's handling claims bear fruit in the real world, those with deep enough pockets have an easy decision to make.
FORD IS THE second-largest producer of hybrids in the United States -- running a distant second to the infamous Toyota Prius family -- but the Japanese marque shouldn't be resting on its laurels, as Henry Ford's company is gearing up to smash its previous hybrid yearly sales record, seven months ahead of schedule.
Ford's last record-breaking year was 2010, when they sold 35,496 hybrids. Taking April's strong sales into account, 2013's total currently sits at 29,561, just 6,000 shy of the record. If current sales maintain their pace, Ford expects to break its record sometime in May.
Toyota currently holds 58 percent of the hybrid market, but Ford increased its share to 18 percent in April with strong sales of the Fusion and C-Max hybrids. This comes as Prius sales have stalled, with lower gasoline prices driving consumers out of Toyota showrooms -- though the Prius's bland image and stale looks can't be helping matters. If Toyota can't reverse the decline, we could be seeing a change at the top of the hybrid heap in the future.
IN AN ENCOURAGING sign for America's three biggest automakers, April has been another solid month of increasing sales. GM, Chrysler and Ford are all posting double-digit sales gains, and the overall market has swelled from its position this time last year, with projected sales of 1.3 million -- an 11 percent increase compared with April 2012.
Crossovers, light-trucks and large pickups remain the most sought after vehicles, the latter two buoyed by gains in the housing and construction markets, with all three expected to increase overall sales this year to around 15.4 million autos, an increase of almost 1 million over last year.
GM sales rose 11 percent last month, with Cadillac up 34 percent, and Chevy and Buick swelling by 11 percent each. Ford increased its sales by 18 percent through April, with Lincoln increasing its volume by 21 percent. Chrysler has enjoyed strong growth thanks to its Ram trucks, and the company can now mark 37 months of solid, consecutive gains on its calendar.
In keeping with self-made stereotypes, Americans continue to flock to pick-ups, with new models and old favorites continuing to perform well -- the Chevrolet Silverado increased sales by 28 percent, and Ram selling over 31,000 trucks in April. Redesigns are proving popular too -- Ford is recognizing increased demand for its latest Escape and Fusion models, and Dodge's brand new Dart helping to buoy its sales, with a 65 percent increase in demand for the Durango not hurting either.
For more, visit MetroWeekly.com/gears....more
The office of D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (D) will be hosting its first LGBT-themed youth town hall tomorrow, at noon at Eastern Market's North Hall, located at 225 7th St. SE.
Gray has held other monthly town halls geared at youth, but Saturday's will mark the first time Gray specifically focuses on LGBT-related youth issues, said Sterling Washington, director of the Mayor's Office of GLBT Affairs.
According to Washington, Gray typically lets the audience determine the topic of conversation. Some topics that could be addressed range from questions about resources for homeless teens, to the environment for LGBT students in D.C. schools, to HIV.
Anyone with questions about the town-hall event should call the D.C. Youth Advisory Council at 202-727-7968, or the Office of GLBT Affairs at 202-727-9493....more
A lawyer for Maryland Del. Don Dwyer (R-Anne Arundel Co.), one of the General Assembly's most vocal opponents of LGBT rights and same-sex marriage, has filed an appeal of Anne Arundel District Court Judge Robert Wilcox's decision today to sentence Dwyer to 30 days in jail, as reported by WBAL TV, for operating a boat under the influence of alcohol, leading to a powerboat crash on the Magothy River in August in which Dwyer, another adult and four children sustained serious injuries.
According to the Associated Press, Dwyer's lawyer, David Fischer, filed the appeal Tuesday afternoon, meaning the sentence will be blocked from going into effect and Dwyer will not be imprisoned until the case can be heard and reviewed by the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court.
Dwyer and Fischer held a news conference Monday, a day before he was scheduled to go on trial, to announce his plans to plead guilty to the charge of operating a vessel while under the influence of alcohol, CBS-affiliate WJZ reported. In exchange, prosecutors agreed to drop other charges against him, including reckless operation of a vessel, negligent operation of a vessel, failing to register his boat and a rules-of-the-road violation for failing to exercise the proper precautions to avoid an accident.
But Judge Wilcox rejected the plea deal between Dwyer and prosecutors, sentencing the lawmaker to 30 days in jail and requiring him to pay a $1,000 fine.
On Aug. 22, 2012, Dwyer and a friend, John Moran IV, a former candidate for sheriff and County Council in Anne Arundel County, were boating when their 26-foot craft collided with an 18-foot boat containing Mark ''Randy'' Harbin, another adult and five children. Dwyer's boat later sank as a result of the collision, and Dwyer, another adult and four of the children were taken to the hospital.
The day following the accident, Dwyer appeared at a press conference in a wheelchair, neck brace and leg cast and admitted to drinking alcohol prior to the crash. Investigators later revealed Dwyer's blood-alcohol level was 0.24 percent, three times the legal limit for operating a vehicle.
Harbin was also charged in the incident, though none of his charges were alcohol related.
Dwyer gained notoriety in 2010 for his failed attempt to impeach Attorney General Doug Gansler (D) after Gansler issued a legal opinion saying Maryland would recognize same-sex marriage licenses from other states. Dwyer has several times proposed amendments to ban same-sex marriage, and called for the removal of Baltimore County Circuit Judge Brooke Murdoch after she found Maryland's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.
In a January interview with the Maryland Gazette, Dwyer admitted that he had been drinking more heavily, which he attributed to two factors: his November 2011 separation from his wife of 31 years; and what he called a political ''betrayal'' by Del. Wade Kach (R-Baltimore Co.), Del. Robert Costa (R-Anne Arundel Co.) and former Del. Tiffany Alston (D-Prince George's Co.). The three lawmakers who had opposed same-sex marriage, but later reversed their positions.
Dwyer has not announced any plans to resign or indicated whether he will run for re-election in 2014. But his legal troubles related to the crash prompted House Speaker Michael Busch (D-Anne Arundel Co.) to remove Dwyer from the House Judiciary Committee, which oversees legislation regarding drunken driving and boating, instead reassigning Dwyer to the Ways and Means Committee....more
Whitman-Walker Health, the nonprofit community health center that specializes in HIV/AIDS and LGBT-competent care, announced Tuesday it will be offering meningitis vaccinations to people who are not current patients due to increased demand.
Although there have been no reported cases of meningitis in the gay male community in D.C., reports of deaths of gay men in New York and Los Angeles have raised concerns among gay men in Washington.
Chip Lewis, a spokesman for Whitman-Walker, says the cost of vaccination is $150 per shot. People who are HIV-negative will need one shot; and people who are HIV-positive will need two shots, eight weeks apart.
Lewis also reiterated that there have been no reported cases of meningitis in the District, but said that Whitman-Walker recommends the vaccine for gay men who are sexually active with multiple partners or who travel frequently.
Meningitis is transmitted through exposure to an infected person's oral fluids, whether through kissing, coughing, sneezing or sharing utensils and drinking glasses. Symptoms of meningitis include sudden onset of fever, headache and stiff neck, and are usually accompanied by nausea, vomiting, increased sensitivity to light and confusion, and develop within three to seven days after exposure. If caught early, meningitis can usually be successfully treated with antibiotics.
For more information, call Whitman-Walker Health at 202-745-7000 or visit whitman-walker.org....more
The two men suspected of an April 25 altercation, in which they allegedly beat and robbed a man in the 1300 block of 14th Street NW just before 1 a.m., appeared in D.C. Superior Court today, where they were assigned new lawyers and had their preliminary status hearing postponed by two weeks.
Gustavo Velasquez, 24, and Ciriaco Oxlaj, 26, have each been charged with one count of robbery for allegedly assaulting and stealing an iPad from a man standing on the 14th Street sidewalk. The suspects are alleged to have yelled anti-gay slurs at the victim during the attack.
Although police initially investigated the incident as a potential hate crime, no bias enhancements have been filed by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia against either defendant.
Prior to the start of the hearing, Velasquez's attorney, Mitchell Baer, and Oxlaj's attorney, Martin Rosendorf, asked to withdraw from the case. Superior Court Judge Frederick Sullivan approved the withdrawals and postponed the preliminary hearing to the morning of May 29 so that the newly assigned lawyers could become better acquainted with the details of the case.
Both Velasquez and Oxlaj were released on personal recognizance following their initial court appearance immediately after arrest. Both have been ordered to report weekly, in person, to the court's Pretrial Services Agency (PSA), avoid drug use and comply with the terms of a drug-treatment program if necessary, and to stay away from both the victim and the area on 14th Street NW between Massachusetts and Rhode Island Avenues.
Sullivan also granted a request by a representative from PSA to require Velasquez to submit to further drug testing and an addiction severity index assessment. According to the PSA representative, Velasquez tested positive for cocaine at the time of his arrest.
According to charging documents in the case, the victim was standing on the sidewalk smoking a cigarette while holding an iPad when three men approached him, called him a ''faggot'' in Spanish, and struck him, knocking him to the ground and attempting to reach into his pants pockets. The victim temporarily lost consciousness, though he did not require hospitalization.
Police responding to a call about a possible destruction of property in progress encountered the victim, who pointed to Velasquez and Oxlaj, telling officers, ''That's them right there, they just beat me up!'' The victim was unable to identify a third assailant. Police then arrested Velasquez and Oxlaj and took them into custody....more
Whitman-Walker Health, the nonprofit community health center specializing in HIV/AIDS and LGBT-sensitive health care, will present three awards recognizing advocacy on behalf of the LGBT community at its May 29 ''Going the Extra Mile'' benefit. The fundraising event benefits Whitman-Walker's legal-services program, which provides pro bono legal advice and representation to LGBT people and those with HIV/AIDS.
At the benefit, Whitman-Walker will present the Joel A. Toubin Memorial Award, for outstanding advocacy on behalf of people living with HIV/AIDS, to the Honorable Chai R. Feldblum, commissioner of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, for her leadership in advancing disability rights and LGBT rights; Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE) for the organization's dedication to raising awareness about issues affecting LGBT seniors; and the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) for its leadership on behalf of equality for transgender Americans.
''With these awards, we thank individuals and organizations whose efforts over many years have improved the lives of LGBT individuals and families, and persons living with HIV/AIDS, in many ways,'' Adam Falcone, chair of Whitman-Walker Health's board of directors, said in a statement praising Feldblum. ''Over the last 25 years, Commissioner Feldblum has shown her dedication to equal treatment under the law for all Americans. She played a leading role in the writing and passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and ADA Amendments Act and is one of the drafters of the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA). As a law professor and legal scholar she has had a major impact on disability law and LGBT law. She is also the first openly lesbian member of the EEOC. We are proud to honor her years of work and dedication.''
Don Blanchon, WWH executive director, offered praise for SAGE in his organization's announcement of the awards.
''Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE) is the country's largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) older adults,'' Blanchon said. ''For 35 years, they have worked to improve the lives of LGBT elders, who face different challenges in aging than heterosexual elders. As their mission says, 'SAGE works to achieve a high quality of life for LGBT older adults, supports and advocates for their rights, fosters a greater understanding of aging in all communities, and promotes positive images of LGBT life in later years.' Whitman-Walker is proud to honor their vital work.''
Dan Brunner, Whitman-Walker's director of legal services, commented on NCTE's honor in the WWH statement, saying, ''In just 10 years, the National Center for Transgender Equality has become a leading voice on the issues facing transgender people. Through a combination of creative thinking, powerful legal analysis and effective lobbying, NCTE has had a major impact on public policies affecting the transgender community and greatly heightened awareness of the issues that transgender individuals face every day. We are honored to recognize NCTE and their accomplishments.''
The WWH announcement also included comment from the honorees themselves.
''I am beyond delighted to receive this honor,'' Feldblum said. ''I started my legal professional career at the ACLU AIDS Project, where I was privileged to work on laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Ryan White CARE Act. I feel I have come full circles now, helping to implement employment civil rights laws at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Whitman-Walker does amazing work for people living with HIV/AIDS, both in medical care and legal services, and I am honored to be part of their effort in making the world a better place.''
Michael Adams, executive director of SAGE, spoke on behalf of his organization, saying, ''SAGE is honored to receive the Joel A. Toubin Memorial Award. People over 50 make up almost 50 percent of those living with HIV/AIDS – and many of them are LGBT. As one of the longest-standing organizations working to ensure that people living with HIV/AIDS receive the compassionate care they need, Whitman-Walker has been a steady advocate for years alongside many of today's LGBT older adults. Thank you to Whitman-Walker for continuing to support the health and well-being of LGBT elders.''
Similarly, NCTE Executive Director Mara Keisling also thanked WWH, as well as her fellow honorees.
''The National Center for Transgender Equality is honored to be recognized along with incredible change-makers like Commissioner Chai Feldblum and SAGE,'' she said in the announcement. ''We've worked closely with both for many years, and we're thankful for their advocacy on behalf of transgender people. NCTE also deeply appreciates Whitman-Walker staff and volunteers for their longtime commitment to trans issues. Advancements in the rights of transgender people would not be possible without groups like Whitman-Walker and others on the ground carrying this work forward.''
Whitman-Walker's ''Going the Extra Mile'' benefit is Wednesday, May 29, at the Carnegie Institution for Science, at 1530 P St. NW. Tickets, $150, are available by calling 202-939-7627 or online at whitman-walker.org/gtem2013....more
Rumors of a potential land swap that could jeopardize the June relocation of The DC Center, the area's LGBT community center, were floated in an April 30 article in the Washington Business Journal, but the center's executive director, David Mariner, assures that the new space is secure.
The Business Journal article included speculation that District government could be considering a land swap in which Akridge, a commercial real-estate company, would turn over its Buzzard Point site in Southwest Washington for a D.C. United Stadium, in return for rights to other city properties – like the city-owned Reeves Center, slated to house The DC Center. The speculation was offered by a ''city official on deep background.''
Mariner says such speculation has no bearing on The DC Center's relocation.
''If anybody bought [the Reeves Center] from the city, our lease would remain in effect,'' Mariner said. ''The new owners would have to honor the agreement.''
Mariner explained that The DC Center has signed a Reeves Center lease that will be in effect for the next 15 years, and that any land swap – particularly anything that would impact The DC Center – is ''all speculation.''
The DC Center is expected to move into the Reeves Center at 14th and U Streets NW in mid-to-late June, when the lease at its current location, 1318 U St. NW, expires, and after the busy LGBT Pride season closes.
The DC Center recently received a $25,000 donation from Washington businessman D.C. Allen, owner of 14th Street's Crew Club gay gym and spa, to help defray costs of renovations, which are expected to range from $75,000 to $100,000....more
The Nance is the gayest play currently running on Broadway -- among other attributes, it features a gay writer (Douglas Carter Beane), a gay lead actor (Nathan Lane) and gay content, focused as it is on a gay burlesque star in the 1930s. The critically heralded show also snagged five Tony nominations, including one for Lane's performance.
But alas, The Nance didn't get a nod for Tony's top honor: Best Play. The following is a roundup of the shows that did get nominated in Broadway's four top categories -- well, those that you can still actually see on the Great White Way. Sorry about that Bring It On: The Musical and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, two shows that have already shuttered. Also omitted: Orphans, which snagged a Best Play Revival but closes this Sunday, May 19. Blink and you'll miss it.
All shows included here are running until at least June 16, one week after the 67th Annual Tony Awards are announced during a live CBS broadcast set for Sunday, June 9, starting at 8 p.m.
For more information and to get tickets for these and other shows, visit broadway.com.
THE ASSEMBLED PARTIES
Richard Greenberg's latest is a drama about a family holiday gathering gone awry -- and Judith Light, a Tony winner last year for her superb work in Other Desert Cities, also about a family holiday gathering gone awry, is nominated again.
The final show from Nora Ephron (Sleepless in Seattle) focuses on a gutsy, prize-winning newspaper columnist, played by Tom Hanks in his Tony-nominated Broadway debut. The sentimental favorite to win, it's also the popular favorite, based on box-office success.
VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE
Christopher Durang's new dark comedy was inspired by the work of Russian playwright Anton Chekhov and focuses on a pampered but unhappy family. David Hyde Pierce is one of four Tony-nominated actors in the show, which also stars Sigourney Weaver.
Chances are this won't sweep the Tonys, even with its 13 nods. But never underestimate the power of a popular, feel-good show with rousing pop music -- or the power of a beloved drag queen. And drag queens are mainstream now, aren't they?
A drag queen even factors into this critically acclaimed -- and 12-times-nominated -- British import, based on the children's novel by Roald Dahl. Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin's musical focuses on a precocious child and a wicked headmistress, a not-so-beloved man in drag.
BEST REVIVAL OF A PLAY
THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL
A couple years after Bethesda's Round House Theatre proved it could be done, an all-black, all-star revival of Horton Foote's play about the power of escape is a bona fide hit on Broadway, earning four nominations.
BEST REVIVAL OF A MUSICAL
Jane Lynch is now mean Miss Hannigan for the next month, which should console these hard-knock lifers -- and boost the box office -- after failing to score any nominations other than this one, even though reviews were decent.
Director Diane Paulus got mostly good reviews -- and 11 Tony nods -- for her work in reimagining this 40-year-old musical about a mysterious performance troupe weaving a tale of a pleasure-seeking prince as a magical circus act.
RODGERS + HAMMERSTEIN'S CINDERELLA
Prolific gay scribe Douglas Carter Beane garnered mixed-to-favorable reviews -- and a Tony nomination, one of nine here -- for his reimagining of the familiar old TV musical in what is, unbelievably, its Broadway debut....more
A couple weeks ago Katy Perry raved to her nearly 37 million followers on Twitter.
''Just saw KINKY BOOTS on Broadway & cried w/joy from it's [sic] powerful, beautiful message,'' the pop star Perry wrote in a tweet maxed out to exactly 140 characters. ''Congrats on every of its deserved 13 Tony nominations!''
But Perry wasn't done. A few seconds later she sent a second shorter, punchier tweet: ''AND if Billy Porter doesn't win the Tony for best actor in a musical... There will be words... Trust.''
(Photo by Gavin Bond)
Harvey Fierstein and Cyndi Lauper's musical, based on a 2005 British film about a drag queen who helps save a family shoemaking business, garnered the most Tony nods of any show on Broadway this year. Two of its 13 nominations are for its leads: Stark Sands, who plays Charlie, the straight man, and Porter, who plays Lola, the drag queen. Porter even faces stiff competition from another man who performs in drag -- ertie Carvel, who plays a sadistic ''headmistress'' in Matilda.
Even if the 43-year-old Porter doesn't win -- and Perry follows through with more words -- Kinky Boots is clearly Porter's star-making role. Not that he's anything of a novice: The actor has spent more than two decades on and off the Great White Way, with additional forays into television and film and pop music.
''Billy's such a great performer and a really, really good guy,'' Broadway composer Stephen Schwartz said during an interview with Metro Weekly. Schwartz particularly remembers Porter as Belize in the 2010 New York revival of Angels in America, a role that Porter recalls as a ''a dream role.''
''He was fantastic, I just thought he gave an amazing performance in that,'' Schwartz says. ''And not very surprisingly, he's superb in Kinky Boots as well.''
METRO WEEKLY: Congratulations on the Tony nomination. It's your first, right?
BILLY PORTER: Thank you! Yes it is. It's amazing. I've been dreaming of this for a very long time.
MW: Did you think this would be the one that did it for you?
PORTER: Hmm, I knew that it had the potential. It's the kind of part that sort of screams ''Tony nomination,'' if you can actually get all the pieces in place properly.
MW: How long have you been working on the role?
PORTER: Since July of 2011. I did a table reading, and then we did a workshop in January of 2012. And then we went to Chicago in September of 2012.
MW: You've had a good long while to figure out Lola, the character.
PORTER: Yes. I had a nice long time for it to marinate. [Laughs.]
MW: Not to mention getting used to wearing heels so much of the time.
PORTER: I had walked in heels before, so it wasn't the actual walking in them, but it was the idea of having to wear them eight times a week, and trying to figure out how to build my core strength so that I wouldn't have back problems. I started going to Bikram yoga back in November of 2011 before the workshop. And then they sent me to a boutique gym here in New York.
MW: And so far...?
PORTER: I'm holding up. As of now, I'm holding up. I don't have any back problems. I do physical therapy twice a week and I get a massage once a week, so I'm staying on top of all of whatever the physical issues could possibly be.
(Photo by Matthew Murphy)
MW: Is it true that you ice your feet as part of your show regimen?
PORTER: I do, I do. You've got to pull the blood out of them and redistribute the blood back into the rest of your body. [Laughs.]
MW: You have to go beyond just the typical performing duties of protecting your voice, though you have to do that, too.
PORTER: Vocally, I took really great efforts to create a template where nothing was strained. I would sing through songs and find the key and then I would say, ''Okay, now let's lower that a step.'' So I wasn't always at the tip-tip-top of my range, and didn't have to worry about that. And then regenerative sleep. I try to get at least seven to 10 hours of sleep a night. That really is the biggest key to success, doing eight shows a week.
MW: You mentioned experience wearing heels. This isn't your first drag role, right?
PORTER: I did a film back in the '90s called Twisted, where I played a drag queen. And I did a play where I was dressed up in sort of pseudo drag for a scene of it. But never to this magnitude, and never in this way that's so grand and spectacular. It's designed -- the hair, the wigs, the makeup, the costume. It's just astonishing. I have a whole team that helps Lola come to life.
MW: The Village Voice recently stirred up a little controversy with the character, quoting Harvey Fierstein calling Lola straight, all the while you've conceptualized playing the role as gay, right?
PORTER: For me, yes. But let me be clear that Lola's sexuality is not the point of this play. It's not the point at all. She could be gay, she could be straight, it could be questionable. In terms of how I approach it, as an African-American, out, gay Christian man, my version of Lola is gay. Now if you have a conversation with Harvey Fierstein, he might say something different and that's absolutely fine as well. You have to understand that Lola's sexuality is not the point. It's just not. So it doesn't actually matter.
MW: The point is just respecting yourself and what makes you different or special, as well as respecting others who are different from you.
PORTER: Yeah, learning how to love yourself. Learning how to respect yourself. Learning how to forgive yourself and forgive others. It's a bromance between two men -- an unlikely pair of friends. And one of them just happens to wear a dress.
MW: You've been out your entire career?
PORTER: I have. I was out when it wasn't popular. [Laughs.] And I've taken all the hits that come with that decision.
MW: Obviously you've seen changes since you started.
PORTER: Oh absolutely. The character of Lola could not have existed 20-something years ago when I started in this business. Which is why it's taken me all of this time to have a role that is so revolutionary inside of the [Broadway] paradigm. She's black, and a drag queen, on Broadway. We have not seen that before. And she's not the butt of the joke. She's not a caricature. She's a real, three-dimensional, fleshed-out human being. And you know, no T, no shade, but it's not Madea. And I love Tyler Perry and I love Madea, but it's not that version of drag.
You get to see a third of the piece where Lola is male, out of drag. And you see the inner workings and the dimensions of who this person is. So she's not just the clown, but she's the heart and soul of the piece. And that's a different thing. That didn't exist when I started. The possibility of what I'm doing right now did not exist. It was not an option.
MW: You alluded to it already, but when you started in this business, I'm sure people encouraged you to be in the closet and not be out.
PORTER: Yeah, I was in the music business. I had an album on A&M Records. I was never the type of person that was sort of screaming from the mountaintops that I was gay. I also wasn't the type of person that was so effeminate that I couldn't pass. But I also instinctively, early on, knew that to omit the information was also a lie. So to say nothing -- for me, and that's just for me -- to say nothing and sort of let people think otherwise was also a lie and it wasn't truthful, and I really wanted to find as much truth in my work as I possibly could.
(Photo by Matthew Murphy)
MW: Do you plan to record another album?
PORTER: I'm in the process right now of trying to figure that out. And figure out how and with whom and what it's going to be. I think having the audience now of Kinky Boots is going to help launch that for me.
MW: And then there will be the cast album, due out May 28. That's another one to add to your discography.
PORTER: Absolutely. And it's really good too because Cyndi Lauper is one of the album's producers so it sounds really authentically crossover pop. It's a theater piece but it sounds like a pop record.
MW: That's also one of the things I took away from the show itself: It's a musical rooted in contemporary pop. It doesn't sound that much like the traditional Broadway show.
PORTER: Yeah. It's really authentic. And she's a brilliant songwriter and a wonderful, brilliant lyricist. She really came to play and I think she wrote -- it's some of her best work ever.
MW: Do you have a particular favorite of the songs that you sing?
PORTER: The one that is the closest to me, and the one that I think says the most about Lola, the story and myself is ''I'm Not My Father's Son.'' It's the place where you get to learn and discover who this human being is. Initially, when you first meet Lola, you can mistake her for something that you've seen before. You could mistake her for being the over-the-top clown. And then all of a sudden it drops right in to the humanity of this person. And it changes the trajectory, the whole tone of the evening, the whole energy of the room. It's amazing to feel it happen every night.
MW: That song is about the two lead characters' personal struggles going against the family -- and familiar -- grain. You personally had that struggle too, right?
PORTER: I had a very tenuous relationship with both my stepfather and my real father, at best. And you know I think that this play, in a lot of ways, is a healing journey for me. It helps me understand their humanness -- the fact that we're all human, we all make mistakes. It has taught me how to forgive them and to forgive myself, and to grow.
MW: What do you think they make of your success, particularly with this show?
PORTER: They're both dead, so I'm sure they're watching from wherever they are. [Laughs.]
MW: Let's talk about your upbringing. You grew up in Pittsburgh. Did you have siblings?
PORTER: I have one sister who's 10 years younger than me. And I have a couple of aunts and some cousins and stuff like that. I grew up in the Pentecostal Church. I sang in church. That's where I started singing. I was introduced to theater in the sixth grade, at the Reizenstein Middle School. I sort of did my first musical in the sixth grade, and then I saw Dreamgirls on the Tony Awards in 1982. And that was when it was like, ''Oh. Oh, okay, maybe I can do this for a living.'' It was just fun initially, but then I saw that people actually did it for a living. And black people did it for a living. And that was the most significant, seeing all of those gorgeous black people on TV looking amazing in those costumes. And then Jennifer Holliday came out and sang the way that I was used to singing. You know it sounded like the women who sang in my church. It sounded like me. And I was like, ''Oh, okay, there is something out there that exists beyond the church building.''
Then I went to the creative and performing arts high school. I went to Carnegie Mellon University in the drama department. And then I moved to New York the second semester of my senior year to be in the original cast of Miss Saigon. That was in '91.
MW: What was that first musical in sixth grade?
PORTER: It was Babes in Arms. Rodgers and Hart.
It was white people's music. It didn't sound like me. You know what I mean? It's like, I didn't know that I could do that. It was fun to sing, it was fun to be in it -- but it was white people. It felt very white.
MW: Are you still in contact with your sister?
PORTER: Yeah. She was here over the weekend with 30 friends and family that she organized to bring to the show this past weekend.
MW: Sounds like you've got a good support system there.
PORTER: Well, it is now. [Laughs.] It wasn't always. But it is now.
MW: Do you want to have kids at some point?
PORTER: I have to meet the right man first. So let's start with a husband. And then we'll talk about kids.
MW: What do you hope for next, or five or 10 years down the line?
PORTER: I don't know. I'm trying to live in the moment. I'm trying to be present right now.
I have goals. I have dreams. I've written a play that I would love to see mounted here in New York on Broadway and around the world. I've written a television series that I would love to see picked up and produced. I mean, the sky's the limit. I would love to brandish a gun in some action movie. I'd love to win an Oscar. All of those things. But really, in this moment, I'm playing Lola.
MW: Definitely a good moment to be in.
PORTER: It's an amazing moment. And I'm trying to embrace and understand how to really, really do that. I think we as human beings have a tendency to always be looking on to the next thing and we miss the great things that are happening in front of us.
Kinky Boots runs at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, 302 West 45th St., in New York. Tickets are $77 to $142. Call 212-239-6200 or visit telecharge.com....more
Stephen Schwartz will make what he calls a ''guest appearance'' with the National Symphony Orchestra this weekend.
''I sing a song with the orchestra towards the end, and do another little thing about one of the songs in Wicked,'' Schwartz says, ''and that's kind of it.''
Of course, Schwartz is the man who wrote the music and lyrics for Wicked, the behemoth musical celebrating its first decade on Broadway this October. And while he may just show up at the end for a little singing, a little talking, the NSO Pops concert, The Wizard and I, is wholly focused on Schwartz's career -- it couldn't have happened without him. In effect, the concert, conceived of and conducted by the NSO's Steven Reineke and featuring several Broadway singers, is a retrospective -- though ''it shows a little bit more range than some of these concerts tend to do,'' notes Schwartz. For example, it includes symphonic suites from Wicked and the 2009 Schwartz opera Séance on a Wet Afternoon. The Washington Chorus will also perform a choral piece he composed inspired by the It Gets Better Project and now making the rounds of the gay men's chorus circuit. Says Schwartz, ''It's not just, 'Oh, here's a song from this show, and here's a song from that show.'''
Not that anyone would complain if that's all it was. From Broadway's Godspell in 1971 to DreamWorks' The Prince of Egypt in 1998, to cite but two highlights of an extensive and varied career, Schwartz knows about popular.
Right now, in addition to the still-smashing success of Wicked, Schwartz is also represented on Broadway with a revival of Pippin. Schwartz worked ''pretty closely'' with Diane Paulus of the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Mass., in reviving a show that hadn't seen the bright lights of Broadway in over 40 years.
The success of the revival, which has snagged an impressive 11 Tony nominations, has made for ''a pretty intense schedule'' for Schwartz. Speaking on a recent Friday afternoon from his home in Connecticut, Schwartz was hard at work finalizing production on the Pippin cast album, due for digital release June 4 and on physical CD July 9. But on that day he was also taking time out to entertain visitors: his daughter, her husband and their 9-month-old granddaughter. ''We're all very amused watching my granddaughter show off all of her tricks,'' he says. ''At that age, every day they have new tricks to do.''
Or, as her grandfather once famously put it in song, ''Magic to do, just for you.''
METRO WEEKLY: Let's start by talking about the revival of Pippin. I'm guessing you've seen the production a few times now that it's back on Broadway.
STEPHEN SCHWARTZ: [Laughs.] Yeah, just a few times. Obviously I went a lot during previews to try and help with sound issues and with the singers and take notes, as one does. Now that the show is open and running, once my responsibilities for the cast album are discharged -- because I always produce my albums, so I'm producing this one as well -- then I'll probably drop in every six weeks or so, just to check up on things, as I try to do with Wicked as well.
MW: Are you pleased with the Pippin revival?
SCHWARTZ: Extremely. I had a great experience working with the director Diane Paulus and her team, and I think she's done an amazing job. The book writer, Roger Hirson, and I, both really could not be more pleased.
MW: Was a revival of Pippin something you had been pushing for?
SCHWARTZ: No, to the contrary. Several times over the years we'd been approached about doing a revival on Broadway, and for various reasons, having to do with specific ideas, we said no. And then a confluence of circumstances, including our enthusiasm for Diane and her concept and the fact that she wanted to incorporate the Bob Fosse choreography as well as her new concept for the piece -- several things came together to make us decide this was one to give a try. And even so, of course, it started out as a regional production up in Boston. And if it hadn't worked there then it wouldn't have transferred.
MW: I realize it's very early, but has there been talk about a tour?
SCHWARTZ: Somewhat to my shock, basically two days after it opened and was quite well received, I got informed that they were discussing plans for a tour. Which seems to be awfully quick. But if it continues to do this well in New York, then I think they'll put a tour together. But, you know, the show just opened a few weeks ago, so....
MW: Of course Wicked is perennially touring.
SCHWARTZ: [Laughs.] Yes, that's a good way to put it. It does seem to be perennially touring. In fact, the team, all of us have to drag ourselves -- well, I say that slightly facetiously -- but we're all making a trip to see one of the tours in New Orleans next week, just to check up on it, because it's due for a checkup.
MW: When it has set up shop here at the Kennedy Center, both times it was a smash hit, nearly impossible to get tickets.
SCHWARTZ: Yeah well, you're not going to hear me feel sorry about that. [Laughs.]
MW: Did you say you go in every six weeks or so and see Wicked on Broadway?
SCHWARTZ: With Wicked now I tend to go whenever there's a major cast change. For instance, [in a week] we're going to change over Elphabas and Fiyeros, etc., so I'll go in and take a look at it then, and take some notes. We do what we can to try and keep the show in good shape, and make sure that the show is maintained as well as possible.
MW: I assume you didn't foresee Wicked would have the resonance and staying power it's had over the past decade.
SCHWARTZ: No. I mean that's not really something that one can foresee. We had a pretty good feeling about the show, and that it had a good chance to succeed, fairly early on. But that strange alchemy that transforms something from a hit into a phenomenon is related to timing and sort-of where the zeitgeist is -- things completely outside the realm of the show itself. That's impossible to predict, and it's not even really worth thinking about in advance.
MW: In addition to 10 years of Wicked, I understand this year also marks your 65th birthday.
SCHWARTZ: My 65th birthday! I'm sort of horrified to say, but these days there's no concealing any facts about things like that. You have to just be upfront about it.
MW: When is your actual birthday?
SCHWARTZ: Oh, it was back in March. But I guess they consider it the whole year. And it's nice to just sort of stretch out my birthday celebrations.
MW: How did your choral piece ''Testimony,'' first performed by the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus last year, come to be?
SCHWARTZ: What happened was the SFGMC called me and said we'd like to do a program of your work. And I agreed to it. Then I said, ''Well, I like to write choral music. Maybe I should write a piece for you for this concert.'' I found very compelling and admirable the It Gets Better Project and what Dan Savage and his team had come up with. And I decided I wanted to write a piece based on that. It's inspired by and to some extent derived from interviews that people gave for the It Gets Better Project. It's a piece I'm really proud of.
MW: Along similar lines is Mika's adaptation of one big number from Wicked, rechristened ''Popular Song,'' with a strong anti-bullying message. I realize that will not be performed at the NSO show, but what do you think of it?
SCHWARTZ: I am just so tickled by that. Mika and I had tried to get together to write a couple things, and our schedules just didn't allow it, particularly with the geographical distance between us. And then out of the blue, maybe a year or so ago, he called me and said he had an idea to do something based on ''Popular,'' and would that be okay with me. And I'm a fan of his, so I said, ''Yes -- but of course I'd have to hear it.'' [Laughs.] And he did the record and when I was in London around the time he had finished it, I went over to his house and very nervously he played it for me. I just thought it was fantastic. I just love it. Really amusing and very imaginative, how he used the idea of the song ''Popular'' and converted it into a song of his own.
MW: Obviously the ''Testimony'' piece is of interest to the LGBT community, but then your work in general has a natural resonance and an appeal with the community. And yet I'm not sure whether you are part of our community. Are you gay?
SCHWARTZ: Well, the truth is that there are three topics that I don't discuss in interviews -- religion, politics and sexuality. I don't want audiences who come to look at my work through a prism -- where the extent to which who I am and what I think coincides with who they are and what they think. I like them to just come to the work on their own, and it either speaks to them or it doesn't. So those are topics I just don't discuss.
MW: But obviously, by creating ''Testimony,'' and talking about the power of the It Gets Better Project, you're clearly moved by the power of people standing up and being public about their sexuality.
SCHWARTZ: Well, absolutely. And as you probably know, the companies of Wicked were way out in front in terms of the anti-bullying campaigns, and the It Gets Better Project. We were among the first [shows] to make It Gets Better videos. And Wicked, as you also probably know -- obviously we can't do it as an official entity, but the companies of Wicked have also been very, very active in the marriage-equality campaigns.
MW: Are you working on another show that might become a Broadway show?
SCHWARTZ: Nothing that I can really talk about quite yet. If it comes together and goes forward, there's something that may show up in a year or so. But it's premature really to discuss it. I don't mean to be secretive about it, but so many of these things fall apart, that I find it's best not to talk about them too much in advance.
MW: One thing we haven't touched on is your work in film. I know Disney's Enchanted, for which you wrote lyrics, was just a few years ago.
SCHWARTZ: I've had very happy experiences working with Disney. The three films that I did with them, I did in collaboration with Alan Menken, who I enjoy working with very much and who's a very good friend of mine. Disney seems to not really be making musicals right now, so, currently I'm working on an animated feature for Dreamworks, which is sort of a Bollywood animated musical. And I'm collaborating with the Bollywood composer A.R. Rahman, who wrote the score for Slumdog Millionaire. He's probably best known for that. That's a lot of fun, and that project is in process.
MW: Has there been any talk of adapting your stage work to the big screen?
SCHWARTZ: Eventually there will probably be a Wicked movie, and there's some talk about a Pippin movie. I don't know if either of those will happen, but there is talk.
MW: And how about the other way around, adapting the animated Disney films you wrote with Menken into Broadway musicals?
SCHWARTZ: We are, in fact -- I guess I'm allowed to say it -- sometimes I don't know what I'm allowed to announce and not. But we are talking about a stage adaptation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which as you may know was actually done for stage, but in Germany, back in 1999. And now we're talking about the possibility of an English-language version of that. And that may happen, but it's very early [in the process]. But it is in process, and I really like that score, I think it's Alan's best score. And I think it would translate very well theatrically, so I'm happy that Disney is considering it, and I hope it comes to pass.
MW: Do you see more diversity in, or different types of, musicals than when you started in the business?
SCHWARTZ: No, I wouldn't say that's the case. Things seem to come in waves. And for a while, there's one kind of musical because something succeeds and then a lot of people try to do more or less the same thing, and then that stops working. And then somebody does something else that succeeds, and so a lot of producers jump on that bandwagon. I wouldn't say Broadway is extremely diverse in terms of its musical theater, let's put it that way.
MW: Are you not enthusiastic about this year's crop of new musicals?
SCHWARTZ: Well, there weren't very many. There was a very small group of new musicals that made it this year, which is somewhat disconcerting. The last couple of years have not been great for new musicals. But I don't know that that's necessarily a trend. So one hopes that the next couple of years there will be more of them -- and more that are successful.
NSO Pops' The Wizard and I runs evenings Thursday, May 16, through Saturday, May 18, at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. Schwartz also sits for an ''In Conversation'' interview with ASCAP's Michael Kerker Saturday, May 18, at 5 p.m. at the Kennedy Center Terrace Gallery. Tickets are $20 to $85 for the concert, and $15 for the conversation. Call 202-467-4600 or visit kennedy-center.org.
Pippin runs at the Music Box Theatre, 239 West 45th St., in New York. Tickets are $59 to $142. Call 212-239-6200 or visit telecharge.com.
Wicked runs at the Gershwin Theatre, 222 West 51st St., in New York. Tickets are $105 to $170. Call 212-840-3890 or visit gershwintheatre.com....more
Star Trek is one of America's greatest exports. Revered by millions worldwide, the sci-fi pop-culture phenomenon has dazzled fans for 50 years -- and with good reason. From the original series with its automatic doors, turbo lifts and transporters, to the Next Generation, which gave us the concept of handheld computers long before Apple made them a commercial viability, Star Trek has inspired something within those who enjoy it. >The escapism, the idealism, the glimpses of technology beyond our reach, the vision of man as a pioneer in expanding the known universe -- millions of viewers have wished they too could boldly go where no man has gone before. It's why the concept of a Star Trek game is so perfect. To be able to create something that offers players the chance to step into the shoes of a Starfleet officer, to command a starship, to explore the galaxy and interact with new races is a level of interaction no book, film, or convention can offer. Star Trek, the game, is the latest in a long line of attempts to capture that dream, and, unfortunately, like so many games before it, it fails miserably. A bloated, buggy, badly-designed experience, Star Trek is shameful not just for its failure as a piece of Trek canon, but for its failure as a game.
At first glance, it seems to tick every box. Based in the universe of J.J. Abrams's new Trek films, with its alternate timeline, Star Trek finds itself situated between the first film and the latest, Into Darkness, enjoying the rare privilege of being considered part of the official canon, given that the plot was developed in conjunction with the film's producers. As such, the narrative plays a heavy role in the game, and seems to offer fans reason enough to play just to explore further the alternate universe Abrams and company have crafted. Deeper character insight and additional dialogue and canon-padding knowledge? That's alone worth the price of admission for any serious Trek fan.
Aiding this are appearances by the main cast, with Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban and others returning to play their respective parts. The level of comfort the actors have with each other has increased notably since the first film, and even in voice-recordings they sound like a seasoned crew and less like the fresh-faced newcomers they were back in 2009. Pine and Quinto turn in the strongest performances as Kirk and Spock respectively, with their constant back-and-forth likely to delight fans who were waiting for the relationship made famous by William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy's representations of the characters. Simon Pegg should also be noted for his turn as Scotty, with the Brit providing much of the comic relief outside of Spock and Kirk's often playful bickering. Witty retorts, emotional speeches, reassurances of support, condemnations for ignoring advice -- they're all here, and the writing is one of the game's strongest points. The characters feel real as they navigate the game's worlds, commenting on environments, events, and one another.
It's matched by one of the most appropriate scores I've ever heard in a game. Rather than craft brand new music, the developers took Michael Giacchino, composer of the film's score, and handed him a 100-piece orchestra. The result? Every crashing symbol and dramatic violin sting feels as if it's lifted straight from the film, and every sequence as though it's playing to an audience of hundreds, with the player as the director. Running through the hallways of the Enterprise, the orchestra belting out an incredibly dramatic, bombastic rendition of the new theme, as phaser-fire bounces off walls, doors hiss open, boots clank on the ground and crewmen scream for help is the definition of immersion. Never before have I felt so much like I was playing a movie, just from the score.
Until, that is, I opened my eyes. Abrams's films are incredibly polished. Lens flare, shallow focus, a clean, glistening sheen over everything -- a visceral treat. Star Trek the game is the opposite. Yes, there is lens flare. Yes, the camera plays with depth-of-field. Yes, cutscenes are skillfully directed. The Enterprise is clean, clinical, with light bouncing from every surface. Standing on the bridge, watching the various screens dance as they throw information at their operators appears exactly as one would expect. That is, of course, if one were expecting it to look as though it had been dipped in vaseline and then trampled on. To say Star Trek's graphics are bad would be slightly cruel were this four years ago, and the game was released to tie-in with the franchise's rebooting. In 2013, though, they're bad. Really bad. Everything, and I mean everything, looks muddy. Characters, textures, environments, surfaces -- all look out of focus and lacking in resolution.
While main cast character models are pretty decent, with accurate scans of Quinto, Pine, et al, every other character is noticeably lacking in detail. Early on, one of the game's enemies grabs the player from a vent. The camera pans in close, but instead of reeling in fear at the alien, I was instead left both astounded and amused at the complete lack of texture on the character's skin. And this was in a close-up cutscene. In-game, it's even worse. Standing on the surface of one planet, with its sun-drenched, desert-oasis landscape should be a visual treat -- instead, it's bland, dull, flat. The homeland of the game's enemy is awash in brown, beige and grey. It's deliberately desolate, but the lack of detail in every screen makes it tiring to play through the chapter. Interiors are a mixed bag. Starfleet bases offer the same crisp, clean look of the Enterprise, but again the muddy textures mar any appeal. Enemy bases and ships are repetitive, and follow the same flat color scheme that wear the player down as they work through them. Given the vast expanse of the universe, did the game's main enemies have to be the only ones to live on such a dreary, exhausting, drab planet?
Once you get over the environment, there are some pretty great setpieces to enjoy, with the designers clearly flexing their muscle and crafting several vast spaces in which to experience the action of the missions. Dense corridor networks, towering lobbies, laboratories, computer stations, engineering platforms, cargo bays -- the various places that the game's 10-hour story takes you are a delight to explore. Well, they would be, were they not crammed full of bugs. Be it doors not opening, characters getting stuck in walls, enemies jumping through cover or across gaps, certain sections simply refusing to let your character through, checkpoints not updating, or, as happened on one occasion, Kirk's weapons and tricorder simply disappearing, leaving me defenseless in the middle of a battle, Star Trek is littered with game-breaking bugs. Many are annoying, such as the hit-or-miss nature of the game's platforming sections, liberally and pointlessly borrowed from the Uncharted franchise, or enemies detecting you as you sneak past a floor below them in a sealed vent. Many are simply unforgivable -- enemy AI will ignore you as you walk straight towards them while shooting, NPCs will block doors and ladders, the secondary character -- either Kirk or Spock, depending on who the player chooses to be -- will often run off, leaving you stranded as you wait for them to join you to advance the game. These are all things that should be polished out with testing and further development, but Star Trek instead feels rushed, unfinished.
It isn't as if the time not spent on graphics or bug-removal was put into gameplay, either. Star Trek is slow, glitchy and often infuriating. It is, in essence, a third-person cover shooter. Right from the start, that's a risky move, as only a few games have successfully managed to master an easy cover system. Gears of War got it right first time, while Uncharted and Mass Effect both took two or three installments to find their groove. Star Trek, sadly, falls into the unsuccessful category. In theory, it should be simple -- run towards any object and hold Circle (on PS3; it will vary for Xbox and PC), and your character will automatically crouch or roll or jump behind it. Highlight another area of cover and hold the button to automatically move to it. Easy, right? In practice, however, press that button and any number of things may happen. You could possibly move to the cover you wanted, or, you could simply move round the corner of where you are. Or stand up. Or roll. Or start walking away. Or move to a completely different area. It's really anyone's guess, and too often I found myself being peppered with phaser fire as I accidentally removed myself from cover. Combine it with slow controls, and it makes for an unpleasant playing experience.
The guns themselves are varied, with the trusty phaser combining with a mixture of Starfleet and alien weapons, each with its own primary and secondary abilities. The weapons themselves aren't anything special, with most doing an adequate job of dispatching enemies, but the use of them brings another issue to the front.
If the main purpose of Starfleet officers, which the game constantly flashes on-screen during loading sequences, is to not use lethal force, then why is it so easy to kill enemies? I tried to play the game as I felt it should be, using the stun feature on my phaser before rushing in for a non-lethal takedown, but it became ridiculously laborious. Using stun exhausts the phaser's reactor in two shots, making for a painfully slow experience as you work through a crowded room of enemies all gleefully trying to use lethal force on you. After a while I just went mad and spent the rest of the game gunning down anyone who so much as raised a gun, but it then left me feeling as though I was playing a generic shooter, not Star Trek. It's a jolting removal from what Trek fans will be accustomed to.
Outside of gunplay, there are a few gameplay items that do actually work. Tricorders are used to scan the local environment, hacking doors and security terminals, scanning people, plants and technology to gain information and offer up little nuggets of detail -- Trek nerds will love these, as I spent ages scouring each room to learn more about the different races, guns, structures and technologies being used in the game's universe. It's ripped straight from Arkham Asylum's detective mode, but it feels appropriate in Star Trek, as exploration is a key theme and the tricorder gives legitimate reason to explore each setting, seeking out fresh details. Each item found also grants experience points which can be used to upgrade the tricorder's abilities, granting additional firepower or extra healing capabilities, for instance. That experience is gained by exploring and not by killing others somewhat redeems the gung-ho attitude of shooting sections. Aside from exploration, there is lots of hacking in Star Trek. Doors, turrets, computers, fire extinguishers, lights, power grids -- you name it, you'll probably hack into it at some point over the course of the game. Each time you do you'll be faced with one of three minigames, each offered with no tutorial, and each proving, at first, to be a fun distraction. Unfortunately, they are used so often that any semblance of fun is soon eradicated, and they rapidly become a tiresome grind that pulls you from any action the main story creates.
One addition that actually enhances the game is multiplayer. As the game is primarily a two-person action adventure starring Spock and Kirk, the ability for two-player fun is included to allow for each player to control one half of the famous duo. It's a lot of fun playing with a friend, zapping enemies, solving puzzles and doing the two-person actions the game AI often struggles to complete in single-player. Of course, the same bugs, graphical atrocities and weak gameplay are all there -- except now you can mock them with a friend.
So it sounds great, looks bad, and plays poorly. What's left in Star Trek?
The story. At the end of the day, it's pretty good. It's standard Star Trek fare for the most part -- powerful enemy seeking to rule the galaxy, experiments gone wrong, political intrigue -- but it's compelling nonetheless. It creates some truly dramatic moments, such as space-diving down a Starbase as it explodes, or flying through crumbling canyons as enemies shoot at you. There's even an epic space battle between the Enterprise and an alien armada -- though even this can't escape the ruinous hand of the gameplay department, being transformed from what could have potentially been an incredible opportunity to captain the Enterprise in combat into an on-rails shooter that has zero excitement and suffers from the same low-detail graphics as the rest of the game.
And really, that's the main flaw of Star Trek. It never lives up to the potential of the world that's been crafted for it. A powerful alien race should lead to incredible firefights, but they instead become laborious chores. Multiple worlds should lead to dense exploration as you learn more about the places you've entered, but you'll instead find yourself wishing you were back on the Enterprise. Epic set pieces are laid before you, offering up suitably dramatic moments, but are then ruined with bugs, control glitches and gameplay annoyances. It's compromise after missed opportunity after compromise. A game set in such a richly detailed universe, with the backstory, canon, and fan expectation should not be this mediocre, this generic. If it weren't a Star Trek game, and lacked the excellent cast, it could just be another sub-par alien shooter.STAR TREK Xbox 360, PS3, PC $59.99 Namco www.Amazon.com
What really makes Star Trek such a bad game, however, is that it feels like it really could have been something great. If the developers had stripped it back, cut off the fat, buffed the graphics, ironed out the bugs, fixed the gameplay and removed the minigames, it could have been completely different. What if I could have actually controlled the Enterprise during the space battles? What if the sky-diving and space-walk sections hadn't had such terrible controls? What if I didn't have to engage in such repetitive gunplay? What if there was no stupid cover-based gameplay system? What if there were more exploration, more character development, more interaction with other races? What if, what if, what if? I shouldn't be playing a game and wondering what it could have been. I should be playing a game and thinking ''This is as great as it can be.'' Mass Effect proved that space exploration and gunplay could be mixed with incredible storytelling, deep backstory and beautiful graphics. It did all that in 2007. Why don't we have it here?
Star Trek is a bitter disappointment, a shameful cash cow, hulking its bloated carcass onto the scene in time for the release of the movie that the game's lazy ending tries to segue into. It's a half-assed, annoying, unfair experiment in testing how far fans will go to get more Trek in their lives. Paramount need to give Star Trek to a studio who gives a damn about what they're doing, so that fan can finally realize their dreams of stepping into the shoes of a Starfleet officer. All this Star Trek game does is force players to step into a turd....more
Chris Stedman's mother rifled through her teenage son's diary and read about his struggles with homosexuality. But unlike many other parents, her response was to introduce Stedman, who had been going to an anti-gay evangelical church, to a local pastor at a progressive church. ''He gave me a different, affirming perspective on homosexuality and Christianity,'' Stedman says.
So while initially angry at his mother's violation of his privacy, Stedman couldn't stay mad for long. ''I was very fortunate, actually, that my mother found out what was happening and intervened,'' he says. ''I think she really sped up the process for me.''
(Photo by Alex Dakoulas)
Stedman, who grew up in an ''irreligious'' home in Minnesota, turned to evangelicalism as a pre-teen in an effort to cope with his parents' divorce and to find a sense of community among his school's ''popular kids for whom life seemed really easy.'' These days, the 26-year-old Stedman describes himself as ''ethically and philosophically a humanist, but I use the term atheist a lot because it needs to be de-stigmatized.''
And that is Stedman's chief focus, as the assistant humanist chaplain at Harvard University. He helps non-religious students with their personal struggles, as well as engaging them in discussion with their religious colleagues. ''I think a lot of people, especially millennials, are just sick of the cable news style of discourse where people just shout past one another and don't even really listen to what the other person is saying,'' he says.
Stedman seeks to reclaim the word ''atheist'' in much the same way the LGBT movement has made the word ''queer'' less offensive. Stedman, who will talk about his work at the Newseum next Thursday, May 23, titled his new memoir Faitheist -- its subtitle: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious -- as one signal he's more open to the faith community than many other, more vocal atheists.
Says Stedman: ''[Being] a faitheist means that I have faith in humanity's ability to transcend our differences over questions like, ''Does God exist or not?'' I have faith in our ability to have a different kind of conversation about religion.''
Chris Stedman speaks Thursday, May 23, at 7 p.m., at the Knight Conference Center at the Newseum, 555 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Free, but limited space. Call 888-639-7386 or visit newseum.org....more
Right now, there's a work of art gracing the stage at the Source on 14th Street. And I don't mean Gilgamesh, the fantastical show created around Yusef Komunyakaa's flowery prose poetry. Well, not the script or the story of Gilgamesh anyway. Based on an ancient written epic from Mesopotamia, Komunyakaa's work is too fanciful and over-the-top to fully draw you in or even really understand. You may find yourself asking what's the point? There's no clear answer, even with a bit of resolution at show's end.
But the visual spectacle that Constellation Theatre Company has created is, as ever, a sight for sore eyes. Among Constellation's feats this time out are eye-popping, resplendent costumes by Kendra Rai and imaginative choreography and movement of actors -- who even personify wild creatures and interpret waves in the rough seas -- by choreographer Emma Crane Jaster working with fight director Casey Kaleba and puppet designer Matthew McGee. Tom Teasley's live percussion-based new age music further enhances the show -- it's mostly incidental or accentual.
Joel David Santner plays the title character, a half-god, half-human hybrid, who is a tyrannical king until he finally learns the right balance to managing his split-personality. Santner is a sharp actor, and notable for his skill alone; he has the dramatic charisma to carry the show.GilgameshTo June 2Source202-204-7760www.constellationtheatre.org
But he also spends more than half of Gilgamesh wearing nothing but a sarong-like wrap -- and then at one point, during a scene in which he's stripped naked, he ends up wearing nothing but a flesh-colored loincloth. You'll likely wish he had just done away with it and bared all. Because Santner's body is a work of art: the ideal sculpted male form, with the perfect amount of grooming of facial and chest scruff.
Santner, it should be noted, is not the only stunning cast member -- male or female -- in Constellation's strong ensemble. Even if the story of Gilgamesh is a bust, you're sure to leave stimulated by the adventure anyway....more
It's always a little disconcerting when you don't get what all the fuss is all about. A case in point, Jon Robin Baitz's Other Desert Cities is an award-winner with a successful Broadway run, and yet beneath its flamboyant premise, flaming one-liners and starkly delineated characters, there is only a tentative foray into its subjects: the bond between parent and adult child and the harsh edge between public and private lives. Of course, the play's popularity suggests that the flaws are easily ignored in favor of Baitz's cleverly conceived color, comedy and driven characters. But noisy and energetic shouldn't be confused with insightful, especially when there are plays such as Tracy Letts's August: Osage County stalking the same territory.
Still, Baitz is not without craft and ideas. His vehicle – a Christmas Eve reunion between the older, wealthy and deeply status-conscious Wyeth parents and their liberal East Coast adult daughter, Brooke, and West Coast TV producer son, Trip – is fertile ground for some interesting (and funny) cultural clashes. And its engine – Brooke's anxious revelation that she has written a book that may upset her parents – invites a far trickier and more provocative contest.
Other Desert Cities
(Photo by Scott Suchman)
And as Baitz maneuvers between the parents and children, he offers some skillful and perceptive footwork in the building and dismantling of the parties' points of view. There is a certain suspense in waiting to see who, if anyone, will be vindicated. But a veneer of clever one-liners and this promising premise are not enough. This play needs far less and a lot more.
The ''far less'' part is about Baitz's almost comical need to check all the boxes. As the evening unfurls, issues of depression, rebellion, alcoholism, politics, status, religion, old Hollywood, the woes of struggling novelists, and even what it means to be a terrorist surface. It may be what today's over-saturated audiences need to keep awake, but it leaves far too little room for exploring anything in any real depth about this family and what they have been through.
And it's not just the issues, but the résumés. Occupying, as one character calls it, the (already loaded) ''subset'' of being Republican Jews, the Wyeth parents are also former Hollywood contenders, she a screenwriter, he an actor. The lily is further gilded with the added nugget of back-story that Lyman followed family friend Ronald Reagan into politics and was later made an ambassador. It is all too much and requires an excess of expository in dialogue that needs to be moving into far more intimate realms. And it's the same with the array of personality types: There is too much telling and not enough being.
And this is where the more part comes in. In order to make compelling his questions, Baitz had to deliver a believable family. But despite all the descriptions of their family lore and status, there is far too little sense of an actual family connection (even a dysfunctional one) or the importance of the parents' need to keep their public face unblemished.
When parents have raised children, worried for them, helped them in times of crisis, there remains a family dynamic. Put families together as adults and there will be, subtle and otherwise, a shared language of old joys and wounds.
Baitz gets this, but his characters too often announce one another's foibles even as they react to them and this speaks to a playwright too eager to prove himself. As the plot thickens and the parties begin to rail and monologue, their words are heavy with message and import but not the depth, dimension and shorthand of once-shared lives. One may keep listening, but it will be out of curiosity, not emotional pull.
Still, this is a production that works hard to offer what it can. And, credit where it's due, there is plenty of flavor in Baitz's location of an exclusive corner of Palm Springs, Calif., on a Christmas Eve. From Kate Edmunds's sleekly unassailable living room with its fake and wholly ignored Christmas tree, there is much to be gleaned of the mental set of its occupants, along with a cohesion the play needs.
Taking a role that is clearly written to draw fine actresses with a yen to be ''difficult,'' Polly Wyeth is derivative of other such matriarchs more completely drawn. Credible as far as the character goes, a uniquely charismatic Helen Carey captures Polly's flare, her edge and the blasé armor of someone used to functioning with a drink (or two) in her system. But, and this lies firmly at Baitz's doorstep, it is impossible to believe that she was ever mother to Brooke, let alone nursed her through a depressive episode; there is simply no indication of such intimacy. Women like Polly cling to even as they destroy. Baitz approaches but never captures this and it leaves Polly an entertainment, not an insight.
As Brooke, Emily Donahoe delivers nicely this woman's adopted East Coast persona and (whether Baitz intended it or not) the strongly self-indulgent streak often found in the artistic. But though Donahoe emotes on Baitz's schedule, his failure to build and explore the necessary dynamics means her tears and frustrations do not always ring true.OTHER DESERT CITIES To May 26 $40-$90 Arena Stage 1101 6th St. SW Fichandler Stage www.arenastage.org 202-488-3300
Also caught in this trap is Larry Bryggman, who gives his Lyman passion and pain where he can. Unfortunately, little of it makes sense since Baitz has him blowing incongruently hot and cold as events progress, but never truly connecting with his daughter. It's impossible to see him functioning at the ambassadorial level and this highlights further the absurdly inflated résumés. Brought on and off like a prop, Martha Hackett gives Silda Grauman, Polly's live-in recovering-alcoholic sister, as much color as she can in a character given short shrift.
The only player besides Carey to stay memorable despite the limitations is Scott Drummond as Trip. As Baitz's only ironic (and most likeable) character, a quietly charismatic Drummond undergirds Trip's wry humor with a watchful warmth that makes believable his urge to find family peace.
In the words of the band America, who wrote about another desert: ''The heat was hot, the ground was dry, But the air was full of sound.'' Unfortunately, sound doesn't always equate with meaning....more
Though the urge to wax lyrical is almost overpowering (and follows below), let's cut to the chase: Synetic's The Three Musketeers is a joyously accessible adaptation of Alexandre Dumas's classic swashbuckler and is simply, absolutely, the most superb fun, whether you are a diehard Synetic fan or chose this as your first foray into the unique world of this one-of-a-kind theater company.
With an adaptation (by Ben and Peter Cunis) of the novel delivered in a whirl of wild and wonderful characters, witty and silly dialogue and a plethora of acrobatics and flashing blades, there is visually, spatially and literally never a dull moment.
Three Musketeers: Peter Pereyraas as Rochefort and Dallas Tolentinoas as D'Artagnan
(Photo by Johnny Shryock)
And even with a story driven more through dialogue than Synetic's familiar vehicles of dance and mime, nothing is lost of the company's usual style and sensibility. Creating an alternate theatrical universe, director Paata Tsikurishvili and choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili set their own points of reference, ones that are rich with dreamlike imagery along with a carefully curated blend of artistic traditions – ancient, new and often touched with the shadows in which they were forged. Add the highly evocative sound design of Thomas Sowers and the haunting original music of Konstantine Lortkipanidze (and a few bars of one or two classics) and the storytelling is not simply entertaining, it is transporting.
A stellar cast, mixing the young and Synetically established, the characters roar with life (sometimes literally). The musketeers – Ben Cunis as the brooding Athos, Hector Reynoso as the boisterous Porthos, Matthew Ward as the stylishly sly Aramis and Dallas Tolentino as the eager D'Artagnan – are each simply but cleverly drawn and together generate the kind of unself-conscious, old-fashioned chemistry currently in danger of disintegration in film vaults. And not only can they all act (especially in the case of the silver-tongued Ward), their swashbuckling is as acrobatic as it is convincing.
As Athos's nemeses and henchwoman of the villainous Cardinal Richelieu, Milady, Irina Tsikurishvili is, as always, a stirring and deeply compelling presence. Playing her assassin with dark flair, she also reveals, for those who have only seen her dance, an extraordinarily beautiful and expressive voice. In her dances with Athos, she moves like veils in slow and relentless motion around Cunis's wooing dreamer and when they collide later in anger and loss, she writhes, sharp-angled, around his well-matched passion. Set to some of the most evocative of Lortkipanidze's music, her dance with Cardinal Richelieu is, with its mix of narrative drama and expressive moves, a stunning reminder that there is nothing like the frisson of live performance.THE THREE MUSKETEERS To June 9 $40-$55 Synetic Theater 1800 S. Bell St. Arlington 800-494-8497 www.synetictheater.org
As a memorable Richelieu, Dan Istrate gives his cardinal the perfect blend of sinister, creepy, deadly and ironic. As Louis XIII, Robert Bowen Smith nicely balances his fop's temper with his camp. And stunningly self-possessed, Brynn Tucker plays her Queen Anne large enough to match the dynamics of the production without losing any of the nuance. As loyal handmaiden Constance, Brittany O'Grady offers a sweetly kittenish, but equally compelling, charisma.
In smaller roles, but adding the kind of color and physicality that keeps the production ablaze, Peter Pereyra is a dastardly Rochefort and Vato Tsikurishvili delivers a high octane Felton.
Dumas called first love a thing of ''excessive joy.'' See Musketeers and feel it for yourself....more
Staying active is at the top of the agenda for 27-year-old Jared. Originally from Hampton Roads, Va., Jared kicked his way through college on a soccer scholarship. Today, working as a graphic designer, he's still scoring goals in a co-ed recreational league. He's also trained in ''aerial silks,'' acrobatic feats aloft made by famous by Cirque du Soleil. ''It's a lot of fun and a good workout,'' he says. When he's not working on his physical fitness, Jared likes to hang out in D.C. or downtown Baltimore, meaning you're likely to catch him at places like Grand Central, Nellie's or Cobalt.
What's on your nightstand?A spread of magazines and books.
(Photo by Julian Vankim)
What's in your nightstand drawer?Loose change and receipts.
Where do you keep the condoms and lube?Bathroom closet.
What are your television favorites?House of Cards and The Walking Dead.
What was your favorite cartoon when you were a kid?The Ren & Stimpy Show. It was kind of crude and funny for the time, before the likes of South Park and Family Guy.
Who's your greatest influence?My mom. She is a single parent of two, and has been an example in my life of what strength is, and how to overcome obstacles.
What's your greatest fear?Not leaving behind a meaningful legacy.
Pick three people, living or dead, who you think would make the most fascinating dinner guests imaginable.Tim Burton, Alexander McQueen and Quentin Tarantino.
What would you serve?Squid-ink pasta and bourbon.
(Photo by Julian Vankim)
How would you describe your dream guy?Someone spontaneous and loyal.
Define good in bed.Someone who's able to push your buttons without crossing the line.
Who should star in a movie about your life?James Franco.
Who was your first celebrity crush?Bruce Willis.
Who gets on your nerves?Someone with a bad attitude.
If your home was burning, what's the first thing you'd grab while leaving?My phone.
What's your biggest turn-on?A nice smile.
What's your biggest turn-off?Bad breath.
What's something you've always wanted to do but haven't yet tried?Flying a plane.
(Photo by Julian Vankim)
What's something you've tried that you never want to do again?Eat ghost chili peppers.
Boxers, briefs or other?Boxer-briefs.
Who's your favorite musical artist?Queens of the Stone Age.
What's your favorite website?Thinkingforaliving.org.
What's the most unusual place you've had sex?In the back of a car.
What position do you play in the big baseball game of life?Pitcher.
What's your favorite retail store?AllSaints.
What's the most you'll spend on a haircut?$25.
What about on shoes?$200.
What's your favorite food to splurge with?Mozzarella sticks.
(Photo by Julian Vankim)
What's your favorite season?Fall, because of the number of things you can wear in fall versus the other seasons.
What kind of animal would you be?A tiger.
What kind of plant would you be?A Japanese maple.
What kind of car would you be?KITT from Night Rider.
What are you most grateful for?For having a true understanding of hard work.
What's something you want more of?I want more design work. It pays my bills.
State your life philosophy in 10 words or less.Don't be an asshole....more
As HIV-vaccine trial participants, we grow accustomed to the routine blood draws, interacting with study staff and taking our computer-assisted interviews that catalog our risks. And, of course, the risk-reduction counseling to help us reduce our sexual risk-taking behavior. For almost three years this quarterly experience was a part of my life. It was a piece of my routine until I received a phone call that changed it all. It was an unexpected end to something that I thought I'd still have years more to be engaged with. Two weeks ago I found out that the trial's independent safety board recommended stopping immunizations because the experimental HIV vaccine was not showing any signs that it would be effective in the prevention of HIV infection. Nor would the candidate vaccine help a person to better manage the virus should they become positive.
The HVTN 505 study began in 2009 and was testing an investigational vaccine. The U.S.-based trial enrolled gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men, as well as transgender women. The trial was the only large-scale vaccine study in world.
(Photo by Ward Morrison)
On the line with my study coordinator, my mind raced: What does it means for me and my fellow participants? What does it mean for the study staff that I've grown accustomed to seeing a few times a year? And what does it mean for the larger vaccine field and the goal of ending AIDS?
From a man known for being able to say the right thing, I couldn't find the words for what I should say. All these thoughts were racing through my head and I couldn't verbalize any of them to explain how I really felt in that moment when receiving the news that my trial was ending years ahead of schedule.
At the end of the day these results do not change my fundamental view that an AIDS vaccine remains critical to a long-term strategy to end the AIDS epidemic in my community and around the world. It's important to remember that our battle against HIV has never been easy. But it has extended our understanding of not only a virus and the immune system, but has shown us things about human nature and cultural intersection. Each time we conduct a trial we learn something that helps us move a step closer to what will one day lead to a safe and effective vaccine.
Moreover we've still learned valuable lessons about the community – people like me, a young gay black man – who choose to be a part of a clinical trial. The trial offered a model for how research can be more reflective of the communities that carry the highest burden of HIV, the very people who would benefit most from an effective vaccine. The field learned how to work with a disengaged population to help them see why an HIV vaccine matters to them. These are lessons that will help trial conduct and implementation of HIV prevention as it moves forward.
I try to keep things in context. While it might not be the 505 vaccine that ends the epidemic, I know that science is an iterative process and we learn valuable lessons from what doesn't work. I also know that we'll get there because there are too many talented, committed passionate people working on a vaccine. In the meantime, we should make the best use of available prevention such as condoms, treatment as prevention, and PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) as a bridge to the future when a vaccine will indeed be available.
Although it's a bit cliché, it's not how many times you fall down, it's how many you get back up. I know that the complexity of this problem will not be our undoing, but rather our moment of grace. Because we become stronger for the struggle.
HIV Vaccine Awareness Day is May 18. For more information, visit aids.gov/awareness-days/.
Matthew Rose is a member of the community advisory board that serves the Vaccine Research Center at NIH. He also serves on the organizing committee of the Young Black Gay Men's Initiative. Follow him on Twitter @MTKRose....more
I've been many different gay men over the course of my life. Like most of us, I started off as the closeted gay man who sometimes overcompensated with my behavior so I wouldn't appear feminine. I've also been the newly out gay man who overcompensated in the other direction and spent more than a few months flouncing around campus in misbegotten Chess King outfits.
I've been the activist gay man, with the meta twist that I posed as the activist gay man in the old Unofficial Gay Manual. I've been a party-focused gay man who transitioned into a respectably professional gay man. These days I'm a suburban gay man who occasionally dallies in being the ''I'm at a bar reliving my youth'' gay man.
In effect, there is no one way to be gay. That doesn't stop some people from insisting there is.
I have to say that Bret Easton Ellis is completely, incontrovertibly correct when lashing out at GLAAD and other keepers of the great gay ideal in his Out magazine essay, ''In the Reign of the Gay Magical Elves.'' Looking at GLAAD's decision to block him from attending the media watchdog group's Los Angeles awards gala, Ellis laments, ''But being 'real' and 'human' (i.e. flawed) is not necessarily what The Gay Gatekeepers want straight culture to see.''
It's a fair point. GLAAD's biggest weakness, after obsessive celebrity worship, is its long-standing tendency to chastise prominent gay and lesbian people for speaking their minds in ways that make GLAAD sad. Aside from being rather infuriating for people who make their living speaking their minds, it completely misses the point: Bret Easton Ellis has the perfect right to be a big gay prick without speech police swooping in, sirens blaring. There are much bigger problems facing LGBT people in America than a gay Generation X writer making an AIDS joke.
What makes situations like this doubly frustrating is that by tsk-tsking Ellis and others for ''offensive'' language GLAAD ends up shifting the argument away from what's actually being said. And Ellis's Out essay contains some prominent paragraphs that should remind us that while he has the perfect right to be a cantankerous, argumentative dick, every one else has the right to tell him he's full of shit.
Ellis defends two instances of things he's said via Twitter that brought the wrath of the ''gay gatekeepers,'' his cracking of an AIDS joke about Glee and his musing that Matt Bomer couldn't play the lead in the movie adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey because Bomer is openly gay.
As for the first, it's easy enough to knock down by pointing out that if you're going to make an AIDS joke in 2013, at least make it funny. It's why Matt Stone and Trey Parker's ''Everyone Has AIDS'' was hilarious while Ellis's crack was just dumb. Gay people produced the cringingly hilarious Diseased Pariah News all the way back at the height of the AIDS crisis in the '90s; we have high expectations for our humor.
Defending his comment on Bomer, Ellis writes, ''I thought this because of Matt's easy openness with being gay … and with baggage that I believe would distract from the heavy sexual fantasy of that particular movie.'' Translated from weaseling bullshit, that means Ellis doesn't believe Bomer can play the role because he's gay, which is insulting, wrong and, again, dumb.
We don't need GLAAD or any other ''gatekeepers'' to intervene on our behalf here. All of us good gays and bad gays and every gay in between are able to hash this out on Twitter and Facebook and gay magazines. Focus on actual homophobes, not homosexuals with bad attitudes.
Sean Bugg is the co-publisher of Metro Weekly. He can be reached at sbugg@MetroWeekly.com. Follow him on Twitter @seanbugg....more
Star Trek: Into Darkness
What does it mean to make a Star Trek movie? Director J.J. Abrams skirted this question when he brought the U.S.S. Enterprise back to life four years ago, plotting a new origin story for Captain James T. Kirk that was engorged with interstellar combat, death-defying stunts and an endless parade of fistfights. The revival was a delight, of course – but at what cost? It seemed less a Star Trek movie than a sci-fi action romp that just happened to be set against a familiar backdrop.
Star Trek Into Darkness, presumably Abrams's last volley in this galaxy before he rockets off to direct a forthcoming Star Wars movie, is innately concerned with these sorts of creeping temptations. While less consistently enjoyable than the last – and more prone to clumsy narrative lapses – it challenges militaristic violence with surprisingly thoughtful criticism. Abrams is rekindling the ethnographic idealism that sustained Kirk and crew for nearly half a century. He hasn't made an outright pacifist movie, but he's made a sensible one.
Star Trek: Into Darkness. Quinto and Pine as Spock and Kirk
This time around, we meet Kirk (Chris Pine) in the jungle of a colorfully imagined planet as he races through a wild overgrown forest, hotly pursued by a tribe of primitive, chalk-faced natives. Spock (Zachary Quinto) is nearby, lowering himself into the mouth of an active volcano minutes before a cataclysmic eruption will literally end the world. Their mission? To save the natives, stabilize the volcano, and return to orbit -- all without being spotted, lest they interfere with the natural development of the planet. (That last part doesn't quite go according to plan, and as punishment, Kirk briefly loses his command of the Enterprise.) It's a thrilling opening sequence, rife with the sort of inventive visuals that suggest a broader canvas than what's shown on screen.
Back on Earth, a mysterious man supposedly named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) masterminds a terrorist bombing in London. When Starfleet scrambles to respond, Harrison attacks again, all but guaranteeing Admiral Alexander Marcus (Peter Weller) will unleash his troubling military might to find and kill him. No arrest, no judge, no jury. Just assassination.
From there, Star Trek Into Darkness twists toward a story any Trekkie will recognize. For the sake of the unenlightened: Harrison is not who he seems, and although his methods are never even remotely explained, he aims to slaughter millions.
There's nothing particularly exceptional about this storyline. It's plagued by vague motivations and plot devices, which undermine any sort of meaningful narrative consistency. At best, screenwriters Damon Lindelof, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci are respectful of what they crib. All too often, however, they plot derivative scenes that mimic well-known moments in other Star Trek films. (One particularly egregious offense stands out above the rest. If you're familiar with Star Trek II, you'll know it when you see it.) There's a thin line between homage and imitation, and at times, it's tough to recognize where Lindelof and company stand.Star Trek: Into Darkness Starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Benedict Cumberbatch Area Theaters
Nonetheless, Star Trek Into Darkness asks questions of both the universe in which it lives, and the world in which it will be seen. Abrams dares to challenge society's militaristic tendencies, casting a careful eye not only toward the violent inclinations of his earlier movie, but also toward drone strikes and "enemy combatants" and our cultural appetite for military aggression. When Scotty (Simon Pegg) pleads with Kirk about Enterprise's mission to kill Harrison – ''Is this what we are now? I thought we were explorers!'' – Abrams is acknowledging the contradictory goals of Star Trek Into Darkness. It needs to encourage (or at least encounter) the ideals of peace, but not at the expense of the awesome visual effects we've come to expect.
Abrams knows this. He's critiquing militarism through the veneer of a big-budget franchise blockbuster. That's why he emphasizes consequence over combat, ratcheting up the tension not when the Enterprise is in battle, but when it's struggling to hold itself together. After all, Kirk's mission is to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, not simply blow up the bad guy and look fit in a Lycra uniform. These stories need conflict more often than they need battle. When Star Trek: The Original Series debuted in 1966, it reflected creator Gene Roddenberry's earnest, progressive vision of the future. Abrams occasionally wanders from those ideals, but in Star Trek Into Darkness, he doesn't abandon them. Those ideals speak, Kirk explains, ''to who we once were and who we must be again.''...more
LGBT groups are crying foul after Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) launched a campaign Friday aimed at finding homes for a thousand of the nearly 4,000 children in Virginia's foster care system.
The Family Equality Council and Equality Virginia are pointing out that McDonnell has previously restricted adoption and foster-care options by signing into law a so-called ''conscience clause'' bill that allows state-licensed agencies to discriminate against prospective parents on sexual orientation and a variety of other factors.
A component of McDonnell's new ''Virginia Adopts'' initiative is the ''Campaign for 1,000,'' a goal of placing 1,000 children in the state's foster-care system with families across the commonwealth.
LGBT advocates point out, however, that McDonnell has already denied access to loving families through legislation he signed last year.
''Virginia is the worst in the county in placing children out of foster care,'' Denise Brogan-Kator, senior legislative counsel for the Family Equality Council, said in a statement responding to the launch of Virginia Adopts. ''Hopefully, this campaign signals the Governor's awareness of this fact, and will lead him to opening the way to adoption and foster care for more prospective parents in the Commonwealth. The only factor that should matter is the child's best interest.''
McDonnell last year signed into law a ''conscience clause'' bill that bolstered a 5-1 decision by the State Board of Social Services allowing adoption or foster care agencies to refuse to place children with particular adoptive or foster parents based their sexual orientation, religion, age, gender, disability, family status and political beliefs.
Under Virginia law, adoption is available only to opposite-sex married couples or single people, but not to unmarried couples, gay or straight. But the law McDonnell signed allows placement agencies to refuse consideration of potential adoptive or foster parents if doing so violates an agency's written or stated religious or moral convictions, even if those agencies receive state funding.
''Governor McDonnell's administration has continually put the special interests of certain agencies ahead of the best interests of all children in need of a loving family,'' James Parrish, executive director of the nonpartisan LGBT rights group Equality Virginia, said in a statement critical of McDonnell's record on adoption. ''Denying willing and qualified families makes no sense when the state itself admits it has more than 4,000 children in the foster care system.''
In addition to Parrish's statement, Equality Virginia also sent an email to supporters asking them to take to social media and urge the governor to consider LGBT Virginians as prospective adoptive/foster parents. Supporters are asked to send messages to the campaign's @VirginiaAdopts Twitter account using the hash tag #Campaignfor1000; to post their feelings on the Virginia Adopts Facebook page; and to contact the governor's office directly.
''In announcing his adoption campaign, the governor said 'every child deserves the security and love that a family provides,''' said Rob Keeling, an adoptive father from Richmond, quoted in the statement released jointly by Equality Virginia and the Family Equality Council. ''As an adoptive dad, I fully agree. Thousands of parents in Virginia who are gay and lesbian would gladly provide a loving and secure home to kids in need, if Virginia dropped laws and policies that discriminate.''
''I am a proud father to one adopted son,'' said Greg Greeley, of Arlington, also quoted in the statement. ''I know that my sexual orientation has nothing to do with my capability to parent or my capacity to care for my child. If the Governor allowed ALL loving, capable and qualified parents to foster or adopt, Virginia could solve that problem.''
A spokesman for McDonnell's office was not immediately available for comment....more
Nearly 8,000 Virginia Republican officeholders and activists gathered Saturday at the Greater Richmond Convention Center to select the party's candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. The result is one of the most conservative candidate slates in recent memory.
The Republicans at Saturday's closed party convention – rather than a statewide primary, which likely would have diluted some of the right-leaning participation – selected Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a tea party supporter and conservative firebrand who has been the presumptive nominee for the past year, for governor. Conservative minister E.W. Jackson secured the spot for lieutenant governor, and state Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg, Rockingham, Rappahannock, Warren, Page and Shenandoah counties) became the party's attorney general candidate.
All three positions are up for election in November, in addition to 100 seats in the Virginia House of Delegates.
Each of the nominees has a long history of anti-LGBT animus.
As attorney general, one of Cuccinelli's first actions was to issue a letter advising the state's public colleges and universities that state laws and policies prohibit including sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression in nondiscrimination policies, and that policies containing such protections are ''invalid.'' He also pressured – with varying success – the State Board of Social Services the State Board of Juvenile Justice to remove pro-LGBT language from regulations.
A vocal opponent of marriage equality, Cuccinelli voted in favor of the Marshall-Newman Amendment to the Virginia Constitution, banning marriage equality, while serving as a state senator. He called homosexual acts ''intrinsically wrong'' during his 2009 campaign for attorney general. More recently, Cuccinelli filed a petition – which was rejected – to challenge application in Virginia of the U.S. Supreme Court's Lawrence v. Texas ruling that ended sodomy laws.
Jackson, a little-known conservative minister from Chesapeake who ran in the U.S. Senate primary against eventual Republican nominee, former governor and former Sen. George Allen (R) in 2012, is the head pastor of Exodus Faith Ministries and the founder and president of Staying True to America's National Destiny (STAND), a conservative nonprofit organization that describes itself as ''dedicated to preserving America's Judeo-Christian History and Values.''
According to Right Wing Watch, a project of People for the American Way, in October 2012 Jackson appeared on a radio show where he referred to gay people as ''perverted,'' ''degenerate,'' ''spiritually darkened'' and ''frankly very sick people, psychologically, mentally and emotionally.'' In that same interview, Jackson said homosexuality ''poisons culture, it destroys families, it destroys societies; it brings the judgment of God unlike very few things that we can think of.''
Jackson has also argued that gays seek to ''sexualize [children] at the earliest possible age,'' and has said there is a ''direct connection'' between homosexuality and pedophilia. He has also claimed homosexuality is ''killing black men by the thousands'' in response to a question about the HIV rate among black men who have sex with men; criticized last year's Republican presidential platform for not advocating for the reintroduction of ''Don't Ask, Don't Tell''; and has said that gay marriage is like ''spitting in the face of every Bible-believing Christian in America.''
Obenshain, while not as vocal as Cuccinelli or Jackson, also has an anti-gay legislative record. Obenshain recently earned a perfect score of 100 from the Family Foundation of Virginia, a conservative interest group, for voting according to their recommendations on ''pro-family'' legislation, including four LGBT-related issues. Obenshain voted against adding sexual orientation to Virginia's nondiscrimination policy in 2010, and against a similar measure this year to prohibit discrimination in public employment.
Obenshain also voted this year in favor of a bill that allows student groups to discriminate against potential members based on religious, political or philosophical beliefs; and in favor of a 2012 ''conscience clause'' bill allowing child-placement agencies to discriminate against prospective parents on the basis of sexual orientation, among other factors. In January, Obenshain joined 11 other senators of the Republican caucus in abstaining from the final vote on confirming Tracy Thorne-Begland as the state's first out gay judge, following Virginia Senate tradition of abstaining from voting, rather than voting against, to express disapproval of a nomination.
Equality Virginia Advocates, a nonprofit organization working to advance LGBT rights in the commonwealth, issued a statement Monday labeling the Republican ticket as ''radical'' and ''anti-equality.''
''The Republican Party of Virginia has settled on an extreme statewide ticket dedicated to marginalizing and demonizing LGBT Virginians,'' the statement reads. ''To a man, Ken Cuccinelli, E.W. Jackson, and Mark Obenshain are united by their mean-spirited and downright outrageous statements and actions attacking LGBT Virginians.''
''Ken Cuccinelli, E.W. Jackson, and Mark Obenshain are openly hostile to LGBT families in communities across the Commonwealth,'' James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia Advocates, said in the statement. ''We deserve leaders who will represent and work for all Virginia families, regardless of whom they love. These attacks and outrageous statements demonstrate just how far these candidates are outside the mainstream.''
The Rev. Robin Gorsline, president of People of Faith for Equality in Virginia, also released a statement condemning the extremism of the GOP nominees.
''The hostility toward LGBT Virginians by this slate of candidates causes them to be outside the mainstream when it comes to marriage equality,'' Gorsline said. ''Despite the claim by one of the candidates that most Christians oppose marriage equality, the most recent Washington Post poll shows 56 percent of Virginians support full marriage rights – including solid majorities of Catholics, and white non-evangelical Christians – and more than 6 in 10 African Americans. We deserve leaders who are connected with today's Virginia, not yesterday's.''
In response to the nominations of Cuccinelli and Jackson in particular, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) issued a press release labeling the two as ''rabidly anti-gay.''
''These candidates couldn't be more out of step with the values that a vast majority of Virginia voters hold,'' Fred Sainz, HRC's vice president of communications, said in the release. ''Ken Cuccinelli has attempted to take Virginia backwards during his tenure as Attorney General, at the expense of the livelihood of LGBT residents in his state. And the vitriol put forth by E.W. Jackson is offensive and utterly unbecoming of anyone hoping to hold elected office.''
HRC also cited the Post poll showing the majority of Virginians believe same-sex marriage should be legal.
''Both Cuccinelli and Jackson have made it clear that they see LGBT people as totally unworthy of the dignity and respect afforded to other Virginians under state law,'' Sainz continued. ''It's clear that these two are more concerned with pushing their outdated anti-gay agenda than they are with serving the best needs of their constituents.''
Jeff Jacobs, president of the Richmond chapter of the Republican LGBT group Log Cabin Republicans, expressed disappointment at the results of the convention, but vowed to work within the party to push for LGBT-friendly policies and legislation.
''It's fair to say that we're disappointed that the ticket, based on past statements and action, does not take the same inclusive approach to politics that Log Cabin does,'' Jacobs told Metro Weekly. ''We will certainly be advocating with them for policies, such as nondiscrimination in employment, that help the LGBT community.''
Virginia Democrats have opted to hold a primary in June, at which point they are expected to nominate Terry McAuliffe, a former chairman of the national Democratic Party, to run against Cuccinelli. They will also choose between Aneesh Chopra, the former chief technology officer of the United States, and state Sen. Ralph Northam (D-Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Mathews, Northampton and Accomack counties) for lieutenant governor against Jackson; and between state Sen. Mark Herring (D-Loudoun, Fairfax counties) and Justin Fairfax, a former federal prosecutor for the Eastern District of Virginia, for attorney general against Obenshain.
At the request of LGBT Democrats of Virginia, a caucus of the state party, the five Democratic candidates have issued campaign statements posted on the group's website. Although the group will not endorse in the primary, the LGBT Democrats of Virginia PAC, aka the Virginia Partisans, might endorse some statewide and General Assembly candidates ahead of the election, according to Maggie Sacra, chair of the LGBT Democrats of Virginia Caucus....more