I went to Seattle this weekend to meet Dan Savage, and tell him about Lust & Marriage (my new solo show – which features an imaginary correspondence between he and I).
I have been trying to get a hold of him for months. I sent a letter via a mutual friend, with the hopes that having an entree would help separate my letter from the thousands of others he receives everyday (for those who don’t know, Dan Savage writes a sex-advice column called Savage Love. He gets A LOT of mail).
My friend assured me that he had received it, and promised to respond.
But alas, weeks went by and I heard nothing.
One night at 2am, I woke up compelled by some greater force, and wrote him again. This time, I didn’t ask for anyone’s help in editing or making it sound professional. I just wrote from my heart about how much he’s meant to me in my life, and how much I’d love to have him see the show.
Now I was getting nervous. While I don’t plagiarize his words, I do appropriate his style of advice, and the tone of his responses. Though I created the letters between us, I really wanted them to have an authentic feel, so I borrow a number snippets of phrases directly from his own writing. There’s a part of me that has felt nervous about this, that though the show is written with all kinds of love and respect, he might resent his words being used in ways he didn’t actual approve.
When I found out he’d be interviewing Tony Kushner (the playwright of Angels in America) this weekend up in Seattle, I knew I had to go. This was my chance to tell him about the show in person.
He was interviewing Tony at the Town Hall (a venue that holds several hundred). Tony was in Seattle to promote a huge revival of Angels at the Intiman.
The interview was GREAT. Dan was his usual intelligent, irreverent, authentic self. He began the conversation by asking Tony about the open lines of Angels, when the character Roy Cohn addresses whether or not he is a homosexual.
Homosexuals are not men who sleep with other men. Homosexuals are men who in fifteen years of trying cannot get a pissant antidiscrimination bill through City Council. Homosexuals are men who know nobody and who nobody knows. Who have zero clout.
Dan asked if Tony felt there was truth the that line. How he responded was really beautiful. He said that at the time he wrote it, he felt Roy Cohn was speaking about HIM. He himself was part of the group of people trying to get antidiscrimination passed through City Council, and they had long been unsuccessful. But that AIDS had done something incredible – it gave the LGBT community a rallying point, and the strength and motivation to fight – and that indeed, they had won the fight. The changes in our society over the last 20 years, in terms of the visibility and attitude about gay people, are amazing. Miraculous really. And they might not have happened without AIDS. That AIDS could have crushed the small gains that had been made, and instead it fertilized the will of the people to stand up to oppression.
I loved Tony’s answer – how something so powerful had come from something so terrible. He said many, many other wise and interesting things – he spoke about theater and film, and which he prefers (he is also a screenwriter, as well as a playwright). He spoke about fantasy and reality onstage, and whether or not the theater is a good vehicle for social issues. But the other thing I realized was that he had put words into Roy Cohn’s mouth. Who is a historical figure. And nobody ever questions whether or not Roy Cohn actually said those words (of course he didn’t. It’s a play!) But it gave me a real sense of relief. (Granted, Roy Cohn is dead, but….)
Dan was the perfect interviewer – giving Tony Kushner space to expand, but keeping the conversation on track, asking a mixture of questions both lighthearted and deep (they talked about Ru Paul’s Drag Race and Breaking Bad).
It was thought provoking and inspiring and I’m SO glad I went, even if I might not get a chance to meet Dan face to face.
At the end, the two of them hugged and as they were leaving the stage, and a man sitting next to me rushed the stage with an manilla folder, trying to pass it along to Tony. He was physically removed by security. Fuck, I thought, how am I going to get to Dan?
I cased the building, and found a backdoor. I stood there with my envelope that held the DVD, and postcards from my last 3 shows. Plus, a handwritten note of appreciation for all that he has done for the world, and gratitude for the ways he has influenced me.
I waited about 15 minutes, and was about to give up.
And then, a man came out with his hoody up and his earbuds in. It was Dan. He didn’t look left or right – he wasn’t going to stop. But when he saw me he said “Hey, you’re from Portland, right?” and took out his ear buds. They dangled from his ear the rest of the conversation. He mentioned our meeting at Hump (the local amateur porn festival he curates), and remembered the film I’d been a part of – which he’d seen, though it hadn’t made the cut. When I told him I’d written a show about our imaginary relationship, he referred to our initial conversation where I’d asked permission to make him a character in my solo show. He was so gracious and lovely!
“So that’s still ok with you?” I pressed. “Yeah, of course!” he replied, “And it can’t be any worse than the play about me and Anne Coulter fist fighting in an elevator.” (Apparently, that is a real thing, being done in Memphis). He asked me if I’d moved to Seattle. No, I told him, but I’ll be back in June for a run of the show.
:What dates exactly? he inquired.
When I told him, he seemed genuinely sorry that he was going to be shooting a pilot in LA. “But put the DVD in my backpack” he instructed, “And I’ll watch it later.”
I put the DVD in his backpack, and we shared for a few more minutes about the amazing Tony Kushner, and he held out his arms for a hug, and I stepped into his space. So while it wasn’t actually a kiss, it was a great connection. I feel so pleased to have been able to speak to him directly!
So the DVD of Lust & Marriage is in the outside pocket of Dan Savage’s backpack, and I have no idea if he will ever watch it, but I know that I did everything I could do to share the show with him. I hope he sees it, I hope he loves it, I hope he offers me feedback and constructive criticism. (And I really hope he is ok with how I have written in his voice!). But most of all, I hope he feels how much respect I have for who is is, and how he has profoundly influenced our culture.
I’ll keep you posted if I hear back.
(PS and for those who don’t know, the title of this blog post is an homage to another solo show called The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me by David Drake).