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Michael Sainte-Andress

Wealth Disrupts in The Other Ones

by Michael Sainte-Andress

This article was first published May 17, 2022 in DC Trending here.

I was unfamiliar with Dave Housley’s other work, so I didn’t know what to expect from his third novel, The Other Ones, published by Alan Squire Publishing. His other novels are Howard and Charles at the Factory  and This Darkness Got to Give. Housley is also one of the founding editors of Barrelhouse, a D.C.-based, national literary magazine, small press, and literary-based non-profit.

The Other Ones centers on 13 employees of an advertising firm, Keystone Special Marketing Solutions, winning the lottery and walking away with 8.8 million dollars each. The story is told from the perspectives of seven characters, beginning with a 63-year-old, 243-pound accountant named Yoder. As the book opens we are with him, five stories up and reacting to the situation by contemplating suicide:

“Yoder fights the tingle in his fingers and toes. He looks over the edge. The landscaping people are moving lawn mowers and edgers over from the parking lot and the sound of their Spanish drifts up from five stories below. He holds his foot over the edge and butterflies swarm in his stomach. He looks at his belly, protruding like half a basketball is stuffed into his shirt. He looks straight ahead. He takes the step.”

Yoder recurs periodically as an invisible  presence in the homes of some of the lottery winners observing how they are now living and occasionally using his powers as a specter to create havoc.

The story introduces us to a host of interesting characters including Lawson, the company’s assistant director, an ambitious company man who is resentful of the lottery winners. We meet more of the employees: there’s Jennifer Chastain, a hard-working young woman who cringes at the thought that, “Those jackasses won the fucking lottery?” There is Craver, a slacker marketing associate, who isn’t sure if he played the lottery that week or not, followed by Andre, a young Black system administrator who is considered an up and coming player in the company and thinks playing the lottery is stupid. 

The story is not told as a straightforward narrative, but rather in an episodic manner from the points of view of those seven characters. This format is engrossing and could be more interesting if their reflections had been more consistent and revelatory, and if they’d each contributed more to the overall storyline. Instead we see splintered, incomplete depictions of situations that do not necessarily connect to an ongoing scenario. Housley gives bits and pieces of events that occur, without providing an understandable context.

One has to assume the connection that some of the characters have without any verification. For instance, are Sarah and Lawson a couple or just business partners? What is Chad’s and Nicole’s (the consultants brought in to restore the company morale) particular interest in Andre? Do they see themselves as his mentors, and what about him makes them believe he’s such a potentially successful young man?

“Craver is considering finally getting out of the car when the email vibrates into his phone. Cowens? What the fuck would Cowens be emailing him for? He has a moment of dumb animal thrill–a quickening in his pulse, everything goes blurry and he closes his eyes. They have  reviewed everything and determined that he did play. He was right. He’s a millionaire.”

Although the episodic storytelling was a bit problematic for me, it still comes across compellingly, and I wager it would be appealing to many readers. The questions it raises are thought-provoking and provide an interesting insight into the workings of people’s minds and responses to certain circumstances. 

A subtle thread throughout the novel shows the ways money—whether earned at the workplace or won in the lottery’s windfall—destroys lives. The Other Ones invites readers to an unfortunately believable and emotionally complex world, revolving around the ways that money can rule our lives. The depression we witness at the story’s opening contrasts purposely with the hypothetically joyful premise of winning the lottery. Across the stories of interconnected characters, Housley invites readers to consider and judge the ways money can disrupt and frame modern relationships.

A stellar ‘Hairspray’ on tour at the National can’t stop the beat

by Michael Sainte-Andress

This article was first published in DC Theater Arts here.

This Hairspray was the third go-around for me! I saw the show first on Broadway, with R&B star Tevin Campbell as Seaweed, then at Kennedy Center, and last night at the National.

Each time I was thoroughly entertained, and each time it felt fresh and inspiring. So I was trying to come up with a word that truly expresses my affection for this show and it is rousing!

Because of technical difficulties, there was a 30-minute delay before the curtain, which seemed like an eternity. But the wait was well worth it. The energy and exuberance were front and center and remained throughout the show. You would think my familiarity with the show would render it without the surprises one hopes for in musical theater. However, this performance gave tremendous witness to what talent, expertise, imagination, and highly skilled technical production values can do to “an old chestnut.”

Let’s start with the casting: the lead role of Tracy Turnblad, the plump and cruelly maligned teenager who just wants to be on a local TV dance show was portrayed by Faith Northcutt, the understudy. Seeing her it was hard to imagine how much better the original lead, Niki Metcalf, could possibly be. From Northcutt’s initial appearance getting out of bed and singing “Good Morning Baltimore,” she draws you in with her vocal clarity and melodic playfulness (much like you would expect of a 16-year-old). In the script, Tracy’s physicality brings her scorn and criticism from her peers, showing how senseless and cruel body shaming can be. But the vulnerability Northcutt conveys really underlies her true strength of character. Brava!

The second standout performance is the role of Tracy’s mother, Edna, a more mature version of her daughter. This role was originated by the inimitable Harvey Fierstein, and his brilliance designated drag casting for all future productions. Edna is portrayed by Andrew Levitt, a standout of Season 11 of RuPaul’s Drag Race. His comic sensibility and physical adroitness (for a 6-foot-4-inch man in women’s clothes) are a joy to behold, and the interplay between him and Tracy as well as with Edna’s husband, Wilbur (Christopher Swan), is a touching portrait of familial love, support, and understanding. Wow!

Then there is Motormouth Maybelle (Sandie Lee), a proud, middle-aged Black mother who hosts a dance show for Black teenagers but who is also a proud and stalwart crusader for racial equality in her community. She is authoritative, without being domineering, and is a woman who has learned the hard lessons of racial discrimination. She brings it out forcefully in her beautifully rendered “I Know Where I’ve Been,” a song that gives the show a stirring moment of insight and poignance not generally expected in musicals. Kudos!

Finally, this company of performers is all accomplished as singers, dancers, and definitely actors, and their ensemble enactments are a director’s satisfaction and an audience’s joy. The technical support is equally outstanding. The direction of Matt Lenz, the choreography of Michelle Lynch, the costumes by William Ivey Long, the scenic design by David Rockwell, the wigs and hair design by Paul Huntley and Richard Mawbey, the lighting design by Paul Miller, and the sound design by Shannon Slaton are all top-notch and make the telling of this timeless story all the more believable and meaningful.

It all ends with a celebratory, spirited, and jubilant rendition of “You Can’t Stop the Beat!” Yeah, rousing is just the right word for this stellar production.

Running Time: Approximately two hours 30 minutes, including one intermission.

Hairspray plays through May 15, 2022, on tour at the National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington DC. Evening performances each day are at 7:30 pm. Matinee performances on Saturday and Sunday, May 14 and 15, are at 2 pm. Tickets (starting at $50) are available online.

GenOUT ‘Youth Invasion’ concert raised up LGBTQI+ teens

By Michael Sainte-Andress

This article was first published in DC Theater Arts here.

When I reviewed the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington’s concert Brand New Day in mid-March at the Lincoln Theatre, I extolled its virtue of showcasing inclusivity and equality with its wonderful renditions of songs on the subject. In that concert, each of GMCW’s five components performed, and I was introduced to GenOUT Youth Chorus, its outreach ensemble of LGBTQI+ and allied 13- to 18-year-olds.

Well, this time around the spotlight was squarely on GenOUT’s concert Youth Invasion, which I attended at THEARC. The program also featured the Mosaic Harmony community choir, a seniors group committed to “empower choirs to fully entertain, inspire and engage audiences by both moving music and uplifting messages.”

The concept of supporting youth — who are coping with not just being young but also the pressure of understanding their sexual orientation and coming to grips with self-acceptance — is a powerful mission of the GMCW. Achieving that goal through music is liberating and inspirational and lends itself to providing these young people with a means to gird themselves with pride, self-understanding, and a profound sense of worth..

C. Paul Heins, GenOUT’s director, provides the training and artistic inspiration for these young people to flourish and, through artistic expression, develop confidence and self-affirmation that will enable them to better face the challenges that will come before them.

With this in mind, I imagined a repertoire that would be evocative, celebratory, and, yes, rousing. The program selections were certainly appropriate and hit the mark in terms of intent and appropriateness but tended to be more somber and reflective. All of the songs — “Build Me a World,” “Reflection” (from the animated film Mulan), “Imagine” (based on the poem by long-time LGBTQI+ activist Donna Red Wing), “Write My Own ‘Story,” “The Human Heart” (from the musical Once on This Island), “How Could Anyone?,” “I Was Here (Beyonce), and “You Are the New “Day” — beautifully conveyed the hopes, dreams, aspirations, and reflections of these young people. The one song that could have surely been a showstopper, “Corner of the Sky” (from the musical Pippin), was only quietly delivered. Near the end, GenOUT performed with Mosaic Harmony in a straightforward rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (the Negro national anthem).

Ironically, it was the guest group, Mosaic Harmony, that got things shaking. Under the foot-stomping, hand-clapping, roof-raising direction of Rev. David North, Mosaic Harmony’s performance became a glorious celebration with spirited versions of the gospel songs “Love in Any Language,” Hezekiah Walker’s “Better,” and “One World.” Rev. North said that he wanted to bring a “new flavor” to the gospel staple “Soon I Will Be Done,” made popular in the 1959 movie Imitation of Life sung by the great Mahalia Jackson. Man, did he deliver! He infused this deeply spiritual anthem with jazzy inflections and uptempo flourishes that had the audience clapping and rejoicing with abandon. (Mahalia wouldn’t want to hear it anymore!) This closing number was just the right touch that the whole affair should have reflected.

That it was shared with this wonderful, young, and talented group I am sure will make it an experience and lesson learned that they will never forget. This was a great example of how reaching across needless barriers and constrictions can bring about tremendous connection and mutual appreciation. It was an afternoon I would gladly spend over again.Youth Invasion was performed by the GenOUT Youth Chorus with special guest Mosaic Harmony on April 23, 2022, at THEARC Theater, 1901 Mississippi Avenue SE, Washington, DC, and on April 24, 2022, in the Auditorium at MLK Library, 901 G Street NW, Washington, DC.

GMCW’s inspirational ‘Brand New Day’ sings of equality and inclusivity

By Michael Sainte-Andress

This article was first published in DC Theater Arts here.

What to do on a cold, overcast, snowy Saturday afternoon? Well, I had the good fortune of having a ticket to the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington Brand New Day concert at the Lincoln Theatre.

GMCW has been a cultural fixture in Washington, DC, for over 40 years and is one of the oldest and largest LGBT choral organizations in the United States, with over 300 members. It has a history of entertaining performances and has a large multidimensional following. I have enjoyed many of those past shows.

Brand New Day has moved the group a step up the ladder of socially conscious, inspirational, and diversity-focused quality entertainment. The GMCW ensembles (Potomac Fever, Rock Creek Singers, Seasons of Love, 17th Street Dance, and the GenOUT Youth Chorus) delivered a program that from beginning to end was razor-focused on the issue of inclusivity, equality, and the basic idea of recognizing the worth of all human beings in their infinite variety.

The songs and musical numbers were a delightful potpourri from different genres: Paul Negron singing “Human Heart,” the theme song from the Caribbean musical Once on This Island, about enduring and persevering life’s hardships; “We Are,” lushly underscoring the text of Maya Angelou’s poem “Human Family” (“We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike”); soloists Matt Holland and Cooper Westbrook’ rendition of, “Perfect/Just the Way You Are”; Native American Linthicum Blackhorse’s arrangement of a traditional Lakota Sioux American Indian spiritual; the rendering of a Korean folk song, “Arirang,” about finding one’s way; and the Spanish folk song “Luz y Sombra,” about appreciating the simple things in life. Arresting arrangements of classics like “Through the Fire,” ” Bridge Over Troubled Water,” and “Purple Rain” were newly imagined and invigorating.

The finale was a rip-roaring, Las Vegas–style choreographic sequence from the movie The Wiz, after which the concert was named: “A Brand New Day (Everybody Rejoice).” Magical and thoroughly entertaining, it was a great way to convey the idea of living in a world free of bigotry, hatred, and lack of understanding.

This was an afternoon well spent, and the joy of it swept the dreary day away.

Running Time: Approximately 75 minutes with no intermission.

Brand New Day was presented by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC, on Saturday, March 12, 2022, at the Lincoln Theatre – 1215 U Street, in Washington, DC. For future GMCW concerts and events go to their website.

The program for Brand New Day is available online here.