Thursday, October 11, 2007

Telling 'Tales'

Armistead Maupin honored at Litquake opener
Published 10/11/2007

by Jim Provenzano

The literati were out in force to help honor author Armistead Maupin, Oct. 6 at the Herbst Theatre at An Evening with Armistead Maupin and Friends, the opening-night event for the eight-day Litquake festival of author readings and events.

Executive directors Jack Boulware and Jane Ganahl got things off to a teasing intro. "We know that it's Fleet Week," Boulware said to Maupin, who sat in the front balcony with his partner Christopher Turner, "and you had your choice of activities."

Ganahl called the evening "not your standard Kennedy Center tongue bath, as much as we love you, Armistead," commencing a series of innuendo-laden compliments to the bestselling author of the Tales of the City series of novels.

Laura Linney and Armistead Maupin at the Litquake opener. Photo: Steven UnderhillEthel Merman (aka Mark Sargent) started the show off with a blasting rendition of Journey's "When the Lights Go Down in the City." Host Liam Mayclem (CBS 5's Eye on the Bay) kept the tone ribald and witty, noting how Maupin had "touched people everywhere, some in this room."

Amy Tan (Joy Luck Club), in traditional Asian garb, spoke wittily of her "closet," how Maupin asked, "Why are you trying so hard to be a character from your books?" helped her think of herself as more than "an Asian writer," and unleash inner aspects of her identity. Tan then ducked backstage and returned in a shiny, full-leather (or pleather?) dominatrix outfit. Tan unfortunately did not perform her rendition of "These Boots Were Made for Walking," but was seen showing off her riding crop at the post-show reception.

Former Real World: San Francisco stars Judd Winick (who wrote and drew the graphic novel Pedro and Me) and his wife Pamela Ling talked of the thrill of having Maupin speak at their wedding. They mentioned Maupin's "bear encounters" in Canada. "And if you think I'm talking about wildlife," Winick said, "you're definitely in the wrong room."

Slides of Maupin's own intimate nuptials with Turner, held in Vancouver, were shown. Winick and Ling also shared the story of how the two men met, via the website, which Turner owns.

San Francisco Symphony music director Michael Tilson Thomas (down the street conducting) and actor Robin Williams (who starred in the film adaptation of Maupin's The Night Listener) sent video messages of admiration. Williams referred to Maupin as the love child of Mark Twain and Truman Capote.

Musical tributes included Jon Ginoli of Pansy Division, who sang two songs, one about "Twenty Years of Cock." Stephanie Howard of Beach Blanket Babylon, with a trademark huge hat, this one made of Maupin's book covers, sang a restyled version of The Beatles' "Penny Lane" about "28 Barbary Lane," the home of Anna Madrigal and the Tales characters.

The sweet/sour lemon drops offered through intermission by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence tied in with the slide show that Father Guido Sarducci, aka writer Don Novello, shared about his beloved Reggio Calabria, and the maddening surplus of lemons. Somehow it worked.

Local author and reading hostess Michelle Tea read from a section of Tales about a women's music festival confrontation where DeDe and D'orothea's young son is banned from the campground. Suzie Bright admitted to being Maupin's "Santa Cruz connection" as she tossed out a few joints to the audience, then read Dorothy Parker's poem "Coda."

Possibly the most fascinating of readings wasn't from Tales, but a serialized novella Maupin penned for the long-defunct New West magazine. World of Normal Boys author K.M. Soehnlein read excerpts of a past-future fictional San Francisco of 1999 (written in 1980) where the US, under televangelist President Jim Bakker, has been taken over by fundamentalist Christians, gays herd in a tent city in Golden Gate Park, and amid an ensuing siege, the narrator, John F. Kennedy, Jr., finds his missing-in-action reclusive mother Jackie O. among militant lesbians and pink Chanel-wearing drag queens. We can only hope Maupin deigns to have this comic treasure republished.

In one of the more touching of tributes, Andrew Sean Greer (The Confessions of Max Tivoli), donning a mustache he'd grown for the occasion, told how a copy of Tales of the City, given as a gift from his boyfriend at 18 years old, included an inserted love note at the page where Michael "Mouse" Tolliver collides at a roller rink with Jon Fielding, the love of his life.

Actress Laura Linney, who starred as Mary Ann Singleton in the three mini-series adaptations of the first three Tales books, read from the fortuitous first chapter where Mary Ann meets Anna Madrigal. Linney also thanked Maupin, not only for providing one of her signature film characters, but for being a dear friend as well. "It is a friendship that I treasure beyond any other," said Linney. "I cannot imagine my life without our friendship. Thank you for your heart, your wit, your intelligence, and everything that you have given, not only to me and other actors, but also to the gay community and San Francisco. Thank you."

After accepting the first annual Barbary Coast Award, Maupin said candidly, "When people pay tribute to you, you're supposed to say that it's a humbling experience. Actually, it's not. I feel really quite pompous tonight!"

Maupin also offered kudos to another gay couple, author Christopher Isherwood and his surviving partner Don Bachardy, who was in attendance. "We really do have a genealogy."

In concluding his thanks, Maupin said, "I'm so grateful to this town that never runs out of stories, and to an audience that wants to hear about how everyone lives, and how we collide in our separate dreams."