Albert Innaurato revives ‘Gemini,’ this time a musicalized version
Albert Innaurato scored a resounding late 70s success first off and then on Broadway with “Gemini.” Other plays, such as “The Transformation of Benno Blimpie,” “Passione” and, with Christopher Durang, “The Idiots Karamazov” have punctuated an eminent career as screenwriter, lecturer, teacher, widely published cultural critic and operatic Internet scourge.
Innaurato has just done lyrics for composer Charles Gilbert’s musicalization of “Gemini,” formally opening for a two-week run October 16 at Philadelphia’s renowned Prince Music Theater. Anne DeSalvo reprises her Obie-winning role of Lucille, girlfriend of South Philadelphian Fran, the father of sexually-confused Harvard student Francis, who is equally in love with a WASP-y sister and brother who pay a visit. TV star Robert Picardo, who created Francis, now plays Fran, with Linda Hart (“Hairspray’”s Velma von Tussle) also in the mix as the wacky neighbor Bunny.
Between rehearsals, Innaurato found time to speak to Gay City News.
DAVID SHENGOLD: Could a play like the original “Gemini” be produced Off Broadway, and transfer to Broadway, now? How much have conditions changed?
ALBERT INNAURATO: I think a not-for-profit production would be possible. My perception is that fewer plays move and survive. But there’s no question that commercial success, then and now, is a matter of great good luck and some magic spells too. Commercial survival depends on finding an audience, a particular audience that will come and see a particular work. [For] “Gemini”, a cartoony commercial saturated the late night airwaves for several years; it drew a certain audience that might not have gone to a play as a matter of course. The play was put down for that, but I was certainly glad of those people. “Gemini” was put down before it was a success––too gay, too much bad language, ethnic comedy. And put down after it was a success––not gay enough, too operatic, too funny, too successful. The same sort of dynamic still happens, though my perception is that back then plays and their writers got a lot of attention. That has really fallen off.
DS: What is it like working with Robert Picardo and Anne DeSalvo on this play after so long?
AI: It’s amazing working with them again. And Linda Hart, our Bunny, ran away with the reviews at the Second Stage revival four years ago. The problem for them is adjusting to a musical where there is less room for the text, and choices have to be made in a different way.
DS: Is it true that Maria Callas plays a role onstage? Is the sacred aura different now that she has been McNally’d onstage and Zeffirelli’d on film and that every half-decent operatic actress now gets compared to her by those who never witnessed her live?
AI: Callas is a character, generated by the feverish mind of the hero. We are still wrestling with what exactly that should be. We have some fun with her, and with his obsession. We’ve made him a “Callas widow,” the kind we’re familiar with from the Internet, for whom she has become some kind of life-avoiding mechanism, a fetish, rather than a real person who sang and had a destiny. My own feelings for Callas are complicated. I am bored by the reverential and often ignorant obsession, really bored by the life, but of course, even a glimpse of some moments of hers captured on record or film, documents what a force of nature she was. The question in the show: for a very susceptible soul, is that altogether for the good?
DS: Did the play ever run in Philly? Did anyone in your neighborhood see themselves in the characters? And is “your” South Philadelphia still there?
AI: The play had a very successful run in Philly and was even honored by the mayor. Of course some people insisted all the roles were real people. Then, of course, there were those who thought I was such a disgrace that only a pervert full of hatred could have invented such characters. Charles Gilbert lives in South Philly, and on a visit to his home I saw a profanity-laden fight erupt between a mother and her male neighbor down the street over their sons who had been cursing each other and shoving. Neighbors joined in and began shouting curses. “My” South Philly is still here! I literally fled Philly 35 years ago, first to California where I went to Acid U, the California Institute of the Arts, where I met James Lapine and Bill Irwin, then to New Haven where I got to be in a class with Meryl Streep, Chris Durang, Sigourney Weaver and Wendy Wasserstein. My [Philly] “old people,” i miei vecchi, died off or moved far away. But I’ve enjoyed being back. Of course for now I’m living on Rittenhouse Square, much posher than what I knew growing up!
DS: Is if fair to suspect traces of your experience in Francis and some in the neighbor, Herschel? Or should art retain its mysteries?
AI: Art should probably retain its mysteries. I used to tell people I am Herschel in the play for I too was a very fat, hopelessly clumsy adolescent, rather woebegone, who had a hopeless obsession with classical music and especially opera, about which I couldn’t keep my mouth shut no matter how inappropriate the context. Francis is a character I understand, but his is not a situation I lived. I often tell my writing classes that no matter how autobiographical a work is, there’s no getting around the lie that is art. No experience can be put before a public literally as it was lived. Fiction will overwhelm actuality every time, and the realest and truest moments are always those most invented. I find any contrary view––one I’ve been a victim of––both philistine and stupid.
DS: I saw the original “Gemini” when I was about 16, and it spoke very directly to me as one who was in love with both a male and a female friend.
AI: I’m glad you mention that. The play is located exactly at that moment of confusion, and Francis’ internal dilemma rises from that conflict. He is not settled or secure in his sexuality, and for most of the play is hopelessly at sea with himself.
DS: Has all the gay stuff on TV has made teenagers inured to such issues, or might the new “Gemini” pack some revelations for some of its audience?
AI: We have become officially a much more gay-friendly society. But then again there are two studies that show the suicide rate is highest among gay teens, we have the right-wing bigots on all sides, and in Pennsylvania there is the idiot, hater Sen. Santorum. The play is less dangerous and surprising now but coming out, or even flirting with the possibility of coming out, remains a highly personal, difficult and charged decision for many young people.
DS: How have you found the scale of the Prince for this show? Do you foresee it coming to New York?
AI: God, I would love for it to have a life. But you can never know what a show’s destiny will be, and it will need all that luck and magic again. Can lightning really be expected to strike twice? It struck about a million times in the play’s destiny to start with. The Prince is a beautiful space, perfect for the size show it is.