Q&A with Dale Gutzman and Ray Bradford for The New Century
Editors Note: Starting Nov. 5, Ray Bradford of RSVP Productions and Dale Gutzman of Off the Wall Theatre will be collaborating on the Milwaukee premiere of Paul Rudnick’s comedy, The New Century, at the Milwaukee Gay Art Center (MGAC). TCD contributor and MGAC Executive Director Paul Masterson sat down with them to talk about the new work.
Masterson: Gentlemen, you each have your own theater companies and a long history of performing in Milwaukee. How does it happen that you’re now collaborating?
Ray Bradford: Dale and I worked together nearly a decade ago. I directed him in Ruthless at Off the Wall Theatre.
Dale Gutzman: It was the first drag role I ever played. The character was a cross between Ethel Merman and Bette Davis. It was much more difficult than I imagined.
Bradford: Dale got great reviews. So we have a successful history.
Masterson: And, now you’ve found another role for Dale?
Bradford: I wanted to do Rudnick’s The New Century and someone suggested that I play the role of Mr. Charles, a rather flamboyant character exiled from New York for being too gay. But I don’t like being in a show I direct. I thought Dale would be great for the part. But of course, it depended on his interest and availability.
Gutzman: When Dale asked me to join him I was very interested. But the issue of availability needed to be sorted out. I have to say, as much as I enjoy acting, I only like to act with certain directors — only ones I trust. And, I trust Ray.
Gutzman: I can talk easily with Ray. He gives his actors lots of room and when I’m an actor, I’m strictly an actor and a respectful one. Some actors fight the director all the way. If Ray asked me to stand on my head and whistle Dixie, that’s what I’d do.
Bradford: We share the same theater experience. In fact, we think a lot alike. We might not always have the same point of view, but I’ll listen to what he has to say. I make the final choices. We haven’t had any problems so far, but you never know, we’re both artists. [Both men raise eyebrows.]
Masterson: So, what about The New Century?
Bradford: It’s a comedy, albeit dark at times, presented as four one-acts. All deal with changes we’re experiencing in the “New Century.” By we, I mean the gay community. [The playwright] Rudnick is concerned about diluting our gayness in the rush to be accepted. The straight view about us may be changing but our identity may be as well. Dale’s character is that over-the-top stereotype.
Gutzman: In “Mr. Charles, Formerly of Palm Beach,” I play Mr. Charles, of course. He’s a lost soul in the brave new gay world that’s so different from his generation. His conflict is dealing with gayness in the contemporary world. The question is, Are we different or not? The audience, straight or gay, will have to decide if they agree with Rudnick’s answer.
Bradford: The other plays present our new and unfamiliar sensitivities. Sharon Nieman is the mother of four ‘out’ gay children in Pride and Joy. I cast Kim Ballou in Crafty, a play about a mother who copes with the death of her boy from AIDS by pursuing crafts. The last is a play about hope for the future. The first three plays are essentially monologues. The characters all meet in the last play.
I’ve never done a show like this before. It’s a challenge for me as director as well as the actors because they haven’t interacted throughout the show but, like real life, they’re thrown into the mix of the world’s personalities and have to respond accordingly.
Masterson: Rudnick is a New York playwright and his works revolve around the New York scene. Is Milwaukee going to get it? Are we that far along?
Gutzman: Rudnick writes theater to entertain, but at the same time, he makes the audience think. There are lots of one-liners that have a New York gay sophistication, vitality and reference. But if the audience is savvy (and Milwaukee is), it will not only get the humor but also understand the moral and political message. New York might take the lead, but Milwaukee’s not far behind. The four plays tackle serious social issues with a specific wit and wisdom. Rudnick has mastered that.
The New Century runs Nov. 5, 6, 7, 13, 14, 20, 21 (7:30 p.m. shows) at the Milwaukee Gay Arts Center, 703 S. Second St. in Walker’s Point. For ticket reservations call 414-272-5694.