We all know what it’s like not to feel right about ourselves in our own bodies pertaining to size at the very least. Throw in additional insecurity incumbent upon your own desires, fear of one’s father (parents); top it off with child abuse (in part for attempting to be who you feel you truly are) sprinkle it with adult ridicule and the threat of perpetual isolation and the tension only mounts. All, if not many, such dysfunctions are themes running through most people’s lives but the least oft discussed manifestation of the above, albeit gathering more and more transparent steam, would be that of transgenderism. This is exactly what is explored in Joseph Perales’ most thought provoking and harrowing screenplay Georgia.
The second floor of the Hollywood Museum is a bustle, even more so than usual on this enterprising Saturday afternoon. The event in question: The first in hopefully a long line of screenplay readings centering around the display theme in question in the form of Joseph Perales’ Georgia. Set amongst the “Reel to Real: Portrayals and Perceptions of Gays in Hollywood” exhibit, culture seekers, onlookers and actors alike nestle in amidst Rupaul’s bejeweled flawlessly form fitted frock. Down the way, resides a real life recreation of the Clampetts travelling via topless jalopy, to unwittingly meet Miss Hathaway for the very first time, rounded out by a most stunning Cher display to speak nothing of the rainbow-themed clown costume culled from the costume designers’ quarters of Modern Family fame, all in all, fostering a sort of closeness which is really quite cozy.
“My director of Operations Steve…and I have had a wonderful time putting this exhibit together that you are sitting in the middle of,” admits Donelle Dadigan owner and founder of The Hollywood Museum. “Many of you may not realize, but this is the second year we have done ‘The LGBT Exhibit: (Reel to Real): The perceptions. And it is so interesting…we have done this in partnership with our Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell who is the councilman of this district here in Hollywood. There are many other individuals in Los Angeles; the mayor’s office also has been helping endorse us for this exhibit!”
“Make sure before you leave you see Lily Tomlin’s chair from Laugh In,” Dadigan continues. “Don’t forget, we also have RuPaul’s dress: This year’s winner for RuPaul’s Drag Race… She has such a fabulous figure that Steve and I couldn’t figure out how to dress the mannequin!” Dadigan will close by giving us one more little ‘tidbit’, “On this very floor is where Max Factor manufactured lipsticks!”—back when the Hollywood Museum was the iconic Max Factor building—before being converted into the legendary Hollywood Museum by Dadigan herself!
Set in Texas in the 1980s, quite some time before the issue of transgenderism even hinted at attempting to emerge as a part of our everyday speech, let alone the notion of the freedom of coming and being out, the story is read seamlessly by beloved actors from Soap Operas and sitcoms we’ve all grown to know and love and will affect us all quite markedly before the day’s end.
“Hi everybody I’m Carolina White and I am reading Mrs. Hadash, female board member, Gloria, parent #3, and Byooootiful Woman,” she will drawl on dramatically to the delight of the crowd.
“Kevin Spirtas—excited to be reading the role of George/Georgia,” Spirtas of Days of our Lives and One Life to Live introduces.
“Hi, I’m Glenn Scarpelli-and I am reading David the football coach who is 6 feet 6 which is why they have me sitting,” the decicedly less-than-six-foot tall Scarpelli, best known as Alex on the early 80s sitcom One Day at a Time quips.
Rounding out the cast, actors include: Jerome Ro Brooks of Tyler Perry’s The Haves and Have Nots, Patrika Darbo of The Bay, Days of our Lives, and Seinfeld fame, Kate Linder of The Young and the Restless, Steven Wishnoff of HBO’s OZ, Lee Purcell of Valley Girl and Persons Unknown, Joey Luthman of General Hospital and Weeds, Channing Chase of Mad Men, and Carolyn Hennesey of General Hospital and Cougar Town.
Featuring professional tension and familial strife, sometimes in and of the same scene, I cry nearly throughout the entire reading necessitating Carolyn Henessy handing a Keleenex to actor Steven Wishnoff who in turn passes it off to yours truly (blubbering like a buffoon in the first row); much like a baton relay in a transsexual tale and trail of tears.
This all in interspersed with giddy laughter the comic relief of which Ms. Hennessy ironically enough fosters quite plentifully in her clipped and terse sometimes salt-of-the-earthish utterances. The rest of the cast doesn’t miss a beat up to and including our protagonist Kevin Spirtas in his portrayal of George/Georgia the high school teacher and man/transgender woman who will meet a most harrowing end.
“Georgia came about…more than five years ago,” states our noted author Joseph Perales. “A friend of mine took me to a bar and I didn’t know what kind of bar it was, so I walked in and saw all these beautiful, wonderful women. I was mesmerized by their beauty and a friend of mine whispered in my ear and said, ‘They’re transgender.’ I was so shocked, and I was confused. But I wasn’t shocked because they were transgender, I was shocked because of myself. Because I had feelings. I was attracted to these women…so I went home and had a nightmare. [And] that was how the idea of Georgia came about. I delved into a world that was not known to me. I met extraordinary people. They’re here today…and I heard their stories. I heard my friends’ stories… they’re all being killed, being beat up, abused, losing their families, losing their jobs. [There’s] a lot of discrimination among transgender women and I couldn’t just sit there and not do anything [about it]… So I said…’How to make a change. I have to tell the story.’…So I went home and I started writing, and that’s how I created Georgia. …George [holds] a secret for 18 years and he finally comes out…to his wife to his kids… A lot of us have secrets. We go to the grave without ever sharing our secrets. We all have secrets behind doors and this is the journey of a story that takes the courage…When you’re a family, and a parent and a father, you always want to reunite your family, that’s all that matters and sometimes those sacrifices effect someone’s life and that’s the story of Georgia.”
Guest speakers before and after the reading grace us with their presence in kind upon verifying the authenticity of the piece:
“I was asked to write something for the introduction of this show so I’ve got some notes,” declares female transgender Jody Vaclav. “A few months ago I was sitting at home and the phone rang; it was my friend Alison Arngrim. She was telling me about a table read which she had just done, the first table read (of this screenplay). Alison and I met a few years ago when we were doing The Vagina Monologues and she asked me if she could pass my name along to Joe because she knew that I was uniquely qualified to help with this project. It was no time at all before I was talking to Joe and I was helping him with some of the personal feelings and technical aspects of this script. A little over 30 years ago, I was faced with a dilemma, that is whether to change my life, and lose my family, my friends, and my livelihood, or to continue living as I was and try the best I could to endure my life while being so miserable inside that I contemplated suicide quite often. This was a decision that most people don’t have…because most people don’t even consider themselves born into the wrong body. In the end, as you can see, I chose not to end my life but to start a new one. It wasn’t easy by any means, but my story does have a happy ending.”
“I came out roughly when I was the same age as Georgia (in my 40s),” bravely admits Ann Thomas. “I had two kids I had to come out to gradually. Also when I was probably about 20, my dad was dying of cancer. He died at age 67. It was about two months before he died that I found out he was trans as well and had to hide it his entire life. And I can understand what my dad was facing and why he had to hide who he was from society at the time because in 1980 it was absolutely horrible for trans people, and it is not much better today. We have 32 states in which it’s illegal: for us to be thrown out of our jobs because we want to transition to who we really are, even though a hundred research studies have proven that it is biological in nature.”
“It’s not a choice that we have,” Thomas continues. “And another thing is that we still get murdered like crazy. I like this story because it sets us at a time that was ‘way back when’ and everybody thinks, ‘Oh how horrible that is,’ but this is happening today. We’ve had 18 people killed this year, 18 trans people have been killed this year alone in really heinous situations. One that horrified me the most was…that somebody recently was murdered in their own church parking lot… They were run over 3-4 times by the murderer just to make sure they were good and dead! So this is not a figment of Joe’s imagination. This is real stuff that happens all the time and it’s deeply touching to me and I’m really happy that Joe’s written a script. I really think it’s wonderful and it needs to be produced…to bring attention to what we go through…”
It was an utter treat to see so many beloved and familiar faces reading such a touching piece, to speak nothing of regular folk bringing their true life stories into the mix.
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