Golden Gays' John McLaughlin Pays Homage to Bea Arthur
The Golden Gays is reopening October 1 @ The Complex Hollywood-East Theatre on Santa Monica Blvd and is fortunate to have John McLaughlin playing Damian/Dorothy. He steals the show with his right-on-target portrayal of the bewitching Bea Arthur character.
Q: What has it been like working on this show?
JM: From the get-go the cast has been...there's no real diva in the show. There are no problems.
Q: Everyone gets on well?
JM: You know about those quick changes backstage in the space about the size of this table...it could be very easy to fall into bitch-mode, and everyone is very conscious of that...
Q: Describe audience reactions!
JM: It's one of those shows that has the automatic built in niche which is so great. And then you premiere it at the Cavern Club which also has its own built in niche...Mr. Dan, in drag Gina Lotromin, runs the theatre and every night (except the night you were there) he goes out and does this little warmup for 5 minutes ...and he knows those audiences very well and is extremely funny. He gets people psyched up. And in a show like this where you're constantly breaking fourth wall, it can be exhausting, especially if you don't get back from the audience what you normally do. The audience is not always typical and it's a very give and take show. You get fed when you break that fourth wall. My character Dorothy has a lot of opportunity to do that with the staring and the glancing. She gets many responses with the wardrobe changes.
Q: Tell me about your exposure to Bea Arthur before you got this part.
JM: I've become more of a fan of hers...I wanted to be a part of this show, which came through the breakdowns. I'm not a singer and I'm not a dancer. In the breakdowns, the script was different. It said there was one part that was nonsinging and nondancing, the part of the therapist, so I submitted for that. But John Trapper (writer) e-mailed me back and said, "I don't care that you don't sing or dance. Which Golden Girl are you?" Well, I suppose if I had to choose one, I'm tall and bitchy...
Q: Well, you're definitely tall like Bea Arthur, and I know she hated being a tall girl.
JM: I know. I've done research. And you never saw her figure either. They always draped her, so you never knew what her figure was like. I show more bust than she ever did. She was very body conscious. There was a deep connection...and I really want to honor her. The last thing I want to do is make fun of her. I want to do my best to capture a piece of her humor and timing and the characteristics that made Bea Arthur/Dorothy so fantastic. It's a unique acting experience, because it's John playing Damian who's playing Bea Arthur's Dorothy...like 4 times removed to a degree. I say a little prayer to her every night. I don't want to sound flowery, but I think it's important that we honor her, because she was a genius in what she did. And...she wasn't the best singer in the world or dancer, but it wasn't about that...she knew how to sing; she knew how to deliver - she knew how to be onstage and give them what they wanted.
Q: Any other parts onstage for you that you would compare to this one, with challenges to conquer?
JM: I did an off-Broadway play in New York about a billion years ago, when I was 5 (laughs). Actually, I was just out of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
Q: I went there too, but dropped out of the second year because I wasn't allowed to showcase myself.
JM: They are so strict there. I went into the third year, in their company, which led to this off-Broadway show, a US premiere of an English show called Bad Language by Dusty Hughes. I played the character Alistair Young, which was challenging because he was on a trek to stand out and to find his corner of the sky, so to speak. In order to do that he presented himself as a homosexual. What was interesting for me...I was 20, 21 at the time ... I was in process of dealing with my sexuality, orientation, of coming out... going onstage every night and playing a heterosexual presenting himself as a homosexual. Meanwhile, I'm trying to beware of not appearing gay out there. I was very concerned about that at the time. I was told at the Academy and by a soap opera casting director, that if I was gay, "You need to supress it!" So, I had a lot of fears. "If this is known, you won't work!" I was going through my thing while playing this character who was dealing with it on a different level - a straight man pretending to be gay to get noticed and to get attention. It was difficult to find that balance...with my own shit, my own crap.
Q: Any easier role that you've played?
JM: I have to be honest. I took 10 years off. I've just gotten back into it within the last couple of years. I don't think any of it is easy. I do the work no matter what. Whether it's a 35 year-old gay man living in West Hollywood or Bea Arthur. I think it deserves the same amount of attention. Not easy, but I love it all. I do have a film that's beginning to shoot within the next 6 weeks to the end of the year called Methhead. That part was written specifically for me, by Phil McQueen and Jane Clark. I have a history of meth addiction; I was a drug addict for 2 years. You would think that I'd be able to pull from my experiences, but to go there, to go back there and revisit there has been emotional to say the least. I'm hesitant to put that character in my bones while I'm doing Bea Arthur's Dorothy 4 nights a week, but the little bit that I have done, it's visceral. I know the shoot will be tiring. I don't worry about delivering; I worry about the toll on my psyche. I'm looking forward to it, though.
Q: Do you remember The Golden Girls?
JM: Absolutely, and I still watch it in reruns! I'm not ashamed to say that I grew up on 80s sitcoms, lying on the living room floor every single night. A lot of actors poopoo sitcoms. I think if I can go out there and make somebody laugh, entertain somebody or move somebody in any certain way, that's what it's all about.
Q: That's your goal as an entertainer?
JM: I think it's very important, especially in this climate...I'm out (and have a wonderful husband, who is not in the business...he's an artist, not an actor and so supportive of me)...I think it's important to always tell the truth...be honest about my past with drugs, that I'm HIV positive...I think society marginalizes us enough without us marginalizing ourselves...so for me to not tell the truth about my journey of getting to this point does society a disservice.
At one point, McLaughlin referred to Arthur as fearless. What a brave human being himself on and off the stage! FYI, McLaughlin put together-all by himself -his entire stunning wardrobe as Bea Arthur/Dorothy for The Golden Gays - sequins and all !!