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Tuesday, October 22, 2019

My Play “The Turkey Men” Is a Hit!

Well, it’s happened!  “The Turkey Men” has opened and the reviews are in.  The biggest one is from the Columbus Dispatch, and it is reprinted below.  Other online reviews are similar.  

On Facebook playwright Jonathan Hole said:

Last night, the first preview of The Turkey Men by Douglas Whaley at Evolution Theatre Company- it is fantastic in every sense of the word- when I first heard the premise I thought "how is that going to work?" and last night learned the answer- beautifully. I love stories that connect the past and present and Douglas has written a unique one that made the audience last night cheer. Director David David Allen Vargo and a terrific cast,Loretta Beth Cannon, Fia Friend, James HarperJonathan Putnam, and Ross Shirley are a playwright's dream. Leaving last night I said hello to someone and without missing a beat they responded "what a great show!" and I wholeheartedly agree. 

On October 17th Sheldon Gleisser posted this:

Saw Evolution Theatre's production of "The Turkey Men" last night.

"The Turkey Men" is an original work by local playwright Douglas Whaley. It's about a young woman, Logan Hendricks (Fia Friend) taken against her will (with her parent's consent!) to an old farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. There, a couple of Christian "de-programmers," Micah and Bethany (Jonathan Putnam and Lori Cannon) attempt to turn her same-sex attraction to sanctified heterosexuality.

But the farmhouse is not entirely uninhabited. Alex and Webster (Ross Shirley and James Harper), two gay men in a very committed relationship, have been there for quite some time. I mean like, since the Civil War? They aren't ghosts, at least not exactly, but they do haunt the place very much, and not in a nice way, at least not for Micah and Bethany.

As Alex and Webster, Ross Shirley and James Harper are as easy and comfortable with each other as a pair of old shoes. They have our sympathies right from the get-go with their wry senses of humor and obvious ease with one another, both amazed at those new-fangled electric lights.

As Logan, Fia Friend is at once sympathetic, as befits someone who spends most of the story tied, chained, and shock-collared. She grows more endearing as the story goes on, showing both spunk and vulnerability, the lesbian daughter you wish you had.

It's possible that the most difficult roles go to Jonathan Putnam and Loretta Beth Cannon as the Christan de-programmers. They should be just about completely unsympathetic, but both Putnam and Cannon are able to mine the characters for their rather frightening humanity. What kind of person does what they're doing? Abused children grown up, is playwright Whaley's answer.

Director David Allen Vargo keeps things moving at a brisk pace but gives all of his actors lots of room to breathe. I had a film teacher who once told me "If you want to act, you don't necessarily need to direct, but if you want to direct, you HAVE to do some acting, it doesn't matter if you play the third spear carrier from the left, get out there and get some parts."

I don't know if this is the first play Mr. Vargo has directed, but he has proven my film teacher correct, even while playing much more than the third spear carrier from the left. Vargo's many onstage roles include those in "Chappati," "Sordid Lives," and a memorable turn as Charles Dickens at Red Herring Theater. All that acting has given him a very sure hand as a director. I hope to see more directing work from him in the future.

Kat Wexler's set design is beautifully and suitably shabby and Michael Bynes' set construction is excellent. Caroline Dittamo's lighting design, and Sue Rapier's sound, both of which include a certain amount of special effects, greatly contributes to the play's cheerful other-worldliness.

It occurred to me while driving home that "The Turkey Men" may be about a child caught in a tug of war between two competing sets of parents, one accepting and the other not. The first and best set harkens back to some truly bad old days for minority rights. Despite this, Alex and Webster have managed, in their way, to both survive and thrive.

The other set of parents is more troubling, because they were born at an arguably better time. Given the right set of circumstances--and a little more toleration both internal and external--Micah and Bethany might have found at least enough happiness to keep from exporting their misery to others.

"The Turkey Men" lies somewhere between "Topper" and the work of the late Larry Shue ("The Foreignor," "The Nerd"). It is playing from October 17-26 at the Columbus Peforming Arts Center's Van Fleet Theater. I say saw off that shock collar and check it out!

Here is what the Columbus Dispatch put online:

Theater review | ‘The Turkey Men:’ Supernatural drama offers enough intrigue and nifty effects to become a hit

By Michael Grossberg For The Columbus Dispatch

Two blithe spirits come to endearing life in “The Turkey Men,” a clever new haunted-house tale informed and inspired by gay history and American progress.

Evolution Theatre Company is ending its 2019 season on a felicitous and ingenious note with the well-cast, well-paced world premiere, which opened Friday at the Columbus Performing Arts Center.

Columbus playwright Douglas Whaley blends supernatural drama, romance, tragedy and even bits of comedy, music and science fiction in his entertaining play.

A lot of exposition is required to set up the scenario, but Whaley and director David Allen Vargo weave it in pretty well amid engaging characterizations that help make the explanations more plausible.

One can’t easily summarize the somewhat contrived premise of the plot, nor should later twists be revealed without undermining the nominal amount of suspense in what’s ultimately a predictable morality play within a more-satisfying romantic drama.

Suffice to say that the story, set in 2016 in the dilapidated farmhouse of an abandoned turkey farm, revolves around two ex-soldiers from the Civil War era, now largely ghosts who face a difficult decision when three unexpected visitors arrive: a frightened lesbian teenager and an older man and woman who seemingly have kidnapped her but actually have taken her at the request of her concerned parents.

The turkey men, still reveling in what must be the longest sustained gay relationship imaginable, want to help the girl after witnessing her treatment by the religious fundamentalists, who seem hell-bent to “pray away the gay.“

Vargo’s strong direction bolstered fine performances by the five-member cast at Wednesday’s preview.

Yet, two performances are pivotal in defining the emotional core of the story: the admirable relationship between Webster Randolph Carter III, a Tennessee country boy whipped to near-death as an adolescent by his father when discovered with another guy; and Alexander Small, Northerner who met Web when he became a military prisoner during the Civil War.

James Harper brings an old-fashioned masculinity alloyed with tenderness and a stoic code of reserve to Web, while Ross Shirley adds courtly charm, good humor and intuition to empathetic Alexander.

Together, Harper and Shirley forge a rich chemistry and intimacy that beautifully evoke their characters’ storied history.

The actors ground their roles further in a bygone era by speaking in rich regional accents with faintly anachronistic rhythms that implicitly unite their shared sensibilities as 19th-century gentlemen of honor.

Fia Friend is convincingly contemporary as questioning teenager Logan Hendricks, betrayed by her parents but confident of her newfound sexuality. As the poor abused Cinderella to the gay couple’s veritable fairy godfathers, Friend projects the requisite distress and hesitancy without veering into melodrama.

The two trickiest roles are underwritten, but veteran central Ohio actors Lori Cannon and Jonathan Putnam deepen what might in lesser hands come across as one-dimensional villainy.
As devout but misguided Christians Bethany and Micah, Cannon and Putnam gradually expose psyches damaged by a painful history of repression and abuse.

Ironically, and part of Whaley’s editorial theme, the 170-year-old couple turn out to be far more modern and enlightened than the 2016 couple, who might have been more plausible if placed within the 1950s.

Regarding the more ghostly manifestations and revelations of this nifty production, perhaps it’s better to adopt a policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Yet, with its supernatural aspects brought out effectively by Caroline Dittamo’s shifting lighting and Vargo’s sound design on Kat Wexler’s antique haunted-house set, this deft production seems ripe with potential to become a Halloween-season hit.

My husband, David Allen Vargo, who directed the show, and I were interviewed on WOSU NPR broadcast about the play.  That interview can be found at

[Click to enlarge]

Happily, Facebook has spread the word about the show and already there have been preliminary nibbles about possible productions in Florida and Indiana.  Anyone who has connections in their city with a theater that might be interested can contact me at

This is all very overwhelming to David and myself  We can be counted as among the happiest people on the earth.  Many thanks to Evolution Theatre (and particularly Mark Phillip Schwamberger, the Artistic Director), the talented cast and crew, and the wonderful audiences.  There are three more performance this coming Thursday, Friday, and Saturday;  information at

The Cast and Crew

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

One Million Pageviews for My Blog Has Been Reached This Week!

In November of 2009 I had a heart transplant and (as is required by law whenever anyone has a major event of this magnitude) I started writing a blog the following month.  Now, ten years later, my blog has reached the milestone of having attracted over one million pageviews in that period.  I am very pleased with that.

My blog posts are all little essays on varied topics from personal stories to advice/lectures/warnings on a multitude of things.  The blog has attracted fans all over the globe, totaling to over 170 different countries.  The emails I get and/or the comments appended to the various posts are fascinating.  They run from praise to condemnation, corrections, suggestions on new things to address, and occasional stories that tell me how the posts affected lives.  Of course I’ve written posts about the history of this blog in the past:

 The Second Anniversary of This Blog: Greetings to the Planet Earth,” December 17, 2011;

“Today My Blog Had Its 300,000th Hit, For Which I Am So Grateful,” October 31, 2014;

“My Blog Hits 500,000 Views!” May 2, 2016;

I will have much more to say about my heart transplant next month when the tenth anniversary rolls around on Saturday, November 23rd; for now the curious might look at "About That Heart Transplant," January 24, 2010;

I’ve compiled a “Guide to the Best of My Blog” [], and, out of the 359 blog posts I've published, immediately below I list the ones that have proven most popular through the years:

“Homosexuality: The Iceberg Theory,” April 25, 2010;

The Magic and Power of a Wink,” August 24, 2011;

“Questions To Ask a Homophobe,” January 4, 2017;

“Urban Meyer and the Christian Buckeye Football Team,” February 19, 2012,

“If Humans Are Descended From Apes Why Are There Still Apes?” January 27, 2014;

“Stepping on Cats,” February 8, 2012; 

“Mama Cat Saves My Life,” October 23, 2011; 

“Seducing Straight Men,” March 3, 2011;

“How To Take a Law School Exam,” November 30, 2012;

“Mortgage Foreclosures, Missing Promissory Notes, and the Uniform Commercial Code: A New Article,” February 11, 2013;

“How To Write an Effective Legal Threat Letter,” October 19, 2011;

“How To Respond to a Legal Threat.” March 29, 2014;

“The Payment-In-Full Check: A Powerful Legal Maneuver,” April 11, 2011;

"The Left-Brain/Right-Brain Life," January 17, 2011;

                  I am so very grateful to those who read my blog.  Many thanks to you all.

                                                             Douglas Whaley

Monday, September 16, 2019

The Thrill of My Life: My First Play Will Have Its World Premier Next Month in Columbus

Starting with preview performances before audiences on Wednesday and Thursday, October 16th and 17, and with an official opening night on Friday, October 18th , my play “The Turkey Men” will have a professional production as Evolution Theatre Company’s final show of its season here in Columbus, Ohio.  Information about the play, including cast and crew, can be found at

In a prior blog I reported the circumstances that led to the creation of the play [see “My First Play Will Be Produced Next Year,” May 29, 2018;]. That post describes the play in some detail, but, briefly, it is a comedy/romance that deals with a serious subject.  I had learned of two Civil War soldiers who met at Camp Chase, a prison in Columbus for Confederate captives, with one guarding the other, both quite young.  Suddenly the war ended in 1865 and the one from Tennessee said he had no place to go.  The other replied that he had a turkey farm south of Columbus and invited him to work there.  They raised turkeys for 57 years (!), living together, never marrying, being known locally as “The Turkey Men,” and now buried next to each other (a little off from the other graves), dying in 1921 and 1922, their tombstones marked to show one had been a Confederate soldier and the other a Yank.  No one knows anything about the nature of their relationship.  Speculating that this was a wonderful gay romance, I fictionalized that story, changing their names and turning them into ghosts still haunting their old turkey farm 150 years later.  They have lived through much of gay history but they are now certain that if they materialize they will pop out of existence completely.  The door to the abandoned old house opens and in comes an older couple dragging a 16 year old lesbian entrusted to their care by her parents in a “Pray Away the Gay” scheme.  Much happens thereafter.

[Click to enlarge]

Mark Sschwamberger

I shopped the play to theater companies and in the spring of last year Mark Schwamberger, the Artistic Director of Evolution Theatre Company, sent me an email telling me that the company wished to produce my play.  Frankly, that was the best email I have ever received in my life!  Mark invited me to lunch and even suggested I bring along my actor/director husband, David Vargo (with whom Mark has worked a lot).  At that lunch Mark asked me if I was planning to direct the show myself (I had once directed a show for Evolution  with both Mark and David in it) and I replied no.  I told him that I knew of this director from Florida who now lives in Ohio and, or course, I meant David, who has been handling the creation of the show ever since.

This year Evolution, Columbus’ only L G B T Q Q I A theater company, has become fully professional, with Equity actors and a paid crew.  The season is entitled “History and Mystery” with the shows alternating in themes between those two genres.  Mark told me “The Turkey Men,” dealing with a gay romance from the Civil War, would be the final production of the season.  He was delighted David would direct.

David Allen Vargo

I promised David I would stay out of the production and let him handle it without interference, though willing to do whatever I could to help if asked.  Since then there have been minor changes to the script and a new song added (there was already an existing love song).  I wrote the additional song in one day and we tacked it onto the final scene.

The play has one teenage actor and four older ones, and the latter all are established professionals.  They were chosen by David at open auditions (and he is very pleased with his cast).  Some of them had earlier participated in a reading of the play at our house in 2018.  David and I had also invited to that reading Robin and Peter Hersha, local theatrical benefactors.  They have much enjoyed watching David (and sometimes me) on the stage.  After the reading they said they liked “The Turkey Men” a lot, and Peter suggested two minor changes that I promptly put into the script.  Not long after that the Hershas had supper with Mark, David, and me and announced they wanted to become presenting sponsors of the show.  We were very grateful for their generous additional financial help.

To put the cast and crew into the spirit of the play David gathered them together with the Hershas for an outing.  We met at Camp Chase cemetery here in Columbus where over 2000 Confederate soldiers are buried, then had lunch and went to Pleasant Cemetery in Mount Sterling, Ohio, where the real soldiers whose story sparked our play are buried.  David had James Harper and Ross Shirley, the actors playing the soldiers, dress in period costumes and stand next to the graves.  It was both moving and inspiring.

James Harper and Ross Shirley

Cast and crew (the Hershas in the upper left)

Last Thursday there was a historical discussion of the play and Columbus’ involvement in the Civil War at the Kelton House here in Columbus, sponsored by Evolution Theatre Company.  There was seating for 60 people and the room was packed.  David was the MC and a panel (me and two local historians) explored the play and its historical background.  A scene from the play was also performed, and seeing it was a thrill for me.

Sophia Friend, James Harper, and Ross Shirley performing

As readers of this blog know I judge every important event or decision in my life by what I call the “Deathbed Test.”  The test goes like this: imagine that you are in your late nineties, lying on your deathbed and reviewing the incidents of your long life.  What will make you slap your head in annoyance and exclaim “How could I have been so stupid?” and what will make you smile from ear to ear and think “Now that was wonderful!”?  Anytime something of moment happens in my life I try to think of how it will look from the point of view of that future contemplative bed.  

Other than the brief scene from my show just performed at the Kelton House I have not seen anything from my show.  I am staying away from rehearsals, which formally start at the end of this week, and want everything to be a surprise to me. 

On the opening night of “The Turkey Men” when actor James Harper as Webster Carter walks out on the stage as the show begins, turns on a light, and, per the script, says “I’ll be damned,” I will experience a thrill that will certainly be a joy for any future deathbed retrospective to revisit.  Typing the script on my computer was one thing, but it’s quite another for a live production of my words to unfold itself right before my astonished eyes.

Related Posts:

“My First Play Will Be Produced Next Year,” May 29, 2018;].  

"The Deathbed Test," July 27, 2010;

“The Ugliness of Gay Conversion Therapy,” April 3, 2019;

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Gay Rights in the Trump Era: The Bad and the Good

While (inexplicably) there really are gay Trump supporters, their backing cannot come from what his administration has done for gay people; it must come from believing that his actions on the economy and particularly things elevating the upper class make up for his disdain for the LGBTQ agenda.  I suppose if they’re wealthy enough it doesn’t matter to some gays that Trump will destroy lots of other values they should treasure.

Yes, Trump actually has some gay friends. Years ago he attended Elton John’s wedding and commented that all people in love should be allowed to get married.  But it's not an issue on which he has strong feelings, and, of course, he does need to keep his base happy if he’s going to be reelected.  Thus whenever anything gay arises that his administration must deal with, the gays are dumped without a thought.  Transgendered people in the military?  They’re out—too expensive to pay for all those operations.  Federal regulations supporting gay rights?  Repeal them or stop enforcing same.

If an issue concerning gays comes before the Supreme Court the Trump Administration will file an amicus brief in favor of the standard homophobic position.  When a Colorado baker claimed a religious right to refuse to make a wedding cake for a gay wedding and the case reached the Court, Trump’s position favored the baker.  In that case the Court ducked the big issue and sent the case back to the lower courts for a closer examination of the religious arguments.  [See my blog post on this “The Supreme Court Did Not Rule That a Baker May Discriminate Against Gays,” June 6, 2018;].  However that issue won’t go away and the Court is scheduled to hear arguments on the matter once again next term with the big question being whether religious bigotry trumps (pun intended) equal protection of the law.  If it were a Muslim baker refusing to sell to a Jew the Court would likely forbid such discrimination.  But as soon as homosexuality is part of the picture centuries of prejudice queer the issue and all bets are off.

The Court has another thorny gay issue to deal with this coming year.  Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on “race, color, religion, sex and national origin.”  The question is whether “sex” simply means male or female or whether it also includes sexual orientation.  Certainly when the statute was drafted it never occurred to Congress that gays were being protected, and the few cases in the early days that raised the issue said this.  But in recent years some of the lower federal courts of appeals have bravely ruled that gays are protected by the clear language of the Act: “sex” includes sexual orientation—how could it not?  Other federal courts of appeals disagree and the Court will now settle the issue. 

How will it come out?  Well my guess is that the gays will lose this one.  Certainly the Trump Administration hopes so; just this month it filed an amicus brief saying gays aren’t meant to be covered by the statute.  The Court itself has five conservatives and four liberals and the split is likely to be along those lines against the gay inclusion.  Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was a strong voice for gay rights, is now gone from the Court, replaced by Brent Kavanaugh, chosen by Trump because he is a trusted conservative jurist.


David Souter
But, you never know.  Strange things can happen to a person who becomes a lifelong member of the United States Supreme Court.  He/she is appointed for life and cannot be removed unless impeached for criminal behavior.  Moreover this new Justice will now become a historical figure with his/her opinions studied, cataloged, criticized.  More than one appointee to the Court has switched from conservative to liberal in such a situation.  Justice David Souter, appointed by the first Bush, was very conservative when appointed and very liberal when he retired (he is still alive).  I mention this because Brent Kavanaugh (yes, HIM) has surprised Court-watchers since he has come on the bench by taking some surprisingly liberal stances, sometimes voting with the four liberal Justices and helping them win the day.  Much vilified for debasing women Kavanaugh has chosen females for all four of his law clerks (a record—no Justice has ever done that before).  Hmm.  Could Kavanaugh turn out to be another Souter?  And Chief Justice John Roberts hates for the Court to be seen as political and predictable, so on the odd occasion he too has, in the past, suddenly bolted from the conservative ranks and voted with the liberals (he did so two years ago to save Obama Care from being declared unconstitutional, which astounded Court watchers).

What about gay marriage in the Trump era?  Is it likely to be dumped?

No.  We are safe on this one, and I’ll bet big money on this.  See me if you want to make such a bet and we’ll negotiate the terms.

Why am I so confident?  Because the United States (and much of the world) has now had years of gay marriage and it’s all gone very well, producing almost no downsides.  Millions of gay weddings have taken place and millions more are happening every year.  This has been remarkably good for the economy (look up the figures on the internet—they are staggering—billions of dollars made each year from such unions).  Having gay couples legally married creates stability: gays who can get married show those around them that they're no different than straight couples---they are not just two queers pretending to be something they're not.  Poll numbers show that gay marriage is overwhelmingly popular with the public.  Almost everyone in this country knows gay people who are married, and most straight people have been invited to gay weddings.  This includes members of the United States Supreme Court, all of whom are likely to have gay family members and other family members supporting those gays closely watching the Justices with steady eyes. 

Moreover Obergefell v. Hodges, the case stating gay marriage was mandated by the Fourteenth Amendment, was decided in 2015 and four years later it has produced what is uniformly considered a happy result.  It is, as lawyers say, a “settled precedent.”  The United States Supreme Court is loath to overturn its precedents and rarely does so on big cases like this one.  Chief Justice Roberts is steadfast on convincing the country that the Court is not a political animal and changes in the personnel do not lead to overturning decided matters.  Most of the Justices will have no appetite for revisiting Obergefell v. Hodges.  [Roe v. Wade is another matter, and I wouldn’t place any bets on its continued existence.]

Homophobia won’t kill gay marriage.  There won’t even be a significant challenge. 

So, readers, my summary is this: Trump has been bad for gay rights, but he can’t win them all and for the most part he doesn’t really care about LGBTQ matters.

And there is a very good chance that by January of 2021 we won’t have to worry about what he thinks at all.


Related Posts:

Obamacare, John Roberts and the Supreme Court.” July 3, 2012;

"Five Judges Have Stopped All Further Progress on Gay Civil Rights Legislation," August 18, 2014;

“Must a Baker Create a Cake for a Gay Wedding?  What Will the Supreme Court Likely Say?” September 28, 2017;

“A Gay President in 2021?” April 21, 2019;