George Takei tried to reason with Donald Trump.

Takei, who played helmsman Hikaru Sulu in the original ’60s Star Trek television series — and one of the few actors of Asian heritage in a prominent and distinguished role during that era — was on the Trump-hosted television series Celebrity Apprentice in 2012. In a promotional event for the series, the actor, who came out as gay in 2005 at the age of 68, publicly asked Trump to lunch — at one of the restaurants on a Trump property — to discuss supporting gay marriage, which hadn’t become the law of the land yet.

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George Takei will receive New Haven’s International Festival of Arts & Ideas’ annual Visionary Leadership Award at a luncheon on Feb. 18.

“I fully expected him to demur because, at that time, New York City did not have marriage equality and I wanted to get him on record supporting it,” says Takei, who turns 83 in April. He said, ‘You know, George, that might make an interesting conversation. We’re on.’

“When we met for lunch some time after that the first thing he said to me was, ‘You know, George, I went to the most beautiful gay wedding, that of [theater producer] Jordan Roth and Richie Jackson.’ I told [Trump] that he should support marriage equality because his voice was so influential. But he said, ‘No no no no.’ I even told him it’s to his advantage as a businessman because everyone will want to get married at one of his properties. But he still said no, saying he believed in traditional marriage.

“Well, that stopped me because I knew he was on his third marriage and he was famously unfaithful in all three. He finally said we had to agree to disagree.”

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It was the same year Trump first ran for president as a Republican. Since Trump ascended to the White House, Takei has gained even greater fame as a social activist, particularly for LGBTQ causes. He will receive New Haven’s International Festival of Arts & Ideas’ annual Visionary Leadership Award at a luncheon on Feb. 18 at the Omni New Haven Hotel. The award is presented “to a leader whose trailblazing work is impacting the world.” The next Arts & Ideas festival is scheduled for June 13-27 in New Haven.

Takei’s latest endeavor, a graphic novel titled They Called Us Enemy, tells the story of his family’s imprisonment — along with 120,000 other U.S. citizens of Japanese heritage — at two internment camps for nearly four years during World War II and the traumatic after-effects of that experience when he was a boy, and for many years after.

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Is that a fact?

In the Broadway play Lifespan of a Fact, which starred Daniel Radcliffe, Bobby Cannavale and Cherry Jones, a proofreader, editor and writer battle over what is true and what are a writer’s embellishments to make a story more human. In the TheaterWorks production, which opens Feb. 6 after a week of previews and plays through March 8 in Hartford, Tasha Lawrence plays the part of the editor faced with a few cruel facts of her own, namely the diminishment of journalistic staffs.

I ask Lawrence to tell me two interesting true things about herself — and one false one. “Oh, that sounds like fun. Let me see. One, I am a professional auctioneer. Two, I rode horses competitively, and three, I am bilingual, speaking Russian fluently.”

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Tasha Lawrence stars in Lifespan of a Fact, opening Feb. 6 at TheaterWorks Hartford.

My first guess is wrong, based primarily on the authority with which she states that “fact.” (Lawrence is not bilingual.) I say that if you tell a falsehood with confidence, people tend to believe you. Yes, she says, but the opposite is also true.

“Have you seen the interview with Prince Andrew [about his friendship with convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein]? I hear that when people are remembering things that are true they look down and when they’re making things up they look up. He should have never done the interview. It was a disaster, but to watch his body language and see how uncomfortable he was, you could tell he was lying.”

What is true, false and in between is what the play is all about, she says. “In this play you want the writer’s story to be told the way it’s being told. Take out the embellishments and it just dries out the piece and the heart sort of falls out of it. There’s a human desire to want the story to have all those juicy details — that may not be true. But if you take all the details out, it sort of dehumanizes the story.”

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Navigating gender

Mason Alexander Park will star in the solo show I Am My Own Wife, the Tony and Pulitzer prize winner which plays New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre Feb. 5 to March 1. The play is based on the true story of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, an openly transgender woman surviving both the Nazi and Communist regimes of East Germany. Park, a non-binary actor, will play von Mahlsdorf and an array of other characters.

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Mason Alexander Park:takes the stage solo in I Am My Own Wife at New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre Feb. 5 to March 1.

“A lot of cis [identifying with birth gender] actors have to really try to pretend to be a woman and it often comes across as performative and even campy. When you see an actor like Charles Busch, who has lived his life along a gender spectrum, even when he’s deliberately doing camp it doesn’t read the same way as a cis man in a dress. For any actor who has lived their life outside of the gender roles, it allows them to bring something a little more nuanced to each character and make something believable out of it. That’s what is cool about being a non-binary actor. I feel that I can put as much into the male roles as the female roles — and all the ones in between, too. I’ve had the experience of all of those characters and I have had the experience of trying to fit into those worlds as much as I possibly could as I was trying to figure out who I was.”

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To Eyre is human

It seems you can’t swing a dramaturg without hitting a stage adaptation of a novel by Charlotte Bronte, Mary Shelley, Louisa May Alcott or Jane Austen. Besides the fact that these novels are in the public domain, what gives?

“I think one of the appeals is that these are women writing in the early period of the novel and they’re writing women’s stories,” says Elizabeth Williamson, who has adapted and directed Jane Eyre for Hartford Stage, running Feb. 13 to March 14. “This one is not an I’m-going-to-get-married story but rather one that asks, ‘How do I make a life for myself when I have no home and I’m a plain woman?’ There is a sense in these works that these are women trying to find out who they are. Jane has a great deal of tenacity, and she is intelligent and witty, too.”

What’s the secret of adapting literary classics? “One of the nice things about Jane Eyre is that it is so dramatic that it lends itself well to the stage, plenty of action, adventure and romance. Here it’s a Gothic romance that runs on the engine of a mystery.”

But is there a danger of putting too much of a contemporary veneer on 19th-century tales? “That’s something I’m working very hard not to do. It’s very much in the period when it was written. I’m fascinated by the psychology of the characters, which is dependent on the context of the period it was written.”

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Have you heard … ?

… Film, TV and stage animal trainer and behaviorist Bill Berloni of Haddam is having a busy spell, dealing with a goat in Halfway Bitches Go Straight to Heaven, and a bunny in Sing Street, both off-Broadway. Then there are five TV series including Billions, Mrs. Fletcher and Modern Love that need his animal expertise, as well as a film, Marry Me, starring Jennifer Lopez, Owen Wilson and a bulldog named Romeo.

Darling Grenadine, which had a developmental production at Goodspeed Musicals’ Norma Terris Theatre in East Haddam two years ago, will have an off-Broadway run. The show runs through March 15. Berloni is involved in that show, too.

Somewhere, Matthew Lopez’ comedy-drama of a Latinx family whose early-’60s West Side home is facing the wrecking ball to build Lincoln Center is in the early stages of being developed as a television series. The play was presented at Hartford Stage in 2014, while Lopez was writing The Inheritance there, which was commissioned by the theater.

This article appeared in the February 2020 issue of Connecticut Magazine. You can subscribe here, or find the current issue on sale hereSign up for our newsletter to get the latest and greatest content from Connecticut Magazine delivered right to your inbox. Got a question or comment? Email editor@connecticutmag.com, or contact us on Facebook @connecticutmagazine or Twitter @connecticutmag.