CHICAGO – The issue of gender identity, especially for those who are born with a vagueness as to what to call themselves between/beyond boy and girl, has come front and center in the U.S., both with the legalization of gay marriage and the callous repudiation of identity by trying to pass laws dismissing it (the North Carolina “bathroom” laws). The performance companies of The Living Canvas and Nothing Without a Company is currently staging “[Trans]formation,” which presents gender identity art by six performers, who perform most of the play in the nude.
Film Review: Dennis Farina is Absolved in ‘The Last Rites of Joe May’
CHICAGO – The Chicago born-and-bred actor Dennis Farina has had many opportunities in his career to distinguish himself in a variety of roles, but never has he carried a film as well as his turn in the recent “The Last Rites of Joe May.” Farina imbues the title character with raw emotion, feral toughness and a touch of fear.
What is distinctive about Joe May is that he is cut off from the world temporarily, and when he returns nobody misses him. To have lived with no connections of family, friends or colleagues is an intriguing notion to begin a story, and writer/director Joe Maggio puts the title protangonist through a road-to-Mount-Calvary situation that has the nobility of the King of Kings. This film is an exceptional character study, with the supporting cast providing a treasure trove of their own quirks, that Farina plays off on like a fine musical instrument.
Joe May (Dennis Farina) is a small-time Chicago hustler who is discharged from the County Hospital after a seven week struggle with pneumonia. When he emerges into the brutal Chicago winter, he finds that most of his contacts thought he had died. Even his landlord had shut him out, canceling the lease on his apartment and selling all his furniture. Joe discovers this when he finds the new tenant, Jenny Rapp (Jamie Anne Allman), taking a shower. She has a daughter Angela (Meredith Droeger) and no intention of leaving the apartment. Joe May is now homeless.
Trying to figure out what to do, Joe walks the neighborhood streets of Chicago in a thin coat against the cold winter. Jenny and her daughter see him on those streets, and take him back to the apartment, and they agree on an arrangement so he can stay there. This angers Jenny’s boyfriend, a police officer named Stanley (Ian Barford). and the physically abusive relationship becomes more apparent. Joe had ingratiated himself with the child Angela, and becomes somewhat of a protector in his new situation. But with no money, prospects or friends, this last rite of Joe May will be his greatest life challenge.
Photo credit: Tribeca Films