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'Hannah Free' At Outfest

'Hannah Free' At Outfest

The poignant drama Hannah Free, a story about lifelong lesbian love, and the presence of star Sharon Gless drew an appreciative, near-capacity crowd to the Directors Guild Theatre Friday night.

The poignant drama Hannah Free and the presence of star Sharon Gless drew an appreciative, near-capacity crowd to the Directors Guild Theatre Friday night.

Gless, aged convincingly for the cameras, plays the title character, an old but still feisty woman kept apart from her longtime lover, Rachel, by the latter’s family even though the two women are in the same nursing home. Rachel is in a coma, and Hannah wants to have one more moment with her love before Rachel’s imminent death. Meanwhile, Rachel’s younger self appears in Hannah’s mind, and flashbacks document their sometimes stormy, always passionate relationship.

“This sort of reeks of Proposition 8, doesn’t it?” Gless said of the story when she took the stage after the screening. Joining Gless were director Wendy Jo Carlton, executive producer Tracy Baim, and cinematographer Gretchen Warthen. They explained that the movie came together after Baim, publisher and managing editor of Chicago’s Windy City Times, interviewed playwright Claudia Allen, who brought Hannah Free to the stage in the 1990s, last year for a website on Chicago LGBT history. Carlton was behind the camera for that interview, and the three women quickly decided to work together on a film of Hannah Free. “It was just fate,” Baim said.

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Gless signed on to the project because of her experience with Allen. In the 1990s she and Cagney & Lacey costar Tyne Daly did one of Allen’s plays for radio, and in 2000 Gless appeared onstage in Chicago in another Allen work, Cahoots. During the run of Cahoots, Gless had a career-changing moment—she received a script for a new TV series, the American version of Queer as Folk.

After endearing herself to gay and lesbian audiences by playing tough cop Chris Cagney and then ultimate PFLAG mom Debbie Novotny on QAF, Gless stands to stay in these fans’ good graces with her portrayal of Hannah. “I was so comfortable, so absolutely comfortable in Hannah’s skin. Make of that what you will,” she said to laughter from the audience. “I was physically and emotionally very comfortable, like I’d known her all my life.”

Hannah Free premiered in June at San Francisco’s Frameline filmfest; after Outfest it will make the rounds of festivals in Philadelphia, D.C., North Carolina, Michigan, France, Norway, Ireland, and other locations. For more information go to Gless can also be seen playing a very different character, monstrous mother Madeline, on USA’s Burn Notice, and in January she will be onstage in San Francisco in A Round-Heeled Woman, based on Jane Juska’s sexual memoir.

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