“Hannah Free” Brings Sharon Gless to Tropic
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
I just got off the phone with Sharon Gless, the star of a new film called “Hannah Free.” Wow, I’ve been a longtime fan. She was the blonde half of the popular “Cagney & Lacey” TV cop show. And later the mother on “Queer As Folk.”
Now she’s a co-star on “Burn Notice,” the hot action series found on the USA Network. “I feel like I just fell into a pot of jam,” Sharon laughs raucously. “It’s the number one show on cable television.”
She’s a big-hearted lady, easy to like, both funny and fun. I could chat with her for hours on end, pausing every now and then to let her light up another cigarette. Her character on “Burn Notice” is a chain-smoker. “I’ve got a cigarette in my hand right now as we talk,” she admits the similarity.
But what we’re really discussing is her visit this week to Key West. Her latest film – a poignant lesbian love story called “Hannah Free” – makes its Florida premiere at the Tropic Cinema on Wednesday night. It’s a centerpiece of this year’s Womenfest Key West celebration.
Sharon Gless will be on hand for the screening, along with producer Tracy Baim and director Wendy Jo Carlton.
“Hannah Free” is the story of two women at the end of their days, after a lifelong on-and-off love affair. Now Hannah is tucked away in a convalescent hospital recuperating from a fall. And in another wing is Rachel lying in a coma. Keeping Hannah from saying goodbye to her friend and lover is Rachel’s uptight daughter, ashamed of the unconventional relationship between the two women.
Then a student shows up to interview Hannah about living through the Depression. Greta’s as feisty as Hannah is crusty. When she learns about this separation of two old friends, she offers a nighttime excursion past nurses and cleaning crew to take Hannah to Rachel’s bedside.
With a touch of magical realism, this interplay is observed by the spirit of a 30-year-old Rachel, an image conjured up by the grieving Hannah.
This present-day drama frequently gives way to flashbacks: the two children kissing in the barn, the young adults exploring their sexual relationship amid war years, Rachael’s short marriage, Hannah’s wanderlust and infidelities, both growing older.
First-time director Wendy Jo Carlton handles these time-shifts smoothly, delivering a first-rate film. And the script by Claudia Allen, based on her play, is strong on message without seeming so.
The acting – mostly Chicago stage veterans – is a cut above many gay indie films. Bring your handkerchief unless you’re too butch to admit the emotions.
Kelli Strickland (adult Hannah) looks enough like a younger Sharon Gless to be her kid sister. In truth, she’s a director and acting teacher at Loyola University, no Hollywood credits to her name. Quite a find.
Anne Hagemann (adult Rachael) does double duty, appearing in the flashbacks as well as materializing as the spirit in the older Hannah’s recovery room.
Taylor Miller (Rachael’s daughter Marge) is a more experienced television actress, perfectly capturing the conflicts of a conservative woman in denial about her mother’s lover.
Jacqui Jackson (Greta) gives a strong performance as the mysterious student who has come to visit “Grandma Hannah.”
Maureen Gallagher (older Rachel) has less to do, being in a coma much of the movie. But her scenes with Gless are touching.
Sharon Gless (older Hannah) proves she’s a pro, holding the drama together like glue. Hannah’s is the story that’s being told – the happiness, the tears, the faults, the infidelities, the adventuresome nature, the love lost and found.
But at the core of Claudia Allen’s script is the pain (and love) in letting go.
“I’m very proud of the film,” says Sharon Gless. “It was a labor of love. Thirty percent of the crew worked for nothing. I worked at the lowest SAG (Screen Actors Guild) minimum that you’re allowed to, but I would’ve done it for nothing.”
Gless is a strong advocate for gay and lesbian causes. She was recently chosen “Gay Icon of the Year.”
“The truth is, the gay community and lesbian community have been so wonderful to me, so supportive of me throughout my career,” says Gless.
“I proudly walked with my gay granddaughter in San Francisco’s parade,” she tells me.
Now she goes on to her next project, a play based on the book “A Round-Heeled Woman: My Late-Life Adventures in Sex and Romance.” Having optioned the rights eight years ago, it will open in San Francisco. “It’s very out there,” Sharon told me. “I get to have an orgasm on stage.”
But she can’t help returning to the subject at hand, “Hannah Free.”
“It’s a lovely little film,” she muses to me over the phone.
Yes, I had to agree.
[from Solares Hill]