by Colin Thomas
Playwright Taylor Mac goes by the pronoun judy, after Judy Garland. This information may be apocryphal, but that’s what The Guardian claims in this subversive, ecstatic review of Mac’s play Hir.
Hir is one of the many scripts that have made 2017 a watershed year in the theatrical representation of trans experience.
In Hir, a Marine named Isaac comes home from war to find that his abusive father has been incapacitated by a stroke and his mother, Paige, is taking advantage of the situation, pumping her husband full of estrogen, dressing him in a gauzy nightie, and making him do housework. Meanwhile, Isaac’s sibling Maxine is injecting testosterone as she moves towards her new identity as Max.
“Max!” Paige yells at one point. “Come out here and explain your gender ambiguity to your brother.”
Trans writer Yas Necati is less enthusiastic about Hir in this article in the Independent. Necati argues: “The script felt like it was poking fun at being trans and ridiculing pronouns that sit outside of the binary. As someone who identifies as transgender and uses they/them pronouns, I found the dialogue to be very triggering, and I didn’t enjoy trans identity being used as a laughing stock.”
Necati is more enthusiastic about other trans-inclusive plays from this year’s Pride season, including Summer in London, which was performed by an all-trans cast.
In Summer in London, four homeless guys all go on dates with a woman named Summer, while Summer’s mentor, Joan, helps a tough-talking sandwich seller named Justine to find peace within herself.
Here, the Chicago Tribune enthusiastically reviews The CiviliTy of Albert Cashier, a historically-based musical about a trans soldier in the US Civil War.
This article in The Washington Post explores the making and resonance of Draw the Circle, South Asian-American trans playwright Mashuq Mushtaq Deen’s semi-autobiographical monologue about their transition.
And, in American Theatre, writer Diep Tran asks what the current trendiness of trans material means for trans artists. She begins by quoting trans performer Becca Blackwell: “I look down at my hands and I’m like, ‘Six months ago, this [body] was not cool.’”
It might seem like less than earth-shattering news that straight white men will soon be appearing on Broadway. But add some capital letter and italics and things get interesting. In July, Young Jean Lee’s Straight White Men will play Broadway, making Lee the first Asian-American woman to have a script produced on the Great White Way.
Commenting on that distinction, the writer says, “On the one hand, that’s great, but it’s also like, ‘Oh, why hasn’t there been another Asian-American female on Broadway?’”
But this Broadway debut for Lee—whose play The Shipment recently played to sold-out houses at The Cultch—is part of a potentially game-changing initiative. The Second Stage Theatre has acquired the Helen Hayes Theatre, which, at 585 seats, is Broadway’s most intimate venue, and Second Stage plans to present the work of living American playwrights there. To that end, they are supporting the work of nine writers, including seven women, three African-Americans, and one Asian-American.
As part of the plays’ development, Second Stage is collaborating with partners, including LA’s Center Theatre Group, who will mount pre-Broadway productions.
In a climate in which risk-averse producers prefer to back tourist-pleasing musicals, this move will create an important new platform for innovative playwrights, increasing the profile—and potential marketability—of their work.
Amid the defiant sexism of the Trump era and the seismic changes of the #MeToo movement, Nightwood Theatre, Toronto’s 38-year-old feminist company, is thriving.
As J. Kelly Nestruck points out in this piece from The Globe and Mail, artistic director Kelly Thornton has retired the company’s deficit, and she has done so through adventuresome programming. In 2012, importing Nirbhaya, a show about sexual violence, from India was a financial risk, for instance. But the risk paid off with sold-out shows.
Intriguingly, Nightwood has also changed its rehearsal practice, which has resulted in happier artists and, arguably, better art.
When Thornton was approaching rehearsals for Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad five years ago, she wanted to ensure that she’d still have time to spend with her young daughter, so she spread the hours of the three-week rehearsal period that shows usually get over four weeks. All of a sudden, mothers in the cast had time to pick their kids up after school. Older performers with health problems also appreciated the shorter work days and two-day weekends. Three-over-four as the approach is known, has since become standard practice at Nightwood.
And the artists aren’t just happier with their workdays, they’re also happier with their work. Niki Landau, who performed in Nightwood’s production of Unholy, which just closed, explains: “Generally speaking, I find most actors can be more productive with a short day. Spreading it out over four weeks meant I had more time to digest the material, to sink into the character, to do script work and prepare, and then go into rehearsal the next day with guns ablazing.”
The production isn’t perfect, but Will Eno’s script, The Realistic Joneses, is one of the most invigoratingly original pieces I’ve seen in a long time. It’s an existential comedy about embodiment, death, and the collapse of meaning—specifically the collapse of language. Off the top, we find out that one of the characters has a degenerative neurological disorder, but it’s not long before they all start blurting out disarmingly bizarre things like, “I’d like to say something in Latin right now. Know what I mean, big guy?”
You’ve only got a few more days to catch this production from The Mint Collective, which is playing The Cultch’s Vancity Culture Lab until this Sunday, December 17. Get your tickets here.
Almost, Maine, which is thematically slight but theatrically clever—and very well performed in this Pacific Theatre production—runs until this Saturday, December 16. Actor Peter Carlone is one of the best reasons to see this show, in which the metaphors of love become literal: when two characters fall in love, they literally fall, for instance. Tickets.
And, on the Arts Club’s Granville Island Stage, Onegin, the musical adaptation of Pushkin’s poem, is probably the best show in town. I say “probably” because I haven’t seen the remount yet. But I should upgrade that to “very likely” because I loved the original so much I could almost kiss my own elbow. Your tickets to Onegin are hiding here.
Let’s stay in touch over the holidays! This is the last Fresh Sheet until January 11, 2018, but I’ll still be sending out my free independent newsletter every Thursday.
Next week, that newsletter will include my annual Best Of list: my favourite shows, moments, and performances from 2017. Don’t miss it! Sign up here. If you’re already a subscriber, thanks! And please encourage a friend or twelve to check it out; your support makes independent theatre criticism in Vancouver possible.