World premiere vividly celebrates the diversity of identity
|Nothing Without A Company i/a/w The Living Canvas presents|
Review by Duane Barnes
I went to see a play – but I got much more. The program announces “[Trans}formation” will be “Exploring the Naked Truth of Gender Identity” and before the show began, the audience was invited to roam the floor/stage (all on one level) and see items posted on the walls, all dealing with the idea of Gender Identity. The creators of this world-premiere were subtly beginning to immerse its audience in the subject.
The evening, as with all evenings to come, was begun by one of the company members. This introduction gave an idea of what was to come, a solo recitation by Avi Roque who began with the mantra, “Stop…Freeze…Hug… Squeeze….Breathe”. Repeated several times, its rhythm was used to propel us into the transgender world: its frustrations, dangers, rewards, satisfactions. And so the sense of the evening’s play is presented to the audience.
It’s difficult to single out individual performers as [Trans]formation is truly an ensemble work, devised by a group representing the actors and the production team. All the players are transgender. And all the players work on stage in the nude. During the performance, they are “clothed” in lighted patterns from offstage, providing color, patterns and movement simultaneously. The nudity tends to disappear. The audience is aware of the nudity, but easily relates it to the message. The six members of the ensemble are Gabriel Faith Howard, Ronen Kohn, Lily Jean, Chase Nuerge, Ben Polson and Kevin Sparrow. Each have speaking roles, roles which impel the audience to listen, to hear, to think, to breathe.
Ah, the message. It’s communicated in many ways but – regardless of the sources – it’s about respect and not being put into a category of another’s choosing. It’s also about awareness; the awareness that there‘s information about which many know little or perhaps nothing. And it’s about not being put in a box by others. Persons define who they are for themselves. “To thine own self be true” is borrowed from Shakespeare. ”I am my own gender” is a statement from the play. And from the director’s notes, “we have a responsibility to be audience to others who want and need to be heard”. This seems even more pertinent in today’s world, in this fractured nation where there’s an emphasis on placing people in identified (by others) groups. This play flies in the face of those attempts.
There is also dance. As the players speak, there is dance to underscore the words. It’s choreographed well when you realize the confining boundaries of the stage, yet the motion is seamless. The dancers move in unison or on separate paths, mostly done to guitar music, adding to the intimacy of the evening. And the dance is supportive of the lines being spoken by the actors. (Indeed, even the word “actor” can be misleading because an actor takes on a role; my sense was the members of the cast were being themselves.)
And a word about [Trans]formation’s co-producer, The Living Canvas. Such an integral part of the performance, the group celebrates the beauty and power of the human form. Using creative lighting, they are as much of the play and the storytelling as the performers on the stage. Using a myriad of patterns, colors and design, they vividly add another dimension to the performance.
A goal of [Trans]formation is to celebrate the diversity of identity, to have the spectators be an audience to it. In that, they fully succeed.
[Trans]formation continues through December 17th at The Vault at Collaboraction, Flat Iron Arts Building, 1579 N. Milwaukee (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays 7pm. Tickets are $30 (students & industry: $15), and are available by phone (800-838-3006) or online through BrownPaperTickets.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at NothingWithoutACompany.org. (Running time: 80 minutes, no intermission)
*Be advised that this production contains mentions of self harm, blood, surgical procedures, murder, manic experiences, and transphobia.
Photos by Pete Guither
behind the scenes
Gaby Labotka (director, co-choreographer), Darling Squire (co-choreographer), Chris Owens (projections design), Sarah Putts (sound design), Brittany Meyer (set design), Michael J. Sanow (technical director), Marisa Allison (costume design), Anna Rose Ii-Epstein (co-producer), Pete Guither (co-producer, photographer), Veronica Bustoz (stage manager), Charlie Hano, Lisa Adams (asst. directors), Kaitlin Carver (casting), Rebecca Kling (advisor)