Saturday, May 06, 2017

Review - Q-Stage - Set A - 20% Theatre - Gender Outside The Box - 4.5 stars

The first set (Set A) in 20% Theatre Company’s latest edition of Q-Stage tackles gender identity through comedy and dance, both quite successfully.  Up first in the double feature is The Smitty Complex, an absurdist comedy from writer/creator Devin Taylor, co-directed by Taylor and Bri Collins.

“I’m an otter.”

Their synopsis is kind of perfect so I’m not going to mess with it:

"Smitty (Courtney Stirn) is an otter looking for an answer to the question: "what am I?" He finds himself in the office of Dr. Handler (Beth Mikel Ellsworth) - an "expert" determined to resolve Smitty's confusion and help him conform to a proper narrative of otterness. What follows is a surreal look at how the politics of medicine and social welfare interact with the politics of fear, identity, and self-determination. It's mostly a story about an otter."

I’ll add that Ellsworth also plays the strident and unforgiving receptionist, a gatekeeper Smitty must engage on the way to Dr. Handler.  There is also a fellow named Butler (Graeme Monahan-Rial) who serves as Dr. Handler’s… well, butler.  He also doubles as the pharmacist at the clinic, ready and willing to help medicate someone into conformity with accepted norms.  Also working at the clinic is a window washer (Logan Gilbert-Guy) who is supposed to be one of Dr. Handler’s success stories, but doesn’t seem particularly happy.

“He’s an artist, and a duck.”

Smitty certainly looks like an otter but his tests came back with two results, one for otter and one for fox, even though his father is a duck. It’s confusing everyone, including Smitty. How is one supposed to check the right box on all the forms? But the longer Smitty spends navigating the system, the more he starts to question its correctness for him.  The system doesn’t seem so much malevolent as it is absurd and incompetent.  So it might be better for Smitty to find his own way without so much well-meaning “help.”

“Whose paw do you hold to keep from floating away?”

The script is delightfully odd, and all the performers embrace the absurdity of the world in which they’re living. An audience favorite was a bird on a stick that kept thumping up against the window to Dr. Handler’s office, something Dr. Handler was convinced was done to torment them (I’m laughing just thinking about it).  Every now and again I had a feeling maybe a scene was going on a bit long, that we stopped getting new information and a character was just repeating themselves or the same strategy.  It may also have been that I just didn’t like seeing poor Smitty suffer any longer than he needed to, and it’s a new work in development, so they may tighten it up as it grows. 

“I could have been an octopus.”

That said, The Smitty Complex is enormously enjoyable and absolutely worth seeing.  The audience the night I saw it were muttering under their breath, almost talking back to the characters onstage, and leapt to their feet for a standing ovation when it was done.

“What a curious way to hold a plate.”

The second half of the set is a new movement and dance piece created and performed by Nadia Honary, directed by Shalee Coleman, called These Floating Bones.  Honary also shot and edited the video projected on the screen behind her during the performance and it’s a very evocative mix of images, largely of the elements - water, fire, air and earth.  Also a meditation on the fluid nature of identity like the play which precedes it, These Floating Bones breaks down into three parts.

“See how the unknown merges into the known.”

In the first part, Honary is hidden beneath a white satin sheet, beginning curled up on the floor, eventually rising to full height. Though moving gracefully in the space with the sheet billowing around her, her head and face always remain under the sheet.  At times the imprint of her face strains against the sheet but doesn’t emerge.  When Honary’s head comes out from under the sheet, it is revealed her face is still under a white featureless mask.  Dancing with and without the sheet continues in the second part with the masked face, but the dancer’s head is never again obscured by the sheet.  For the final part, the mask is removed and Honary’s human face is at last shared with the audience.  In each sequence, familiar moves and patterns recur, looking different because the body and sheet are partnering in different ways. Actual water and paint, for both body and mask, join the elements in this final part of the dance. 

“Look at water and fire, earth and wind, enemies and friends all at once.”

Honary is so in control of the white satin sheet that it’s almost like a human dance partner, responding to her moves.  These Floating Bones is a fascinating piece to watch.  The poem by Rumi which Honary recites once her human face is revealed (“Look At Love”) traffics in the idea of opposites being fluid, flowing into and joining one another.  The movement, video, words and light all combine for an experience that’s hard to put into words but nonetheless feels like it has weight and meaning.

“My beloved grows right out of my own heart, how much more union can there be?”

Set A for Q-Stage this year is a good example of what you can do onstage with both words and motion - and a large otter tail. (I was tempted to make a joke in the headline like, “You otter go see it” but - well, I went ahead and did it anyway, didn’t I?)

Set A of Q-Stage from 20% Theatre Company plays again May 6 at 7:30pm and May 7 at 2pm at Intermedia Arts.

Set B of Q-Stage will take place on May 12 and 13 at 7:30pm, and May 14 at 2pm, also at Intermedia

If you’re looking for brand new queer works of art fresh out of the artists’ brains, Q-Stage is your ticket.

4.5 stars -  Very Highly Recommended

(Otter - Devin Taylor: Q-Stage by Kristi Peterson; Nadia Honary: Q-Stage by Nadia Honary)

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