Company One’s ‘T Party’ Educates and Entertains (4 Stars)
by Mike Hoban
The T Party, Presented by Company One at the Roberts Studio Theatre, Boston Center for the Arts, July 15 through August 13, 2016, Created and Directed by Natsu Onoda Power; Choreography by Eileen Herman-Hasse & Raul Nieves; Video & Projections Design by Joey Frangieh; Lighting Design by Justin Paice; Costume Design by Tyler Kinney. See www.companyone.org.
There's a scene late in Company One's "The T Party", where an actor portraying an audience member from a previous iteration of this interactive play admits to a transgendered character that he thought he was coming to a show about the Tea Party, the radical conservative wing of the Republican Party. After he sees the performance and gets an inkling that transgendered folks might actually be people too, the pair awkwardly embrace, and as he walks away, we hear him say, "I can't believe I hugged a (transgendered person)." And as the transgendered person walks off stage, she is heard saying to herself (with an equal dose of amazement), "I can't believe I hugged a Republican!"
Not only is this a very funny vignette, it also sums up much of what this groundbreaking work is all about. There's going to have to be a lot of education and assimilation before both sides learn to abandon the black and white thinking that leads to the demonizing of the other point of view, and this show is a very entertaining and insightful way to lay that groundwork for that change. The "T" in T-Party stands for transgender, and in light of recent legislative events such as the North Carolina "bathroom bill" (as well as the impending election), its Boston (and New England) premiere could not be more well-timed.
"The T Party" opens with an interactive scene where audience members and cast intermingle and dance on the stage/dance floor at a high school prom - circa 1994. There are a plenty of laughs as the high school jock is threatened when his girlfriend dances with a girl, and uptight kids who planned the prom are skewered for not accepting the transgendered kids, but all is set right when the prom queen and her court are named, as it turns out to be a transgendered woman (Alyssandra Taylor) who dons the crown. But the Queen "surprises" everyone when she turns her tiara over to Tori, a transgendered freshman student (who appears to be middle-aged, but this isn't exactly traditional theater), and that's when it gets real. After thanking her fellow students for their support, she quiets the house with, "The first time I tried to kill myself, I was 13." The reality of the difficult lives of transgendered teens driven home, the raucous dance party gives way to a collage of sketches, song and dance routines, short plays, hip-hop and spoken word that convey not only the transgendered experience, but a wide spectrum of LGBTQ life.
Interestingly, the opening scene may actually the weakest of the evening's generally solid pieces (it's a little sanctimonious) save for the sobering ending made even more powerful by the fact that the freshman transgendered girl is played by Tori Clay, who was formerly Boston actor Vic Clay, who recently transitioned and is now living as a transgender female. The first offering following the interactive portion is a cleverly executed conversation conducted via text-speak ("Asteriskampersandcarrotpercentdollar signpounddollar signat symboldollar signpercentcarrotampersandasteriskpoundpoundpoundpound" one character relays to the other to communicate a profanity-laced exchange) where a cross-dressing straight man converses with a woman about the difficulties of connecting online. It's a great concept, not only for its non-traditional subject matter but in its skewering of the texting communication culture.
The show is loaded with standout scenes, including a song and dance number of a phalloplasty set against a backdrop of a full-blown production of "One" from "A Chorus Line" - complete with glitzy top hats; a tango-esque dance number featuring two college age women (Taylor and the lithe GiGi Watson) who leave their boyfriends and become a lesbian couple (at least temporarily); a hilarious and well-choreographed National Geographic-style presentation (narrated by the energetic Kadahj Bennett, who also MC's the "party") on the "non-heterosexual" sex lives of bottleneck dolphins of India, where the cast dons sleek grey unitards and bathing suits to portray the dolphins; a second nature documentary about (furry) bears in their natural habitat that bears a striking resemblance to a gay men's bar (where Watson's bombshell Goldilocks can't understand why she's being ignored); and the revue's highlight, "Long Island Iced Tea", where a cross-dressing straight man and his female friend have a drink with a transgendered Craigslist escort (the utterly stunning David J. Castillo) who, after hormone treatments and years of transitioning, never wants to be seen as "a man in a dress", something she references throughout the evening. The scene (narrated by Jade Sylvan as it unfolds) examines the broader spectrum of the transgender community in thought-provoking ways.
The cast is strong and features longtime Boston comic actor Mal Malme, (who transitions from female to male singer Steven Tyler and back again to an elegantly dressed woman, set to Aerosmith's "Dude Looks Like A Lady"); Alex Jacobs (who handles the cross-dressing roles ably); and Taylor, Matthew Dray, Sylvan and Watson are effective in multiple roles. Although "T Party" has a little too much of an educational feel at times, the bottom line is that it's outrageous fun, and if you don't care for the scene that's playing, there's another, completely different one coming right up. Just don't bring your Fox News watching uncle, unless you want to see his head explode.
For more, go to www.companyone.org.