The T Party
A theatrical mélange about issues of concern to the transgender population begins at a high school prom.
The T Party, written and directed by Natsu Onoda Power for Company One, has been a work in progress since its premiere in 2008, as attitudes have changed for the transgender community. The play is a cross between a vaudeville revue and the 1930s Living Newspaper format, which incorporates facts and true stories into a fictional theatrical presentation. In its 2016 incarnation, the show is episodic and largely political, especially given the beliefs that divide our nation, in the wake of the terrible tragedy in Orlando and the discussion around North Carolina's infamous "Bathroom Bill."
The T Party begins at a high school prom in the 1990s. The audience is invited to dance with the actors, many of whom are gorgeously attired (costumes by Tyler Kinney), with wrist corsages and rhinestone tiaras for the women, several of whom identify themselves as transgender. The raucous MC for the evening, and principal of the school, Kadahj Bennett, tries to entertain the viewers on the dance floor while keeping the peace among the somewhat volatile mix of students. A conflict breaks out between members of the prom committee who want to keep the bathrooms reserved according to the gender on a person's birth certificate, and others who are demanding freedom of choice. A physical knockdown erupts over a couple's breakup, but by then the viewers are safely in their seats on opposite sides of the stage at the Calderwood Pavilion.
With no one character to follow, and a bewildering assortment along the rainbow of gender opportunities, viewers are left to sort out themes the best they can. The pronoun of choice is the more equal "they," as the two-hour long evening, no intermission, moves tightly through a series of short skits. Many of the scenes are enlivened by songs, music, and projections of patterns on the floor (designed by Joey Frangieh). The eight-member ensemble changes costumes often and quickly, sometimes appearing as fish or animals who mimic the gender fluidity of the people onstage. A quartet of dolphins constantly change partners, swaying in a dance that suggests the motions of swimming underwater, to represent their frequent same-sex pairings, while a scene in a Bear Sanctuary points to the variety of possibilities among the species. Power as playwright does not manage to disguise the moralizing within the dialogue and movement.
The most compelling vignettes are those which allow the actors — Bennett, David J. Castillo, Matthew Dray, Alex Jacobs, Mal Malme, Jade Sylvan, Alyssandra Taylor, and Gigi Watson — to speak as human beings and avoid the cuteness of language tricks. One early scene has the characters voicing the punctuation as they talk about a pickup on the Internet: "Pound-dollar sign-percentage-carrot-ampersand-open bracket-asterisk-ampersand- etc." A more effective — and realistic — conversation occurs between two women (Taylor and Watson) who meet on a college campus and fall in love, leaving their boyfriends for their new relationship. They come out to their friends, but "never to our parents," with serious and painful consequences. The script requires the ensemble to improvise in certain scenes, which the actors handle with grace and ingenuity.
Any viewer frequenting the many theaters in the greater Boston community might notice a large number of twentysomethings in this show's audience, a demographic that other local troupes would kill to have. Although the material covered by The T Party is sometimes repetitious and other times less than subtle, the subject matter and wild manner of presentation will clearly attract this tranche of the population with its relevance to contemporary times and the millennial experience.