“Do you want to be your fabulous effeminate self, or do you want to get laid?”
“I shouldn’t have to choose.”
Entering the performance space for Sunny Drake’s Transgender Seeking… the audience was met by two things: an eclectic musical score and the backdrop of the stage – a standing wedding dress with the train spread out as a white backdrop, tapestry-like, with a multicoloured stain on the right side.
Born in Australia, Sunny Drake is an award-winning queer and trans writer, performer, and producer who has toured his one-man shows across Europe, the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, and Australia.
Transgender Seeking… is the story of Jimmy, who attends romance-aholics anonymous meetings trying to work out his issues with relationships. Jimmy’s issues revolve around his ex, Brian, and a past incident from when he was seven, represented as literal and metaphoric baggage that he carries around with him.
What we learn is that Jimmy, while at first glance a somewhat self-centred individual, is really bogged down by his need to sacrifice himself for the happiness of others.
The show incorporated dance, acrobatics-like choreography, and various multimedia interfaces – including having three “Jimmys” at one point: a projected video, the actor, and the screen capture of a tablet following the actor.
Jimmy gets in arguments with his projected self, and the final scene revolves around his relationship with a puppet-Jimmy.
The play touches on topics as diverse as the limited choice when making an OkCupid profile, to the debate around whether marriage is a critical issue within the queer community when there are issues like criminalization and discrimination in the health care system, to re-identifying one’s body parts from what’s assigned by doctors, to fighting against the objectification of the trans body, to the place of jealousy within polyamorous relationships. Basically, it was a jam-packed hour of queer dialogue and thought-provoking queries.
“Socialization is not something that’s forced on you,” Jimmy says at one point, “I socialized myself, as a male.”
The acting and script by Drake were superb. His physicality seemed to my eye to have a base in clowning – think more Cirque du Soleil than the guy at your birthday party (if people still do that?).
The story wound queer theory and politics in with something much more humane, leaving the audience with many unanswered questions, but a sense of understanding and maybe even catharsis.
Direction by Gein Wong was seamless, using a minimalist set plus projection to their full potential – my favourite bit probably being when a scene from A Farewell to Arms is projected onto Jimmy wrapped in a white tablecloth. It was elegant and made the juxtaposition of the projection and the actor comfortable and humane.
Drake came out after the show to field comments and questions. On the topic of whether art can be given an agenda, he said, “For me, the reason that I make art is my agenda… I’d rather people leave my work with more questions than answers.” Still, he commented that attention must be given to the art of a piece in order for it to flow and be complete.
“I do think I have to be responsible for my politics. I have to be responsible for what I put out.”
On the topic of the play as a whole, Drake explained that what it mostly “boils down to” is an evaluation of the mainstream relationship model. “I think sometimes in queer communities we can be like ‘that model is evil; we have to throw it out’, but what about it is worth keeping?”
Drake believes the answer is the love at the core, but says that there needs to be “more space for a whole array of different relationships.”
Referring to the symbolism of the wedding dress, he explained it as encompassing the forces of the societal and the personal. “I think that we are all shaped in a broader container – also by our personal histories.” For instance, Jimmy is “not totally conscious of how [his past] is shaping his relationships.”
Drake then thanked his creative team, including Gein Wong, Catherine Hernandez, and composer Njo Kong Kie, and mentioned the importance of taking his performances “outside of the big cities.”
Who knows, maybe he’ll come back to Peterborough for another evening. To keep up with his work or follow his blog, check out www.sunnydrake.com.