Aphorisms on Gender – Jungle Out Their
Alice Stanley’s new play Aphorisms On Gender is a jellyfish-like piece that explores the challenges of coming to terms with one’s personal gender identity. I use that colorful sea creature to describe this work because, much like that ever-undulating ocean bag, the play flows over the topic of gender in a beautifully amorphous, self-empowering way [I had never really though of jellyfish as self-empowering, thanks, Achilles. -TBO].
As a binary white male, I can’t truly speak to the process of discovering my gender, because I don’t remember it. I’m a man, I’ve always known I am a man, I can’t remember a time I didn’t know I was a man (though, of course, there was such a time). Gender wasn’t a process for me, and that, in it’s own way, is a privilege. By experiencing Stanley’s piece I am gifted a window on the process of gender for one individual: Nora (Logan Davidson). The play opens on a Christmas dinner between hetero-normative family members: mom Molly (Penny Nicholes), dad Peter (Rich Espey), bro Cole (Zach Bopst) and (assumed) daughter Nora. Over dinner Cole accidentally (?) outs Nora as a lesbian… well, at least that’s what Nora might understand themselves to be at that place in time. Mom and dad are shocked: “Oh, my!”. The family, in that time-honored family traditions way, can’t deal, especially dear daddy. Christmas dinner is cut short as Nora storms out into the wintry cold. Though a series of monologues, vignettes, flash-backs, and another Christmas dinner a year later, we follow as Nora explores their past relationships. Principally, that consists of ex-boyfriend Max (Fred Fletcher-Jackson) and empowering, gender non-binary advocate/mentor Jane (Erica Burns). These two supporting and contrasting roles push Nora to more thoroughly examine gender in themselves and others. Is Nora male, female, neither, both? Nora finds Jane on a desolate park bench, who sort of comes off as a beautiful all-seeing, all-knowing version of Angel from RENT, and all is well in the world.
This is a workshop version of Aphorisms and, considering the abbreviated rehearsal time, it was wonderfully produced by the Cohesion team. While there are some dings and dents knocking about, the piece has solid footing for a future fleshed-out version. Davidson’s Nora is strong, very strong, maybe too strong at times. Ze is incredibly powerful, but we lose a bit of emotional connection with so much raised voice, combative body language, and storming off. I would have liked some contrast here, perhaps the more subtle character moments for Nora will be teased out in full rehearsal. Espey and Nichols are equal parts touching, real, and thoughtful. Bopst’s Cole does exactly what an older-brother figure should do when protecting and supporting a sibling, I feel his confusion and over-extended support in equal measure. Fletcher-Jackson’s Max is trying to understand, but there’s that damn masculinity to battle and, in the end, he hurts. Erica Burns comes on intense early, but by the end, you’re feeling the figurative raised fist of the true advocate and the warmth of a loving, accepting partner. Co-directors Caitlin Carbone and Melanie Glickman push the tense moments to the edge and gives the audience plenty of time to relax and laugh a bit in a piece that could easily become heavy-handed. Stanley’s sound design worked, but in Church On The Square in Canton, it’s practically impossible to cleanly balance levels without something being echoey and hard to interpret. Lana Riggins’s lighting design is simple, thoughtful, and effective at setting the moment. Like I said, this is a workshop performance, so the tech elements are merely suggestions that will eventually get more polished. I saw the effort and they’ll all do with some refining, but, overall, I liked the direction.
The talkback, moderated exceptionally by Ann Turiano, Director of Education & Literature of Iron Crow Theatre, allowed the audience to give feedback on the production. Many thoughtful questions were posed and answered. The acting, production, and development team on this work all gave wonderful insight into the process and reasons behind it. I left feeling that Cohesion is doing right for this underrepresented community.
The Bottom Line: I can’t wait to see Aphorisms On Gender develop further. I hope Stanley and the Cohesion team take a much-needed break (#SRSLY!) to revisit the script, re-workshop, and fully mount this show. If you want to see this inspiring, thoughtful, educational, touching piece of theater, act quick: Aphorisms On Gender only runs this weekend (April 1-3) at Church On The Square in Canton.
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