After two weeks of being the tiniest bit overwhelmed by student papers and out-of-town-visitors and prickly meetings, oh my (to the tune of “lions and tigers and bears” from The Wizard of Oz, which tune is quite appropriate here as you will discover if you choose to read on), I surfaced to find myself in…what else, but a unicorn forest! How is that possible, you ask? Theater, of course.
This past Friday, I attended Not For Resale at the Provincetown Playhouse on Macdougal Street in NYC. The play came out of the Queer as Performance initiative, part of NYU’s Program in Drama Therapy. I went because three of my fellow Body Maps workshoppers (shout out to Tim Miller and the Body Maps workshop!) were performing in it and one of them was not only performing, but also directing the piece. When I walked through the doors, I was greeted by not one, but two vibrantly costumed actors with single horn placed prominently on head, warmly welcoming me to the unicorn forest. And why were we in a unicorn forest? Because unicorns have quite a lot in common with LGBTQ+ folk, namely that they are sick and tired of hiding and are coming out and demanding visibility.
The general plot of the play revolves around an individual named “No One in Particular” who thinks she has set up a date through a dating app and who finds herself instead in a unicorn forest that, on its worst days, also fronts as a queer television studio, that may or may not be commodifying all things queer. Though the plot line might sound STRAIGHTforward, as one of the performers tells us, “there is nothing straight about it.” In this unicorn forest where unicorns sport horns that are pink and black and gold and fold their hands at their wrists, all kinds of things are possible, including a processing hour which is a kind of group therapy satire, trips to space where “there is no f****ing plot,” (more on the importance of a lack of plot later), animated video starring a tortoise and a boy named Gayface, musical theater productions featuring unicorn anthems as well as verse performance by a bustier-clad performer sporting a Louis XVI-era-white-curled wig together with the obligatory white painted face and red-rouged cheeks, as well as dyke-stand-up comedy, and, of course, love. All the while the play and the performers ask us to resist the commodification of queerness and representations of queerness.
I sent a review of sorts to my compatriots, identifying what I most admired in each of their performances, including the splendid unicorniness of Dyl the P’QUR tour guide moving his body and throwing that smile of his about with abandon AND Yel as No One in Particular who because of her wonderfully reactive and perfectly fluid facial expressions was most definitely a unicorn to take note of AND Lex’s magisterial directing job as well as her magnificent changes of persona between the totally sincere processing hour processer-in-chief asking everyone to hug themselves tightly and the hysterical stand-up comic desperately trying to make her audience laugh which this audience person most definitely did because of the physicality of her acting as when she slung her elbow around the mike stand, in a comfortable-not-so-comfortable stance.
As the director’s statement suggests, the performance seeks to shape a “Queer New World” for its audience. The world I witnessed on Friday was less interested in plot and more interested in disruption…of plot, audience expectations, and perhaps most important, of rules. The result was an experience that was alive, vibrant and real. What I loved most about it was two things: 1) the way the structure allowed its ten performers to shine, shine, shine, shine, and 2) its insistence that the audience not leave at the end, but rather join the performers on stage in a communion of sorts centered around wine, fruit and cake.
After I hugged my Body Maps workshop friends and told them how wonderful they were, I walked out feeling literally (en)lightened, knowing that if theater has a future, this is it. I want to be a part of a theater that says, yes, you have a story/performance/song/whatever to share, and, yes, audience and performer together create a new world of potential.