By Melissa Groth
Celebratory and empowering, clever and poignant, The T Party is the story of gender in Washington, D.C. Written and directed by Natsu Onoda Power, the play is based on local stories of transgender experiences and while it is exciting and funny, it is also at times dark and tragic. The T Party is an amalgam of experiences ranging from poetry slams to scholarly research; it is captivating to watch and to participate in.
A truly immersive experience, audience members are welcomed to “the prom” as they walk in to the lobby area of the Forum Theatre. Party decorations and prom photos cover the walls, and gender-themed (“Lola,” “If I Were a Boy,” “It’s Raining Men,” etc…) karaoke is available for anyone who wants to participate before the performance. Ahem, before the performance in the traditional sense of the word, that is. This play is not about the traditional, though. So as you order concessions and mill around the lobby, there is an element of performance going on around you. Be open to suggestion, as small hints dropped by incognito cast members will lead you to hidden performances away from where you think you should be focusing.
Down a hallway decorated with blow-up dolphins is the stage, or rather, the dance floor on prom night. Through the duration of the play, the stage transforms into multiple locations and settings including an instant message conversation spoken aloud complete with punctuation and typos. A scene depicting the D.C. bar Green Lantern as a wildlife sanctuary for all types of bears, and one otter, had the audience roaring. Another scene in which children are taught “non-binary gender education,” and in which they learn about their “hoo-hahs” (the fruit/vegetable that is attached to their heads), showcases Power’s skill as a writer and as a teacher. Stereotypes break themselves down through self-deprecating humor, but also through sincere depictions of the thoughts and struggles present in the transgender community. A techno ballad about a unicorn whose horn has been smashed seems over-the-top ridiculous at first glance, but listen and you’ll realize the confusion, the darkness, and the downward spiral of someone who is lost in their own body.
Apart from being totally entertaining and captivating, The T Party also informs and defines, insofar as definition is possible or immutable. You will know more about gender and how it is experienced after seeing this play, but you won’t feel like you’ve been in a lecture about it. Power does a fantastic job at balancing the play’s fun and silliness with darker issues and statistics. She also demonstrates that there is a spectrum of reasoning behind certain gender interpretations, that there is no one cause behind one type of behavior or expression. The cast is dynamic and relatable. They command the audience’s attention from start to finish. Each scene is different from the last, each is clever and eye-opening. The play celebrates a portion of the population that is often persecuted and oppressed. But instead of words like “persecuted” and “oppressed,” you’ll be hearing “Dolphins is gay, y’all.” Lighthearted but not without depth, The T Party is important piece of theater that demonstrates the flux and fluidity of gender and sexuality.