By Greggory Moore, Curtain Call columnist
One of the most compelling—and for many, troubling—sociological topics of our time is gender identity. While half of Americans are still wrestling with the idea that maybe homosexuals deserve the same rights and protections as heterosexuals (get over it, people), the vanguard has moved on to challenge the traditional conceptualization that gender comes in only two flavors and is necessarily connected to genitalia.
If you’re a libtard West Coast elitist like me, even one old enough to have grown up without ever hearing terms like ‘trans,’ ‘genderqueer,’ or the pronoun ‘they’ used to reference an individual, all of this is much ado about nothing. Everyone is an individual and should be free to self-identify and choose for themselves who and how to love.
But Donald Trump is president, and intolerance and persecution remain rampant, so clearly libtard West Coast elitists don’t rule the world yet. Presumably this is a big reason for the existence of The All-American Genderf*ck Cabaret, a play by Mariah MacCarthy that co-directors Ashley Elizabeth Allen and Charlie Nelson say “is part of a groundbreaking movement to properly depict queer and trans identities, do them justice, and allow them to live on in the minds of the viewers past their ephemeral time on the stage.”
It’s a noble aim. Unfortunately, good intentions don’t automatically engender good art. In trying very, very hard to make statements of universal truth, MacCarthy has almost completely neglected to develop her characters as individuals. Meanwhile, there is not nearly enough production value in the Garage Theatre’s staging to keep the audience engaged for a show that clocks over two-and-a-half hours of stage time.
Although The All-American Genderf*ck Cabaret isn’t a cabaret in really any sense, we do have an emcee. That’s Taylor (Alyssa Garcia), who alternates between commentary, spot narration, and being a character in his own right who has at least brief interactions with all the others. His own right? Her own right? Their own right?
Don’t worry, Taylor tell us, they get that a lot. Or do worry, because gender-b(i)ased linguistics are a core part of the problem. Sometimes that’s the point of these interactions. But sometimes Taylor meets a character seemingly only because MacCarthy couldn’t come up with an organic way to get a character to talk about what’s on their mind, such as the unconvincingly solicited revelations Taylor receives during a training session with Allegra (Holly Baltazar) or a hair appointment with DJ (Richard Martinez).
The one genuine relationship Taylor has with another character is Kate (Lottie Frick), a man-phobic female who to this point in her life has self-identified as heterosexual but finds herself wildly attracted to Taylor despite being unclear about what Taylor’s got “down there.” This is cause for a good deal of angst on her part, but she’s also kind of turned on by the nebulousness. One of the show’s best moments comes after a rainbow-themed dance sequence that represents her fantasy of Taylor’s genderqueerness. “That’s what you see when you look at me?” Taylor asks. “Something like that,” Kate replies. (It doesn’t read funny, but it is.)
Curiously, Taylor and Kate’s is the only relationship that isn’t firmly heterosexual. There isn’t a lesbian to be found, and although DJ may be gay, we only see him work as a hairdresser and beat up a guy who is harassing him (for a cigarette, not about being gay). For a play purportedly aiming to open minds about gender preconceptions, the action is surprisingly heteronormative—and not without several stereotypes.
That stereotyping is a big weakness in the writing. No-one—not even Taylor, the most fleshed-out of the nine characters—comes off as an idiosyncratic individual. Rather, everyone is a type or amalgam of types. Dick (Joseph Bonofiglio) is the lunkhead whose macho pose masks his insecurity. Benji (Will Ardelean) is the straight guy everyone assumes is gay because of his “effeminate” nature. Devon (Gaelyn Wilkie) is the sad girl who thinks she doesn’t like sex until she finds the right man, while Gwen (Yazmin Praslin) is the sad girl who constantly acts out sexually. We never get any real sense of why these people are like this, and MacCarthy does everything she can to amp up the typical aspects, rather than rendering them with nuance.
Perhaps because there’s so little character depth on the page, the cast’s presentation only serves to augment the surface generality. I had a straight friend in high school who, like Benji, was presumed to be gay because of his affect, but his every syllable did not sound like gay character in a ‘70s sitcom, you know? I also knew plenty of macho poseurs, but they did occasionally go five seconds without trying to come off tough.
The show’s other aspects are similarly underdeveloped. None of the four or five dance numbers is nearly vigorous or graceful enough to work (clearly the cast has very little movement background), and two are little more than a short sequence of moves repeated ad nauseam. The lighting design rarely helps the mood of any scene or transition. The shadow puppetry is a nice idea, but its execution is clumsy.
The play also suffers from MacCarthy’s desperate desire to be topical. Populated with a potpourri of pop-culture references (Bill Cosby, #metoo, Kim Kardashian, Hillary Clinton’s run for president, how much we miss Obama), what unfolds on stage feels dated even though it explicitly takes place in 2018.
Somewhere along the line Taylor pronounces an important—and changeable—truth about our so-called Land of the Free: “America doesn’t like to think outside of this fucked-up binary.” Right on. But although The All-American Genderf*ck Cabaret may be motivated by the sort of spirit that can change this rigid status quo, good intentions and thinking outside the box is not enough to make for impactful and well-executed art. Not nearly enough.
THE ALL-AMERICAN GENDERF*CK CABARET
Times: Thurs-sat 8pm • $18–$25 (Thursday Tix Are 2-for-1) • Through August 11
Details: (562) 433-8337, Thegaragetheatre.Org
Venue: The Garage Theatre, 251 E 7th St (Just Off Long Beach Blvd), Long Beach