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Bending Gender 

HOMO EXPO: A Queer Theater Extravaganza

click to enlarge Standing: Noe Tolentino and Traci Thomas Reclining: Marianne Candela, Greag Brown and Vannida Mel. Photo courtesy HSU Graphic Services.
  • Standing: Noe Tolentino and Traci Thomas Reclining: Marianne Candela, Greag Brown and Vannida Mel. Photo courtesy HSU Graphic Services.

This past Sunday was intended to be a very gay day for me. Unfortunately, Humboldt County’s annual Gay Pride festival and parade were pretty much rained out, so I lazed about on the couch for the morning. The cause was not lost, however, since I still made it over to the HSU campus for a full dress rehearsal of HOMO EXPO .

The brainchild of director Jean O’Hara, the play is actually a composite of monologues and a mini-play — hence the “expo” in the title. Rehearsal revealed a cast and crew composed of young, energetic and enthusiastic people. O’Hara, currently teaching the Theater of the Oppressed course at HSU, lead the supercharged group with determination, humor and encouragement.

The non-traditional format begins with four monologues, broken into pieces. The actors come out in round-robin style so that the monologues are interwoven. The uniting theme is that of being gay and a minority (double-whammy).

The show opens with Greag Brown entering in a super-slinky dress, very attractive drag queen garb. He launches right into a sassy, sexy character, nailing his part by portraying attitude, poise and humor. Craig Hickman, a writer, performance poet, publisher, HIV prevention activist, educator and gay man of color, is the author of Brown’s piece, entitled “Skin and Ornaments.” We are afforded insight into being a gay, black drag queen.

Vannida Mel performs the monologue “Hello (Sex) Kitty: Mad Asian Bitch on Wheels.” The title says it all. Mel’s part addresses bisexuality, apparently a neglected issue in the queer community. Mel portrays Denise Uyehara, author of the monologue and “the world’s first Asian lesbian stand-up comedian.” The part starts as a funny rant, focusing on racism against queers.

Noe Tolentino performs the autobiographical monologue written by Alex Mapa, the gay Asian guy on the television show Desperate Housewives . Mapa is openly gay and active in both the LGBT and Asian American communities. Tolentino handles the beginning of the awkward, sensitive monologue well, addressing growing up in San Francisco, gay and with a Filipino family from the old school. Tolentino is adorable when he talks about the dynamic between his character (Mapa) and the character’s mom.

Rounding out the monologue selection, we have Traci Thomas performing “Butch is a Noun.” The piece is taken from the book of the same title, written by S. Bear Bergman, another self-proclaimed gender-jammer/performance artist. Here the gay and minority theme is rounded out with a look at being a gender norm violator and a Jew.

Traci Thomas discusses life as a butch lesbian, and the pronoun ambiguity that comes along with being of said orientation. The monologue addresses one’s option to be whatever gender one pleases, with a little work, of course. She may lack the fire of the other performers, but she still does a good job of emphasizing the existence of butch identities.

Each subsequent piece of monologue reveals different aspects of each character. I’ll spare you the details, but I will say the expo gets pretty, pretty steamy. A reminder, this play is for adults only.

After the intermission a mostly different set of actors takes on the short play “Hidden: A Gender,” written by Kate Bornstein, who was born a man and underwent gender reassignment surgery to become a woman. The perspectives offered by the short play solidify the well roundedness of the expo.

Bornstein writes in her book, Gender Outlaws: Men, Women and the Rest of Us , “I know I’m not a man ... and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m probably not a woman, either...The trouble is, we’re living in a world that insists we be one or the other.”

The play was originally set on a TV talk show, but EXPO director O’Hara, has shifted the setting to a circus. Her intention is to emphasize that gender norm violators are often treated like freaks.

Willoughby Arevalo performs the role of ringmaster while cavorting between a trapeze and the stage floor. Dude’s got flare and lots of energy, that’s for sure.

The short play focuses on two individuals whose genders are questionable (i.e., individuals suffering from “gender-blur”). Abel-Andrea Romero begins her performance as Herculine from a cage while dressed in a Catholic schoolgirl’s uniform. Her role is that of a woman trapped in a man’s body (biologically and mentally). We see her go to confession and divulge her gender questions to a priest, a scene that offers realism and has potential to strike chords of empathy.

The other gender-bender, Herman, is a somber, poignant character portrayed by Breandan O’Loughlin. His role as a woman trapped in a man’s body counters Romero’s. O’Loughlin recounts the character’s conflicts and struggles with great inflection and animation.

Marianne Candela, Stephen Godwin and Christopher Hegler support the lead characters by switching between various parts, including all three as circus performers, Hegler and Godwin as doctors and Candela as a game show host.

Candid takes on some of the more extreme methods of dealing with gender-blur are addressed, as well as common misconceptions. The short play is really a humorous take on both characters’ journey through gender reassignment. Ultimately, we see Herman evolve into Kate and Herculine evolve into Abel.

Whether you’re a card-carrying queer (stole that one from my editor), a straight person in the know, someone dealing with their own gender and/or sexuality issues or just a plain-old person, this performance will drop spirit and knowledge on you. I suggest checking it out.

Pertinent information: HOMO EXPO runs Oct. 4-6, 11-13 at 7:30 p.m. in the Gist Hall Theater at HSU. Ticket prices are $10, $8 for students and seniors.

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Emily Hobelmann

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