When I go to a place like the Wild Project I expect to see risky, experimental work. Upon attending the Fresh Fruit Festival, I expect to see work addressing the LGBTQ experience as it changes. Work that is experimental can either be groundbreaking or an exercise in masturbation with no point. A theatre experience that highlights the plight of a marginalized minority now finding their voice can be moving or a pity fest. 29 xy, conceived, written, and directed by Marcus Yi was experimental and groundbreaking in a good way. Despite being in a gay play fest, it was not a whine fest about the LGBTQ experience. Rather, it was an out of the box, fun, avante garde, deep, spiritual moving piece that addressed everyone the questions they had.
The reasoning for the title, 29 xy, is because this age group is on the cusp of Generation X and Generation Y, but also it is a question about one’s gender and gender roles throughout the whole thing. Can women and men feel? What do they want? What do gay people want? What do straight people want? What do we all want? Can we work together or are we forced to be butting heads?
The piece begins with an ensemble number. It was men on one side, women on the other. They asked important questions about what generation they belonged to. Grotowski inspired, 29 xy had much of a physical theatre element to it. The first vignette began with a man and a woman dancing. The voiceover played where the man and woman argued about who was superior and who’s ideas were better. On several occasions there was a competition with push ups, etc. At the end of the vignette it was understood that the two would always be dancing together and against each other as the dynamic of the world changed.
From there the actors did the Brechtian move of breaking the fourth wall and introducing themselves to the audience. I wondered why this was done, but however was going to give the piece a chance to develop. After meeting the actors, and for the record I met London, then there was another series of vignettes. These challenged gender, identity, and ones perception.
Memorable vignettes included two girls saying things like, “Yeah!” and then playing paddycake. This was a humorous yet social commentary on how women will dumb themselves down in order to either appease a man or to fit the box society has constructed for them. These two young women would later be seen on the stage with two other actresses, dressed in drag. Both the actresses dressed as men also spoke in gibberish and each of the girls were wooed by them. The “men” then fought it out and ultimately the girls walked off with the actor they believed to be more “manly.” This was a commentary again on female roles, but also a Meisner-esque experience in that dialogue is only subtext.
Of course there were other more telling shout outs to the Generation X and Y. One was the vignette where the actors did monologues about things that were “wanted.” One young woman was dressed as a nun and talked about how another deity was “wanted,” a sort of a kinder, softer Higher Power. Another was an atheist who wanted company for the end of the world. The third, a woman who was dressed as a cat was applying for a job as a professional housecat. Laugh out loud as well as telling, she is a testament to how desperate this generation is for jobs. After her was a man who had a fetish, he wanted someone dressed as Super Mario to “come and fuck him.” Lastly, it was a straight woman who simply wanted a lover. This vignette, reminiscent of SNL when it was still funny, highlights Generation X/Y’s dependence on craigslist and all the foolish things people ask for.
My favorite parts of the show, however, were the letters. One young woman, who’s graduate program sent her a request for donations, was unemployed. She basically told them off in a monologue. This spoke using comedy about the alienation this generation feels in the job market, as people washed on the shores during the recession. The other was a monologue from a young man who had just broken up with his wife, obviously a college sweetheart, and was sleeping with everything that walked. In this monologue he details sex with everyone from the barely legal tartlette at the bar to her sister. However, though the humor was something deeper. It was that despite the social stigma on men having feelings, they do. That men do not only feel deeply but also think deeply and love deeply, even if they veil it through inane discourse about their sexual conquests.
My second favorite part of the show was the audience awards. During this portion, audience members are given awards. Later, when I interviewed Marcus Yi himself, he told me this was why the actors introduced themselves. Categories included “Best Lover”, etc. I won the “Terrorist Killer” title for rape and torture of terrorists. I was brought up onstage by the actors and given the award. This was a fun spectacle and got the rest of the audience involved.
Of course then the show was back to the monologues and vignettes. One sweet vignette was a man and a woman performing partially in Russian and partially in English about how they couldn’t live without each other and loved each other. This kind display showed that love knew no boundaries regardless of race, color, sexuality, or language.
Following this was a humorous vignette about a gay man who had his first visit to a bath house and about how when he finally got there, it wasn’t what he expected. It ends with him telling a oignant anecdote about being at the HIV clinic when his friend tested positive. After that was a powerful monologue about a young man who was a math genius that was spurned. The love affair began in math class but ended with him shooting his lover. Whether the lover was male or female was hard to say. Perhaps it was meant to be ambiguous, again, addressing that love can lead and land in heartbreak no matter what the orientation. Finally, another gay man appeared. This time to speak humorously yet honestly about the stereotype that gay men are feminized, and about how women view them more as gossip buddies and wardrobe consults than people. The monologue in this vignette addresses how stereotypes marginalize in more ways than one, and we group people as a whole rather than individuals.
29 x/y then of course ended with a dance party. While I was sad to see the show end, there is something about being pulled onstage by the actors and dancing that makes it all awesome. 29 x/y was an awesome experience, and Marcus Yi is the next great voice in Downtown Theatre. While the piece is woven together in a threadbare fashion, it fits well and the risk is worth watching.
Several Yi ensemble regulars peppered the cast such as Sonia Nam, Richard Glucksberg, and Lauren Gralton. However, one should also watch for these names Alyssa Shari Ross, AJ Heekin, Tatyana Kalko, Amy Melissa Bentley, Leigh Hendrix, Erica Wiederlight, London Griffith, Shane Hall, Matthew Pohlman, Patty Santa Cruz, Luis Restrepo, and Taras Chopenko. All worked as strong unit with not one weak link amongst them. Each has a promising future in the theatre ahead of them.
This experimental work would have made Grotowski and Brecht proud. Can’t wait to see what is next from Marcus Yi, one of the brightest rising stars in the American Theatre. 29 x/y is a must see