Audiences don’t like to feel like they are being taught. So how do you inform an audience without seeming preachy? How do you make educational theatre entertaining and fun? Ask Natsu Onoda Power, who is hands down one of the most talented artists in Washington. Her new work The T Party, at Forum Theatre, creates a whirlwind strong enough to keep it spinning through material that could easily have sputtered into an after school special about acceptance (it even pokes fun at this directly in a classroom scene about genitalia). Instead, the lighting pace, the pulsing projection images, and the high-flying rhythm lifts this piece into a bumping party of headlong energy, making it’s audience forget that the ultimate goal is to force a look at gender stereotypes and teach about the often neglected transgender community. You’re learning without realizing your learning.
The T Party takes us through a series of local stories collected from around the DC Metro area. Onoda Power gets her audience into the right mindset through a pre-show by mingling the audience with actors who invite them to various parties: a bridal shower, a birthday party, prom, etc. Each party is actually a sort of test about the audiences knowledge of the transgender community, and rewards the knowledgeable participants accordingly. The disappointing part is you only get to go to one! Not only does this peak curiosity, as the audience whispers about their respective experiences, but it primes the audience for stories about to come.
These local tales are presented through a variety of different styles – some told through traditional scene work, and others through music and movement. The play begins with one about a man who enjoys the occasional cross-dressing. The twist? The man is straight. The carnal tension between Jonathan Feuer and Rachel Hynes defies the norm of what one expects from a cross-dresser; pervasive hetero-masculinity. Onoda Powers plays to her cast’s strengths showcasing Allie Villareal’s command of words as she poets her way through penis envy; Jonathan Feurer’s malleable and alluring sexuality as he goes from gay to straight and back again; and Rachel Hynes unique ability to transform into everything and anything, taking her from a giant panda, to wannabe Mick Jagger, to a dark haired Marilyn Monroe in less than four minutes.
Perhaps though the true stars of the show are the not the actors, but the sound, lighting, and projection designers. How often do you hear that about a show? Forget a set, The T Party relies completely on booming sounds and imagery to create it’s flashy world. The design team of Thomas Sowers, Zachary A. Dalton, Sophia Lewin Adams, and Alex Leidy absolutely nailed it. The lights were set to surround the audience from all directions: picture dolphins swimming on the floor as disco lights sweep above your head, and rock concert multicolored bulbs line the sides. The designers took advantage of the well-choreographed dance numbers from Ranscesa Jandasek to go full throttle, while pulling back during the stories where the words took precedence. At one point a kaleidoscopic of light surrounded Zac Gilbert as he lay on the floor crooning a surprising catchy song about unicorns.
Many things are gutsy about this piece – including the short run that competes directly with Fringe. You have to be on your game if you want to see otherwise you’ll miss out while all the cool kids in town talk about what a great time it was. Isn’t that the sign of a great party?
Running Time: One hour and 50 minutes.
The T Party plays through Sunday, July 27, 2013, at Forum Theatre in residence at Round House Silver Spring – 8641 Colesville Road, Silver Spring, MD. For tickets, call (240) 644-1100, or purchase them online.