Do you like your socially aware theater experiences to come with a dollop of '90s nostalgia? “The T Party” will hook you up.
The play — a collection of scenes about gender identity — is preceded by a simulation of a Gen X high school prom. The audience is invited to get right onstage and dance along. Though this kind of interactive theater is getting more and more popular, there’s more going on here than an experiment in crowd participation.
“I have friends whose gender expression today is different from what it was in the ‘90s, and they told me they wanted to go to the prom as this gender in the ‘90s and they couldn’t," explains Natsu Onoda Power, the Georgetown University professor who wrote play. "That’s why its a ‘90s prom, to honor some of my friends."
She built the play, which makes its New England premiere this month at Company One Theatre, on stories that members of the transgender community in Washington, D.C., shared with her. They vary in length and mood, though plenty of the show is very funny.
When it was first performed on the Georgetown campus, in 2008, not everyone was pleased. At least one letter writer to the student newspaper complained that there was no place on campus for a play like this, Power says.
But since then there’s been an extraordinary rise in awareness of these issues.
“In 2016 it actually seems a little quaint and dated. If there’s controversy, it’s [critics saying] that people are not talking about gender in this way anymore,” she says confidingly.
When Power brought a transgender speaker to class in 2008, it was the first time many of her students really thought about what that meant and the issues transgender folks face. “Now,” she adds, “students are gender nonconforming, gender-creative and gender-fluid. And each of these terms is also problematic. They carry so much burden, and we’re always saying the wrong things.”
The best thing to bring to “The T Party” is an open mind, the professor-playwright says.
“Even if something strikes you as incorrect or problematic, one thing that I really want to be clear about is that the words in the play are from real individuals talking about their experiences. It’s not presented as the ‘correct’ view; it’s just individuals trying to live their lives and saying the wrong things all the time.”
“The T Party” is presented by Company One at the Roberts Studio Theater at the Calderwood Pavilion on Tremont Street. Tickets ($25-$38) are available from bostontheatrescene.com.