NUNN'S THEATER HABIT
Where there’s a Will there’s a way with Gender Play
Sun. May 14, 2023 12:00 AM
by Jerry Nunn
Gender Play, or what you Will is a new production from About Face Theatre presented at The Den Theatre, 1331 North Milwaukee Avenue, from now until June 3, 2023.
Will Wilhelm helms a one-person show with the help of director and podcast co-star Erin Murray. Audiences are transported into Will's bedroom full of furniture and mannequins draped in red velvet.
There's a joke early on about there being no proscenium and Gender Play is performed in the black box theater next to the box office on the ground floor of The Den. It's an intimate space and works well as the personal stories evolve over the course of the play.
Wilhelm's background and Shakespeare's history are interwoven together thanks to smooth transitions and unique storytelling.
The English playwright William Shakespeare is long gone, but his legacy lives on. Wilhelm sets up the eventual performances of the text by teaching anyone listening in the room that everyone can relate to Shakespeare.
Wilhelm suggests that Shakespeare was queer and many people believe that he was possibly bisexual because of his sonnets. RuPaul's Drag Race adapted drag versions of the playwright's classics with an episode titled ShakesQueer and once again referenced the play on words on a recent episode of All-Stars.
Exploring the possibilities and aligning them with the trans experience is food for thought. We do know that men played different genders in past performances of The Bard's work long ago and Gender Play leans into that fact.
Gender Play deserves applause for offering Intermission in an original way by turning the venue into a disco and allowing attendees to move about.
Wilhelm is skilled at making others feel comfortable and commanding attention for this long of an endeavor is no small feat. Many of the jokes will not only make a person chuckle in a safe space but may lead to debate after Gender Play is over.
This team has worked diligently to involve the audience and create spontaneity. From the moment ticket holders enter the theater they are offered a choice to pick a tarot card and a few individuals are selected to read dialogue to the performer when signaled to.
The creative team has a background in tarot card reading, but that is a segment that should be cut. It's problematic and can really slow the overall pace of the production. Gender Play could use some paring down and would benefit without all of the flowery delivery. Tightening up the text will give onlookers a smoother way to devour the important message that Wilhelm feeds them.
There is a lot to be proud of with Wilhelm's fruitful labors and it's a shame that the run ends right at the beginning of Pride month. The first line of Twelfth Night says it best, “If music be the food of love, play on.”
Gender Play, or what you Will plays now until June 3, 2023, at The Den Theatre, 1331 North Milwaukee Avenue with tickets at AboutFaceTheatre.com.