Category: LGBTQ

#FringeFemmes Check-Ins: MexiStani!

by Terry Holzman

Quick peeks at the work of #HFF17 female playwrights, “Women on the Fringe,” by Fringe Femmes who’re behind the scenes this year. Click Here for all Check-Ins.

Fringe Femmes


WHO: Sofie Khan

WHAT: MexiStani! Growing Up Mexican & Pakistani in America

WHERE: studio/stage

WHY: One of the ten Fringe Scholarship winners (awarded to shows that expand and diversify the Fringe community), charismatic comic Sofie Khan grew up with a Mexican Catholic mother and a Pakistani Muslim father in a predominantly Black and Puerto Rican Chicago neighborhood. Such a multi-culti stew makes for a deliciously funny and poignant solo show.

Sofie’s warm, relaxed, upbeat stage presence immediately invites the audience into her world. I love her positive motto: “If you judge a book by its cover, you miss out on the story.” And Sofie tells her story very well, relating the many instances where her “cover” has indeed been judged—by cashiers, TSA agents, White House staff (to name a few). Her story is both unique yet highly relatable as our country becomes even more of a melting pot and we’re all “mixed” in some way (mine is a strict Catholic mom and Atheist dad, which was difficult in its own way.)

Sofie reads our minds by answering such questions as: Does she identify more with her ‘Mexi’ side or her ‘Stani’ side? Has she been a victim of a hate crime? What holidays does she celebrate? All these questions and many more are answered along with her imparting sincere wisdom about all of us being part of the World Community, and wanting to create a “safe space and understanding for all…especially for LGBTQ and Muslim individuals”. (To that end, Sofie has partnered with the Naz & Matt Foundation which tackles “homophobia triggered by religion to help parents accept their children”. Brava.)

Though Sofie is “charismatic AF” (to quote the kids today), a compelling performance and a well-told tale is often not enough to make a solo show riveting. It must be theatrical as well. Otherwise, I could just listen to “The Moth” on the radio. I love seeing solo shows at the Fringe and how they run the gamut from basic stand-up to the use of multi-media, props, and other elements to amp up the show. Tightly directed by solo show dynamo Jessica Lynne Johnson, MexiStani! makes use of projections, audience participation, impersonations, and Sofie even performs a rap song. All of the elements add up to a theatrical and highly entertaining show. So entertaining that the serious themes slipped right by my brain and straight into my heart and had me thinking about them days later.

One final note: Sofie is offering a free 90- minute Fringe workshop with the right-to- the-point title: “Getting to Your Authentic Happy Self When You Feel Like Shit”. It’s at the Asylum Underground Theater, June 10 at am. Maybe I’ll see you there! 

HOW: http://hff17.org/4431

#FringeFemmes Check-Ins: In the Valley of the Shadow

by Terry Holzman

Quick peeks at the work of #HFF17 female playwrights, “Women on the Fringe,” by Fringe Femmes who’re behind the scenes this year. Click Here for all Check-Ins.

Fringe Femmes


WHO:  Katherine Cortez

WHAT:  In the Valley of the Shadow

WHERE:  Rogue Machine at the MET

WHY:  Not all of Fringe can be fun-and-games. Audiences (like me!) adore fun but we also want theater that helps us to understand what’s going on IRL (in real life).  This thought-provoking world premier ensemble drama was inspired by the 2016 shootings at the LGBT Pulse nightclub in Orlando on “Latin Night” in which 49 (mostly Latino) people were murdered by a single gunman.  The play explores how “fundamental belief systems can give a perverse inspiration to the execution of hate in the name of ‘love’.”

The play opens in chaos—projections of people dancing are quickly replaced by screams and panic.  Something horrific has happened and I was on the edge of my seat as the layers of what happened slowly unfold.  The focus is on Rafi (short for Raphael), a handsome, young man in a blood-spattered t-shirt who grimly stares into the distance.  He’s in shock, trying to understand and piece together the events of the evening.  Carmen, another survivor, shuffles in, missing a shoe.  A gentle detective arrives to comfort them, along with a uniformed cop (who is more judgmental than comforting).  Eventually Rafi’s fundamentalist Christian mother comes to take Rafi home and though she’s ecstatic her son is alive, she cannot contain the multitudes of bias she holds within.

Rafi also takes us into his recent past.  Questioning his sexuality and how he came to be at the Pulse nightclub that night and meeting a man there who is not who he seems.  In Rafi’s memory, we meet his eclectic club friends; foremost is Enrique (a hot, Latin charmer Rafi encounters at an AA meeting).  All good drama contains a mystery and this play has many.  The obvious question is: “Where’s Enrique?”  Rafi will not leave until he finds his lover and I was holding my breath, waiting…

The title comes from Psalm 23:4  “…though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me…” and refers to a Higher Power’s presence during death; but Katherine Cortez gives it another meaning—finding strength in love, all love. “Love is Love is Love” one of the characters says.   Cortez’s writing is entertaining, and thought-provoking. A good thing as I was afraid a play based on such a tragedy could be depressing.  And yes, it stirs up “the feels”, posits many questions, and  calls out for more understanding—from the characters and the audience.  And while the story made me sad, angry, and challenged, I was never depressed.  I felt the “thin edge of the wedge” of hope, hope that things can change with love.

There is much humor to balance the horror, especially among the supporting characters, including a laughing-through-her-tears compassionate trans woman.  Five actors played dual roles—each one wildly different from the other. (Especially impressive was Tania Verafield who plays the quiet Carmen but who quickly flips her hair to expose a shaved temple.  She adds a long feathered earring and fully embodies butch bartender Hawk.)  Special kudos to the Femme production members Heather Tyler (producer), Elina De Santos (director), Stephanie Kerley (set—her clever use of the standing set for Rogue Machine’s current production is outstanding).

One final note:  There will be a special performance and reception on the one-year marker of the Pulse nightclub tragedy on Sunday, June 11, 7:30 pm.  Proceeds will benefit the LGBT Center.  Parking at the MET is difficult, give yourself time to get there.  Your patience will be rewarded.

 HOW:  http://hff17.org/4749

 

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