Sunday 28 January 2024

TRANSWOMAN KILLS INFLUENCER: Theatre Review

WHAT: Transwoman Kills Influencer
WHEN: 27 Jan - 4 Feb 2024
WHERE: La Mama Courthouse
WRITTEN BY: Dax Carnay
DIRECTED BY: Emmanuelle Mattana
DESIGN BY: Filipe Filihia
LIGHTING BY: Chiara Wenban
AV DESIGN BY: Jordan Hanrahan
SOUND DESIGN BY: Owen Kelly
PERFORMED BY: Dax Carnay, Khema De Silva, John Marc Desengano, Ryan Henry, Emily Joy, Sancha Robinson, and Vateresio Tuikaba
STAGE MANAGED BY: Finn McLeish

Vateresio Tuikaba and Dax Carnay - photo by Darren Gill

Transwoman Kills Influencer is not a show title you can look away from and the same can be said about most of the actual show. Written by Dax Carnay, Transwoman Kills Influencer is having its debut season at La Mama Courthouse this week as part of Midsumma Festival.

Transwoman Kills Influencer is an intriguing piece of writing, not just because of the topics, but also because of the way it reveals its layers. The play you think you are watching at the start is perhaps not the play you realise you saw at the end. Carnay is not afraid of the fraught social topics surrounding gender expression, however she is much more concerned with the human beings who sit underneath all of that fear and confusion.

Using the Rashomon Effect, Carnay shows us a moment when it seems like the world is falling apart for the protagonist Denise played by Carnay. There are four other people involved in that moment - Bryle (Ryan Henry), Jen (Khema De Silva), and Alejandro (Vateresio Tuikaba). Transwoman Kills Influencer retells the story over and over from each person's different perspective and reveals a little bit more context to the story as it travels.

Denise - a transwoman - is the General Manager of an advertising agency. Jen is the Account Manager who was passed over for the GM job. Bryle is the drag queen Executive Assistant. Alejandro is the uber masculine social media influencer and a big client for the agency. Alejandro is pulling out his account and Jen is in a panic because this will cause the business to fail. Suddenly Alejandro is dead. Whodunnit?

As the story is pieced together, we learn about the complexities of the interpersonal relationships, character flaws, misunderstandings and general ignorance. The true art of this play though, is that bigger and broader high stakes public debate is torn away to reveal the people hiding underneath it with all their flaws, complexes, and imperfections. The play starts with stereotypes but, for the most part, it ends with real people and that is what makes it magnificent. 

The one exception to that is the character of Bryle. We never get to see much of Bryle beneath the overt drag persona. Maybe we don't need to. That character doesn't seem to be very integral beyond emotional support for Denise. In some ways I felt the unremitting overt clownishness of the portrayal of Bryle actually got in the way of the show and it's intentions, but I could also say the same about the portrayal of Alejandro. 

According to an interview I did with Carnay and Emmanuelle Mattana (director) for What Did She Do? this character is supposed to represent toxic masculinity, but the portrayal was way too camp and clownish to really make that work. Luckily the cameo by John Marc Desengano fills a rather big gap in that regard. It is not the acting. All of the actors are magnificent. I just think Mattana hasn't smoothed their performances so that they are all acting with the same contextual balance. The women in the show, however, have worked out that earnest/clowning balance to perfection.

Oh, and I hate the accents. Fake accents are sooooo 20th century! They are completely unnecessary, totally distracting, and they disconnect us from the deep truths within the play.

In Transwoman Kills Influencer Mattana has demonstrated a strong capacity to harness production elements to support the ideas. The set (designed by Filipe Filihia) is clever and captivating, although I do think some costume elements for Denise are not well resolved. Mattana has a background in film making so it is no surprise that the AV (Jordan Hanrahan) elements are incredibly well done. Perhaps the opening sequence is a bit too long? It is hard to tell though because the show had a delayed start on opening night so that might have impacted my perception a bit. I also would have like a bit of police investigation framing the start, rather than just creeping in at the end. We all love a bookend.

To be honest, I didn't notice the sound (Owen Kelly) which tells me it did what it needed to do perfectly. The lighting (Chiara Wenban) was also fine, although there was a smoke machine pumping hard throughout for absolutely no reason whatsoever. 

I get so annoyed with lighting designers these days. Every other single element of theatrical productions is chosen to be there or not be there with such great care, but lighting designers just smother everything with smoke and rarely think of dramatic purpose, intention or meaning. There is nothing in this lighting rig which smoke enhances except the upstage area at the start and end of the play. Most of the rig are fresnels so the lighting is not defining the architecture of the space. This means we don't need to see the beams and the only thing the smoke in this show does is draw our eyes up to the lighting rig rather than watching the stage and the story. It defeats the suspension of disbelief so integral to theatre making. Lighting is a dramaturgical art and theatrical smoke is NOT benign for actors or audiences which means choosing to use it is a big thing!

Anyhooooo, back to the play. Transwoman Kills Influencer is not a play which insists it has answers. Instead, it is a fun packed hour or so which explores social debate and earnestly searches for real thoughts, real feelings, and real people. The content will evince strong reactions at times, but also allows for a 360 degree investigation. 

We often find ourselves asking what does Post Truth mean? I heard somebody explain it well recently. It is truth with context. Transwoman Kills Influencer is truly a Post Truth play.

3.5 Stars

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