Theater review: ‘The T Party,’ an explicit rebuke to discrimination


Natsu Onoda Power presents “The T Party,” starring Jonathan Feuer at the Round House Theatre in Silver Spring, Md. (Melissa Blackall)

Dolphins surface onstage in Natsu Onoda Power’s “The T Party,” played by actors in sleek grayish body suits and wearing their bathing trunks on the outside. The dolphins couple freely, often in homosexual combinations, frolicking to a very heavy dance beat. Meanwhile, an actor raps into a microphone, explaining the animal sexuality as studied by biologist Janet Mann, a colleague of Power’s at Georgetown University.

So no, Power’s “T Party” doesn’t have much to do with Sarah Palin’s Tea Party, except as an explicit rebuke to discrimination. The remarkably inquisitive performance, written and directed by Power and presented by Forum Theatre at the Round House Theatre’s Silver Spring stage through Saturday, is a kaleidoscopic exploration of gender issues, and the dolphins are just a small part of it. (A subcultural side trip also peeks in on a downtown D.C. club of otters and bears, oh my.)

Working in five- and 10-minute bursts, Power finds a clever array of angles to illustrate everything from cross-dressing to the complexities of transitioning away from one’s sex at birth. A scene involving two college women in their first lesbian relationship unfolds as a slow dance, with the performers taking turns narrating the steps in the “What if?” scenario as they glide to the 1966 lounge hit “Un Homme et Une Femme.”

“We go to the LGBQT resource center,” one intones, and because Power’s fluid show is so embracing and playful, the line gets a receptive laugh.

But “The T Party” is never far from hazards, either, and the tone shifts with just a line or two of narration. “We hold hands in public,” one partner says. “We become victims of hate crimes.”


Natsu Onoda Power presents “The T Party,” featuring Rachel Hynes, Jonathan Feuer and Betsy Helmer at the Round House Theatre in Silver Spring, Md. (Melissa Blackall)

About that playfulness: The performance begins with the audience splintered into four groups and shepherded to separate parts of the building, so be braced for 15 minutes of something interactive, like gay prom or pretend kindergarten. (Pretend kindergarten is pretty slow, but at least cookies are served.)

The show picks up considerably with the formal performance. A woman and her ex, a cross-dressing straight man, share a deeply intricate online chat, with deceptively simple-sounding dialogue full of “Smiley face!” and “Question mark?” A child’s query “Where do babies come from?” gets a hilarious sequence of 21st-century (and largely First World) answers. A long scene between a cross-dresser and a transgender person who has fully transitioned from male to female is fraught with tentativeness. The footing for these figures isn’t always sure.

But the performance is, whether we’re watching a woman sashaying through Aerosmith’s “Dude Looks Like a Lady” as a lady, then as a dude, then as a lady, or seeing a crisply choreographed version of “One” from “A Chorus Line” segue from high glamour to harsh facts.

Through it all we are guided by Power’s knowing, youthful ensemble — Jonathan Feuer, Zac Gilbert, Betsy Helmer, Rachel Hynes, Nehemiah Markos, Rafael Medina, Brendan Quinn and Allie Villarreal. These actors, primarily dressed by costumer Frank Labowitz in jeans and white T-shirts, seem jazzed to be slipping in and out of the “T Party” scenarios. They are totally comfortable inside this challenging show’s chameleon skin.

The T Party

conceived, written and directed by Natsu Onoda Power. Sound design, Thomas Sowers; lighting design, Zachary A. Dalton; projection design, Sophia Lewin Adams and Alex Leidy. “The Last Unicorn” composed and produced by Jonathan Atkinson, lyrics by Zachary Gilbert and Jonathan Atkinson. About 1 hour 40 minutes. Through Saturday at Round House Theatre, Silver Spring, 8641 Colesville Rd. Call 240-644-1100,
or visit forum-theatre.com.

Nelson has been writing about theater and other arts – but mostly theater – for the Post since 1999.
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