Sandra Brunell – Neace and Rachel Lopez’s theatrical docudrama, “Malvolio or What You Will,” opened July 8 to a packed house at downtown Reno’s Brüka Theatre. The one-act chronicle of historical and contemporary transgender persons is an exploration of what it’s like to endure in an intolerant, heterosexual-dominated world.
Bradford Kai’ai’ai stars in the title role, reprising a character from Shakespeare’s comedy of gender confusion, “The Twelfth Night.” But in this modern role, Malvolio is tormented by messages from the future, delivered by gender-dueling jesters (Stacy Johnson and Bryce Alexander Keil) that lead him on a voyage of self-discovery. As he opens each of five messages, a new character from his future – and our past – appears to recite their memoir.
The acting is superb. Bradford Kai’ai’ai’s ability to project his interior and physical transformation on stage is true artistry. Johnson, as one-half of the dueling jesters, or fools, and other characters in the play, is an absolute chameleon who captures each role she portrays. Keil, is the other half and is just as nimble. Roman Barry’s portrayal of Christine Jorgensen gave me chills. In fact, every one of actors was splendid. Period costume styling lent the production a true-to-character realism.
But the storyline of Malvolio’s transformation, while well imagined, was little more than a theatrical device to provide a dramatic plot for a serial, historical narration and series of interviews that otherwise wouldn’t have one. The dialogue for the memoir recitals was long and tedious. Even sensitive acting couldn’t rescue these scenes. In contrast, the interviews of actual people projected on a backdrop screen were compelling and gave the audience an insightful peek into genuine, interior feelings.
While avant-garde productions are courageous and can work well, there is an incongruity to “Malvolio’s” mélange of serial flash forwards and recorded interviews, held together by a pensive reimagining of a Shakespearean character. The result gives the docudrama the feel of a gender dysphoria primer. As a dramatic piece, it left me wanting. Three subdued stars.
To warm up the audience, Brüka presented a theatrical short, “The Greenshow,” a clever vaudevillian mime original, featuring anthropomorphic characters in theatrical garb and animal masks who solve the problem of how to get into a bathroom that allows only human males and females – none of whom they resemble. Bravo to this original and creative lampoon!
What: “Malvolio or What You Will”
Where: Bruka Theatre, 99 N Virginia St, Reno
When: Through July 30
By Galen Watson