Still from Happy Together, Wong Kar-wai, 1997
Wednesday night I saw a performance by Freedom Train Productions with my friend Perri. The performance was part of their FIRE series and the title of the play was When We Last Flew. It was written by Harrison David Rivers. The inspiring premise of the series is to highlight "queer black protagonists". The "play", despite being a row of actors sitting in front of the audience and directly reading the script from their notebooks, was captivating. Their voices ended up being enough to inspire a vivid three-dimensional experience. The lack of props opened up the space for the audience to use their imaginations and fill-in the rest.
The storyline bordered on being a typical tortured coming out story, but felt different as it was told through race. In the middle of the performance I found myself with a sudden sinking sense of disappointment when the protagonist's mother speaks the words, "But, my son can't be gay?!" (although she ends up accepting the news remarkably fast for her initial surprise). I somehow didn't see these words coming and it was something about the context. I guess I felt confused about why these incredibly talented people (in their 30s) would be choosing to tell this story again, now? Although I'm sure this story still needs to be shared in a lot of places (the story is set in Kansas), and the fact that it was being told through race makes it different, I still can't help but feel that there are SO many other creative stories worth sharing about queer culture right now that would be more contemporary than this...
The play did speak to the challenges of living within the in-betweenness- the extreme discomfort of finding oneself sandwiched between constructed binaries such as black and white, gay and straight. I feel like this might be the more relevant and contemporary story to be told. Not because mainstream culture imposes these identifications, but because these binaries simply don't make sense anymore for huge swaths of people all over the planet. I don't think people are leaving their identities behind, but I think more and more people aren't settling for one or the other of anything, either by choice or by the sheer imposition of inevitable change. This force of change might also be what makes our current context so laden with the potential for something new to unfold. I would like to think that people can start to think of and know themselves beyond singular knowable terms alone and more in terms of "this" as well as "in addition too"...
If so, perhaps this is the massively different and more exciting story?
That all being said, the folks at Freedom Train need support. I think they are on the cusp of doing something really remarkable. Support them if you can.
This whole experience also made me remember the one queer film I have seen (and love) that somehow isn't at all, which is what ultimately makes it so totally beautiful and mesmerizing. Happy Together by Wong kar-Wai.