Act A Lady: Navigating identity in relation to the performing arts

The Bartell Theatre’s new queer-centric production, “Act A Lady,” graced the stage earlier this month in a bloom of over-the-top feathering and French accents. The production presents a truly stunning visual experience.

The plot of “Act a Lady” centers on middle-aged Miles (Donnovan Moen) and his young friends True (Davis Williams) and Casper (Shawn D. Padley) concocting a plan to put on a play in their small town of Wattleburg. Upon learning that the play will involve the hiring of Zina (Abby Pawelski), Miles’ accordionist wife, Dorothy (Mikayla Mrochek), strongly opposes it.

As the piece begins to take shape, each character reflects on their own identity and lived experience. As the lines blur between each character’s character (confusing, isn’t it?!) and themselves, the audience realizes how boxes have historically been used to coerce people to gender roles and binaries.

As “Act A Lady” progresses, we’re introduced to Lorna (Leigha Vilen) – a beautiful, aspiring makeup artist who adorns the actors in fashionable 1800s-style dresses and excessive makeup for their performance. .

His entrance marked one of the first times the performance itself turned into a “room within a room”. Stepping down from the elevated stage where the audience had just tasted the actors’ female alter egos for the first time, Lorna addresses the audience directly.

“The first step to being pretty is powder!” Lorna exclaims. She presents a whole number to the crowd, preaching about how beauty can be discovered in anyone with the right tools.

As the audience adjusts to this confusing change in the play’s mood and narrative, the rest of the cast freezes in the background, as if they’ve been paused on a television. The audience is completely immersed as character after character returns to their “normal” state and talks about their attitude towards the play and their dressing as a woman.

This structure was confusing at first. It was hard to understand; I didn’t fully understand how the characters transitioned from role to role in the middle of the play. The actors used the hall floor and the elevated stage as separate entities. It was literally a room within a room.

The play became a more cohesive story as it progressed. We find out more about each of the character’s alter egos on stage and how those identities begin to blend into the realities of the men.

The women in the play also encounter personal challenges; Lorna falls in love with one of the men and Dorothy struggles to come to terms with the fact that her husband likes to dress up as a woman and play games. Casper is another special case: he develops feelings towards a man. Although never explicitly stated in the script or by the cast, audiences are able to infer that Casper is a closeted homosexual struggling to figure out who he is.

This theme of expanding identity runs deep throughout the production. Serious subjects are countered by a good dose of humor and dramatization from the actors on stage.

Each man’s female character is too flamboyant and high-maintenance, and puts on a nice sight to watch. The actors at the Bartell Theater did a respectable job of portraying their characters and their character’s characters. Their ability to switch roles on stage so quickly is commendable.

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Despite its confusing acting layers and slightly tumultuous start, “Act A Lady” was an enjoyable viewing experience. I wouldn’t highly recommend it as a first play to attend if you’re new to the scene, but if you’re up for a bit of a mind-blowing, gender-defying production, “Act A Lady” is a must-watch. .

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