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Ha Quoc Huy / Columbia Daily Spectator

Williams and Hepps Keeney starred as two of the three trans activists Nadia envisions in "Asterisk."

To be or not not to be a trans play—this is the line delicately trodden in “Asterisk.” An acutely funny and touching piece, the stories of four nonbinary trans characters are thrust together in a compelling manner, poignant in its unabashed authenticity.

From April 5-7, GendeRevolution presents “Asterisk,” a new play written by Christine Aucoin, BC ’18, with collaborator Rowan Hepps Keeney, BC ’18, in the Diana Center’s Glicker-Milstein Theatre. The premiere presentation of Aucoin’s senior playwriting thesis is directed by Alex Bernui, previously a member of the Tony award-winning Intiman Theatre’s Emerging Artist Program, and features predominately nonbinary artists. “Asterisk” is Aucoin’s fourth original work presented at Barnard, after Heartbreak Hill (2015) and Regulars (2017), presented through the Glicker-Milstein Theatre Summer Festival, and Some Hero (2016), presented by the Barnard Theatre Department.

Aucoin first introduces Nadia Patoyari, an amateur playwright, as they leave a somewhat desperate and gushing voicemail for their idol, Shay Castillo, whom they want to feature as one of the three characters in their new play. As Nadia describes these characters, they appear around them like ghostly apparitions: Rose Vega (Jaleel D. Williams, CC ’19), a ’60s Stonewall-era drag queen, Ellie Johnson (Hepps Keeney), a timid trans activist from the ’80s and the AIDS crisis, and Shay Castillo themself (Avegail Marie, CC ’19), a 2010s trans TV and movie actor.

Dually alternative history (these historical figures, though having existed in the play’s universe, are Aucoin’s fabrication) and futuristic (the play is set in 2054), “Asterisk” showcases a spectrum of trans life across eras through miniature scenes acted by the quasi-historical figures in front of a watching, and often interjecting, Nadia. However, though its content would designate it as a trans-focused play, the play’s co-creators were more interested in creating a piece centered on each individual’s experience, rather than attempting to tackle large, amorphous issues.

“We’re not trying to write a trans play—we’re trying to write a play about these individual trans characters and their struggle,” Aucoin said.

“And the difficulty of trying to make commentary about things that go on in the trans community while also not saying ‘this is the case for everything,’” Hepps Keeney interjected.

Ha Quoc Huy

This decision to not try to generalize the trans experience ties in neatly with the play’s title. In the early to mid-2000s, an asterisk was added to the word “trans,” spelled then as “trans*,” as an attempt to encapsulate nonbinary identities. However, this term was heavily criticized, as it implied nonbinary people were an add-on to the trans identity, rather than encapsulated within the trans umbrella. As Aucoin remarked, the characters featured in the play all identify as nonbinary.

“Something that we talked about a lot was the frustration of only seeing trans narratives that are centered on the process of coming out, and transition, and trans suffering, and trauma, and sadness,” Aucoin said. “We wanted to create a more lighthearted piece that is definitely addressing some of those issues, but also addresses the frustration of only seeing a very limited part of this identity represented in TV and on stage.”

Though most of the players are new actors (excluding Hepps Keeney, who showcased an authentic fluctuating vulnerability throughout the piece) with sporadic small stutters or language missteps, these seemed to augment the intended realisticness of the piece. However, the play was most entrancing when it glided into the unique, such as when the characters’ various scenes, previously depicted independently, coalesced into one—portrayed only momentarily, this scene would have fared well further drawn out.

As Nadia remarks on the magnanimity of four generations of nonbinary people being in the same room, the others shrug the proposition off. The piece, running at under an hour, doesn’t have much time for these large revelations—but it was effective in its poignant brevity. And to its co-creators, and the actors themselves, this was well-intended.

“I don’t think [the play] has to be important, it’s just fun and interesting, and it touches on things that we care about,” Aucoin said.

“We didn’t set out to make an issue play.” Hepps Keeney continued, “We set out to make this for us.”

Tickets are currently available on a sliding scale from zero to 15 dollars, and a portion of the proceeds will be donated to combating transphobic violence.

sarah.robertson@columbiaspectator.com | @ColumbiaSpec

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