“ZE”: QUEER AS F*CK!
Garnet Station Café, 85 Garnet Rd, Westmere, Auckland
12/05/2016 - 20/05/2016
IVY BAR, 49 Cuba St, Te Aro, Wellington
11/02/2017 - 17/02/2017
Taste Merchants, 36 Stuart St, Dunedin
12/03/2016 - 13/03/2016
14/03/2017 - 18/03/2017
NZ Fringe Festival 2017 [reviewing supported by WCC]
An autobiographical comedy about sex, gender, and the expanding parade of labels and identities Michelle/Ryan claims on her way to pride.
“Ze” (the pronoun most commonly used by gender non-conforming folk) is a one-person genderqueer, kinky, femmesexual, polyminded, gay-divorcee pride parade.
Michelle/Ryan rips the bandage away from hir startling American Puritan upbringing through a complex and confusing “coming out” process. Along the way ze explores a beloved community that at times is just as ridiculous and pigeon-holed as the one ze’s left.
Michelle/Ryan both uses and parodies the labels meant to help an individual embrace their truth in a modern world desperate for definition. “Ze” confronts stereotypes both within and without in a celebration that exposes the complex tension between being authentic to oneself and belonging to one’s community.
Presented by Michelle/Ryan, written and performed by Ren Lunicke, and directed by Peter Larsen, “Ze”: queer as fuck! has toured successfully in Australia, Canada, the US, and select locations in New Zealand. It has been nominated for best comedy at Fringe World in Perth, won “best use of an awkward silence” in Toronto, an “artistic risk” award in Vancouver, and has enjoyed rave reviews and sold-out audiences in every country.
“Ze” is Ren’s second autobiographical show and zir first performance at the New Zealand Fringe Festival. Zir comedy show I’m an Apache Attack Helicopter will also be making its Wellington debut as a part of NZ Fringe.
Warning: contains adult content and glitter, recommended 18+ Coarse Language, Partial Nudity, Adult Themes.
Taste Merchants, 36 Stuart St, Dunedin
Sat 12 Mar 2016, 7:00pm
Sun 13 Mar 2016, 5:30pm
$10.00 – $15.00
Get tickets »
Garnett Station Tiny Theatre, Westmere, Auckland
Thursday 12 – Friday 20 May 2016
Facebook event page.
NZ Fringe 2017
The Ivy Bar, 49 Cuba Street, Wellington.
Saturday, February 11, 7:00pm
Tuesday, February 14 – Friday, February 17, 2017
7:00pm (65 mins)
For Tickets web: https://fringe.co.nz
Dunedin Fringe 2017
Fortune Theatre, 231 Stuart St, Dunedin
Tue 14 Mar – Thu 16 Mar: 8:00pm
Fri 17 Mar & Sat 18 Mar: 10:00pm
$15.00 – $20.00
Get tickets »
Contains coarse language and explicit sexual references, 18+
Theatre , Comedy ,
An endless rollercoaster of self-discovery and acceptance
Review by Alison Embleton 16th Mar 2017
The story of “Ze”:Queer as Fuck! tells the life narrative of Ren Lunicke, performing as Michelle/Ryan. From a childhood in an Evangelical Christian household, with a mother who taught abstinence-only sex education, through first sexual experiences, moving countries, coming out (multiple times), getting married, getting divorced, discovering new identities and exploring various sexual proclivities… it’s an endless rollercoaster of self-discovery and acceptance, even in the face of opposition and rejection.
The title’s origin is best described by creator and performer Ren Lunicke: “Ze/Zir are my pronouns and the identity that go with them are occasionally so exhausting to explain that I sometimes boil my identity down to, “IT MEANS I’M QUEER AS FUCK!” A self-titled “queer evangelist”, Lunicke shares zir story in an amazingly articulate and engaging way, drawing the audience in from the very beginning.
I saw an earlier version of “Ze”: Queer as Fuck! at the Fringe Festival in Dunedin last year, and while I had some reservations about it, I still left the show with a list running through my head of all the people I knew that would benefit from seeing it. I quickly gave up on that list when it sunk in that of course everyone needs to see this. I feel even more certain of this after a second viewing. I like to think of myself as open minded and I still learned a huge amount from this show (both times).
The 2017 version of “Ze”: Queer as Fuck! has a softer edge than the previous rendition I saw. Previously I felt that Lunicke was treating the audience with a touch of hostility, as if we needed to be lectured and brow-beaten into accepting what ze was telling us. To be fair, I can wholly appreciate where that impetus comes from, in part thanks to zir honesty about experiences of rejection both within “minority” and “majority” groups. And perhaps in part my reaction was due to the realisation that I’m far more ignorant about these subjects than I thought. But as an audience member who was keen to learn and understand it still rubbed me the wrong way at the time.
While the messages remain the same, or perhaps are even more comprehensive, and the overall style is as bold and in your face as ever, the performance has a new element of charm and warmth that really draws me in this time.
A few pertinent updates have been included. This time the narrative touches on subjects such as the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon and the dangerous ramifications of it having ignored the most important part of any BDSM relationship: the power and control is on loan from the submissive and they are the ones to set the limits. This is told with a great deal of humour and some brilliant physical comedy, which help the audience experience the reality of the issues without ostracising them.
No matter where you fall on the sexuality/gender identity scale you can always learn something. In fact, one key take away from Lunicke’s startlingly honest life story is that everyone wants to belong and that everyone holds a portion of shame attached to that desire for belonging. Nobody should have to feel that. A wonderful illustration of this comes from Michelle after the realisation that zir identity is now inclusive of Ryan as well: “Does that mean that I’m… double gay?!” ze wonders aloud.
Another mark of true talent is how ze distils the agony and exhaustion a person feels when trying to explain gender and sexual identity to a stranger (beyond the ‘normal’: cis, straight) into a series of fun, but poignant musical gags about playing musical chords to represent identity. And as Lunicke remarks after handing out kazoos to the audience and encouraging us to join in: it’s pretty difficult to play a chord with an instrument that only allows for one note at a time. An important PSA to all adult first timers/returnees to kazoo playing: you have to hum, not just blow… it’s a lot harder than I remember it being!
Director Peter Larson has helped to shape Lunicke’s writing and performance into a remarkable piece of autobiographical theatre. Lots of strong choices have been made, and the space (Fortune Theatre’s Studio) is well used. A lot of Michelle/Ryan’s performance is extremely physical and high energy, intersected with quieter moments of reflection and some very tame/friendly audience participation.
I need to point out that the sister I’ve taken to this show has a deep, deep fear of audience participation; I think many can relate to that! But somehow, I think largely due to being such a kind and open person, Lunicke (as Michelle/Ryan) has my sister willingly, even enthusiastically participating in demonstrating a sexual ‘kink’, albeit a very vanilla one.
Lunicke is an extremely generous performer, ze somehow manages to make the slightly nervous audience feel at ease, even while wearing a large strap on dildo and doing deep lunges. Zir open-book approach to discussing the complexities and difficulties faced throughout a life of ever-changing realities instils a sense of trust that is wholeheartedly reinforced at every turn.
Zir direct address to the audience at the end of the show, remarking that all of the events laid out actually happened (more or less), is something that I find particularly powerful. Lunicke takes the opportunity to reinforce the messages about belonging and acceptance, and offer genuine support to those who need it and to thank those who have supported zir in turn.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
“Everyone needs to see this show”
Review by Michael Trigg 12th Feb 2017
Are you wondering “What’s with the show title?”
Then perhaps it’s best to start by ensuring we’re all up to speed with our terminology – and who better to do so than the creator and performer of “Ze”: Queer As F*ck, Ren Lunicke: “Ze/Zir are my pronouns and the identity that go with them are occasionally so exhausting to explain that I sometimes boil my identity down to, “IT MEANS I’M QUEER AS FUCK!”
Across the next hour, in the softly-lit downstairs bar at the Ivy Bar, Ren takes us on the journey to discovering zir identity, one that is ever-changing and responding the events and experiences of the world around us. Director Peter Larsen describes the show as “[Ren’s] autobiography,” and it is one that is hilarious, informative, and often deeply moving.
We’re cheering for Ren from the get-go, as ze approaches the stage through the tightly packed configuration of cabaret tables and bar stools, grooving to a medley of iconic queer bangers from the likes of Gaga, Queen, and the Village People. Given the importance of flexibility in this story, it is fitting that, once on stage, Ren launches into a series of stretches and yoga poses. Given the importance of non-heteronormativity, it is also fitting that ze does the above whilst wearing a glorious purple strap-on. I think I’d rediscover a passion for dancing to the YMCA if everyone would do it with their legs!
Ren presents zir life in a simple storytelling format: alone on a bare stage, talking to zir audience with the occasional aid of a few props. These are particularly useful early, when Ren helps us understand the multifaceted nature of the umbrella term ‘identity.’ Ren uses zir own body to highlight the differences between biological sex (including diversities in hormones, chromosomes, anatomy), gender identity, sexual orientation, romantic orientation, and gender expression or performance. (Check out the Genderbread Person online if you haven’t!)
Even in 2017, these separate and unique elements of one’s identity are often lumped together by Western society’s determination to categorise and label anything and everything – particularly difficult when these elements exist on spectrums. Ren proposes a better system, with the help of a xylophone, plus some kazoos and toy recorders that are scattered around the tables in the space. After presenting zir identity with a small series of chords on the xylophone, ze asks us to respond with our own musical identity. Laughter ensues (“You can’t just blow into a kazoo!”), as does a well-made point about our feeble results: “Pretty difficult when you’re only given an instrument that plays one note, right?”
This opening unit of action sets us up perfectly for the rest of the show. The audience is at ease, we’ve gotten to know Ren, the tone for the show has been set – but most importantly, Ren has made sure that zir audience is all on the same page about the ideas that are central to the story of zir life – no matter our backgrounds or prior knowledge.
As we settle into the series of moments from Ren’s life, a pattern emerges in the storytelling. Ren’s journey takes zir from a childhood in the USA, through self-discovery in Canada, to Whangarei via Australia. From the child of a fundamental Evangelist family to the “Queer Evangelist” in a giant rainbow family.
At times Ren has limitless energy, bounding across the stage, eyes sparkling as ze demonstrates zir first experiences of sex: not the shampoo commercial ze was expecting! Then comes a pivotal moment in each story: a breakup; a heart-breaking conversation with zir mother; an ungrouping. Here, Ren’s eyes leave the audience and drift off into the distance as ze plays the other half to zir own silent presence, reliving those highly emotional scenes from zir past. These moments, especially ones involving zir mother (a former abstinence-only high school teacher), are delivered with a simple honesty and vulnerability that is powerfully moving.
Through this structure, we encounter some critical truths as Ren discovers important things about zirself. Truths about “othering,” and “ungrouping” – about the effect of being ostracised from a community that is already marginalised. As Ren writes in zir programme note: “[…] I suspect we can all relate to feeling shame for being different while wanting deeply to belong.”
Once again, I find myself leaving a Fringe show with the same thought rattling around in my head: everyone needs to see this show, regardless of age, gender, sexuality, or where they sit on any of the spectrums. Lunicke is a highly engaging performer who has us in stitches one moment and in sombre silence the next. By the time ze is in “queer Evangelist” preacher mode, I think I understand the attractions of religion! Is ze preaching to the converted? Maybe, and Ren is certainly aware of and comments on this. But “Ze”: Queer As F*ck! is a great show regardless – there’s something for everyone, no matter their experience – and that’s important.
Now, possibly more than ever, is when we need more shows like this and have more people seeing them. As Ren concludes in the programme: “In the wake of ongoing discrimination, we need as much PRIDE as we can muster to be outrageously out, daringly authentic, and radically accepting. When we must use labels, I hope they will serve understanding more than division, and respect more than arrogance.”
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
It may well change your life
Review by Lexie Matheson 15th May 2016
It’s possible that this review should come with the trigger warning. I wouldn’t give it one myself but others might choose to differ. As a transgender woman I did find some of the content confronting but in a good way. The nature of the week I had experienced contributed to that because it was seven days of not being able to escape the uniqueness of ‘what I am’ rather than ‘who I am’.
On Wednesday evening I spoke alongside barrister Kelly Ellis and ‘No Pride in Prisons’ spokesperson Ti Lamusse at the Equal Justice Project Forum at The University of Auckland on the subject of ‘The Rights of Transgender People in Prison’ and while I’m a pretty tough old bird some of this was challenging. On Thursday afternoon I did a radio interview about coming out as transgender and in the meantime I had meetings with three young transgender and genderqueer students just beginning their own distinctive journeys.
Some weeks are different from others and the icing on this week’s complex cake was definitely “Ze”: Queer As Fuck!, the extraordinary performance of Michelle/Ryan and the excellence of the dramaturgy and direction of Peter Larsen. It’s designed, as the title suggests, to be provocative and confronting and, wow, it sure is! Don’t let this put you off, however, because, if you like hardarse, in-your-face (literally), incendiary theatre then this will be right up your back alley!
Michelle/Ryan’s website tells us that “‘Ze’: Queer As Fuck! is a one-person, genderqueer, kinky, femmesexual, polyminded, gay-divorcee PRIDE parade through the real life of Michelle/Ryan. ‘Ze’ (the pronoun most commonly used by gender non-conforming folk) rips the bandage away from hir startling American Puritan upbringing in a multi-layered ‘coming out’ process. Along the way ze discovers a beloved community that at times is just as ridiculous and pigeon-holed as the one ze’s left.
“Michelle/Ryan both uses and parodies the labels meant to help an individual embrace their truth in a modern world desperate for definition. ‘Ze’ confronts stereotypes both within and without in a celebration that exposes the complex tension between being authentic to oneself and belonging.”
Yep, that pretty much sums it all up. Self-knowledge can be a freeing up thing. Wiktionary defines ‘ze’ in ‘Usage notes’ as follows:
“The genderqueer community are the primary proponents of ze. One refers to a person with ze and hir or zir typically (a) when their gender is unknown, and one wishes to avoid assuming their gender, or (b) when they are neither male nor female in gender, making he and she (and also either/or terms like s/he or (s)he) inappropriate and potentially hurtful.”
I hope this is helpful. It was to me.
The two performance spaces I like the most at the moment are the Tiny Theatre at café and performance venue Garnet Station in Westmere, and Te Pou, the Auckland Home for Māori Theatre, in New Lynn. Both spaces allow for maximum flexibility and innovative presentation and each is run by people who really know their theatre. In each case smaller scale work can be presented at minimal risk and the kaupapa of each venue is supportive of new and often experimental work.
I doubt you’ll ever see “Ze”: Queer As Fuck! performed on stage at the Civic but perhaps it should be. If it was it would suggest that our society had progressed to a point where theatre of this nature was no longer necessary and wouldn’t that be a good thing. I could be wrong, after all, I would have been the last to suggest, when I took in Eve Ensler’s one woman production of The Vagina Monologues in London in 1998, that it would become a mainstream, mainstage work within a mere fifteen years. I guess anything’s possible because somewhere, somehow, “Ze”: Queer As Fuck!, has found its way to a theatre near you and that has to say something though I’m not sure yet quite what that is. It’s a good thing though, and Michelle/Ryan is simply stunning in it – which helps.
This new production uses the Garnet Station space in a way I haven’t seen it used before, lengthwise with the stage at the end furthest from the main door, and it works remarkably well.
We are welcomed warmly to a space that seats around 40, all on the flat and in rows of seven with an aisle between five and six and while this may seem as though visibility from the back might be difficult it doesn’t prove to be the case.
The artist known as Michelle/Ryan is already on the stage and engaged in warming zirself up. Zir calisthenics, as we would have called them in the ’50s, are impressive and ze engages freely with the audience as they totally fill the theatre. Perhaps of most interest as we take our seats is the shock value of the over large pink penis that protrudes from zir shorts and which causes no end of mirth to zir enthusiastic audience.
At this point it has already become clear that this show is not for the faint-hearted, nor is it to be for the vanilla-hearted because, while this is a show of rare and extraordinary excellence, it’s content is of a somewhat ‘specialised’ nature and I wouldn’t invite my straight neighbours, nor most of my colleagues at work, no way in the world, but then, who am I to say …?
Why do I say this? Why am I fudging it, you may ask, why am I ‘gilding the lily’ so to speak? Well, it’s because both artist and content, while superbly matched, will no doubt always appeal more to a niche rather than a mainstream market because of the graphic nature of both the show’s language and its explicit sexual content. It’s a shame because Michelle/Ryan’s journey should be available to everyone but, hey, that’s just how it is right now and I guess we just have to accept that. The fact that ze’s made it available at all is a blessing and I personally thank zir for that.
The show currently comes with an R16 rating and, while I oppose any form of censorship in the theatre, for once I believe that this is an appropriate age restriction. Usually I ignore such restrictions but, purely by chance, I didn’t take my largely unshockable son, aged 13, on this occasion and I’m glad I didn’t because I believe some of the content would have been challenging even for him.
When the show proper begins I think it’s fair to say that the audience is surprised to hear Michelle/Ryan say ze used to work with young children. She – ze – was living as a binary female at the time – qualifies this by saying it was the only way she thought she could ever be paid to play dodgeball all the time. Good call, I think to myself. I’d have done the same.
If you’re confused at this point I can fully understand your confusion. The show itself isn’t confusing, nor is the progression through Michelle/Ryan’s life anything more than predictably complex, but the use of pronouns is. I should explain at this point that this is a gendered journey so nothing will ever be what it seems so you’ll just have to go with it knowing you’ll (hopefully) understand in the end. There’s no programme to help the hard-of-knowing and unless you’ve read the website you’ll be in the pronoun dark so, either go back to my explanation at the beginning or carry on in the knowledge that all will become clear(er) as we progress.
I have chosen to use the gender pronouns that seem to be appropriate at each point along Michelle/Ryan’s journey. They change as the Artist Once Known Simply as Michelle evolves but while ze lives as a binary female I’ll use that terminology and hope like hell that it works for you and doesn’t offend zir.
We open with a fascinating and suitably forthright discussion about the sexual behaviour of children and the accompanying early-life masturbation. Michelle refers to the fact that young people have no shame because they have yet to learn what it is and this rings true to her audience who clearly enjoy the memories.
The oversized – perhaps I don’t know enough about these things, perhaps it’s average, I wouldn’t really know – anyway, in my opinion, oversized pink penis is unceremoniously dispensed with and replaced by a nice pair of jeans and we move into the fascinating, and somewhat more comfortable, area of wanting to protect our tribes and how we need to determine just exactly what our tribe is and who we share it with. Michelle/Ryan spends the remaining 45 minutes of this excellent piece finding out just exactly who zir tribe is and exactly how ze can disrupt it to the max.
It’s worth noting at this point that underpinning this fine production is a structure that has been carefully planned, splendidly executed, and subtly directed by Peter Larsen. Nothing is superfluous despite there being ample audience engagement and plenty of scope for improvisation – it has a strong hint of stand-up – and the performer is always in absolute control.
Using a range of musical instruments, and in particular a hand-held glockenspiel, Michelle/Ryan sets out to gaudily explain how gender and sexuality are a spectrum and similar to musical notation. We are encouraged to realise that, while we may think we know our own individual note, we may, during our lifetime (or the show if we’re quick) find that others are equally attractive.
In the hands of this volatile audience appropriately equipped with kazoos, swanee whistles and the like, the gender and sexuality range is more than extraordinary and Michelle/Ryan’s point is adequately made. It’s a fun tool and works a treat because, while we manage to discover our own note, we also discover – if we didn’t know already – that this isn’t our only note and, armed with this new knowledge and something to make a significant amount of noise with, our already loose audience becomes positively fluid.
It’s of particular interest to note the ease with which Michelle/Ryan brings us all to order when it looks as though the discovery of new notes will become the task du jour for hours, and many wines, to come.
We learn that Michelle/Ryan’s Mum, a religious woman, found herself, through no fault of her own, in charge of a sex education programme in schools although, as Michelle/Ryan points out, for zir Mother it was more like a No Sex programme because all she taught was abstinence.
At this point it became obvious, if it hadn’t been before, that “Ze”: Queer As Fuck! is an interactive show. A series of questions similar to those that teenagers would (and did) ask ze’s mother are distributed throughout the audience and we have the pleasure of seeing Michelle/Ryan channel zir mother in answering each and every one of them. Each question asked brings an answer that erupts the length and breadth of Westmere and the answer to the final question – “Why do gay guys take it up the butt?” – could well see a riot and the end of the show but for the production of a foot long wooden cross and the avowal that “before I belonged to all these sexualities I belonged to this”. Too many of us know exactly what ze meant.
An experience on Christmas Eve at age seven has a profound effect on this intelligent child, one ze describes as “very jolly but no Santa”. Zir Dad explains the naked, backyard parental cavorting by informing the child that “everything is OK when there is a marriage license”, a line that comes back to haunt.
There’s a somewhat disturbing section on “keeping it in the family”, disturbing in its reality and its frequency, and suddenly – I have to say unexpectedly – there is a boyfriend. He is short-lived however.
Having left school Michelle/Ryan goes to a Christian University and discovers girls, something that clearly pleases the largely female audience as does the unearthing of superdykes.ca and all the joys inherent in this discovery.
There’s a moment at this point in the show when things slow down a bit and I have a jiffy or two to reflect. Not a hiatus or anything as theatrically sinister as that, just a beat or two, and I become aware that the energy at the beginning of the performance had almost been too much, too energised, but that, within minutes, Michelle/Ryan has judged the space to perfection and zir understanding of the pitch and balance necessary has been superb.
As ze displays zir dancing style and talks about dating I become equally aware of a beautifully tuned and toned voice with actor training and actor equipment to die for. Michelle/Ryan is a performer who, while exposing zir life to us in its most intimate detail, also shows that ze could play any role, anywhere in the repertoire and it’s hard to imagine a better equipped Rosalind (As You Like It) or a more skilful Wendla (Spring Awakening) should the charm of solo performance and the need to tell zir story in any of its many permutations wears off.
Ze talks about zir first girlfriend, Jessica, and the edgy nature of the relationship, stuck as ze was between being out and gay at university and the binds of zir church; a complexity not that uncommon for many young gender-diverse or sexually-questioning young people.
Ze comes out to zir parents, introduces zir new girlfriend, Julie, who is older, and discovers that there is a complete lack of acceptance of her sexuality as the family engage in the hateful game of ‘Pray Away the Gay’. It’s a deeply affecting moment when we hear that, in addition to what has already happened, Michelle/Ryan has been disinherited and that Julie’s family become the only family that ze knows.
By now the structure of the play is clear. It’s cleverly anchored around a series of ‘self-discoveries’, each anchored by a number. Self-discovery Number Three is that Michelle/Ryan is not vanilla. We are guided along the trail of kinkiness and have this explained to us in the simplest of terms which is helpful. “Kink,” Michelle/Ryan gleefully informs us, “is about power” and just how much this is true becomes abundantly clear.
Michelle and Julie are married on a beach in Vancouver and we are immediately encouraged to note that, because Michelle’s father had given permission by means of his “everything is OK if there is a marriage license” the sky is now the sexual limit for the newly-weds. Sadly, this fails to eventuate and the marriage experiences the dreaded LBD, and all the horror of women in long term relationships kicks in. The mere mention of “lesbian bed death” has the audience once again in hysterics.
We move on to self-discovery Number Four: Michelle is not monogamous. There are two lines at the start of this section that absolutely tear my guts out: “I’m my wife’s wife and then I’m not” changes the tone in the Tiny Theatre completely, and “I used to make you smile and now I make you sad” completely finishes us off. What a blubbering bunch this fine actor has turned us into.
“There goes family,” I think to myself and there is no doubting the fact that the performance has suddenly driven us deep, deep, deep but this splendid artist is too clever to have us stay there for long and ze brings us back by telling us ze’s “on the market again” and has “a list of experiences ze has yet to have”. Anticipation rules and we don’t have long to wait before we hear that what Michelle/Ryan really wants is to [spoiler averted]. There’s some wonderful prop action with a mauve rubber glove … It’s pretty graphic stuff and no stone is left unturned but it’s not gratuitous in the least so we just breathe our way through it and survive.
Self-discovery Number Six is that Michelle/Ryan is “not fully a woman and not fully a man”. We have already been introduced to the term genderqueer and we have already had the discussion around sexuality and gender being a spectrum so this really comes as no surprise. The question is asked, “What, are we now; are we trans now?” and I hear my favourite line from the whole evening: “I felt double gay” – is that even a thing? I can assure you all that it is ‘a thing’, either that or I’m a monkey’s uncle, or auntie, or whatever, because I felt exactly the same way and feel privileged to have felt like this.
Ryan wins out, ze is born – and so is “Ze”, and we’re pleased even though we know it means our evening is almost over. We hear that Ryan has discovered gender dysphoria and now feels completely genderless. I want to say “welcome to the club” but I know discovering gender dysphoria and dealing with its quirks and idiosyncrasies are not the same thing. I suspect that, despite the joy of this discovery, zir life won’t be all plain sailing. Genderqueer rules in the life of this fine young person and for that we should all be grateful – even if the realities are beyond our own comprehension.
Self-discovery Number Seven is “Fuck this shit, fuck all labels!” No, it’s not over yet and we are confronted by a wonderful, and surprisingly respectful, parody of the Lord’s Prayer which leads into an epilogue about shame and freedom, about being shapeless and shameless, adapting to new experiences, learning that “shame is fuel” and that through this there is a freedom that enables a precious life to continue to blossom.
That’s is, of course, the truest of true freedoms and reason enough for this play to exist at all. There are a myriad more reasons, of course, the most significant of these being the performance of Michelle/Ryan, the smart-as writing, and the canny and largely indiscernible direction of Peter Larsen. I’d like to hope we’ll see plenty more of both.
“Ze”: Queer As Fuck! is an exceptional piece of work anchored by a performance by as talented an actor as you will see currently on any stage in the country. It’s a raw and incredibly intimate journey that should be compulsory viewing for the fainthearted, the timid, the binary-obsessed, the religiously-driven and those Bachelor-watching New Zealanders who anonymously express their red-neckery in the comments section of every news article that has the audacity to suggest that transgender New Zealanders have a right to exist. Check it out, you’ll see I’m onto it.
A show like “Ze”: Queer As Fuck! is exactly the nightmare a less thoughtful person than myself might inflict on these people every night until they finally understand the reality of gender diversity and sexual difference. Until that happens – in my dreams – I have more admiration for Michelle/Ryan then I can possibly say in one simple review. All I can say to anyone reading this review is that, if you have the courage and the tenacity to see this work and experience it, it may well change your life. Now tell me how a visit to the theatre can ever be better than that?
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
Bold, fun and completely honest
Review by Kimberley Buchan 13th Mar 2016
This Dunedin Fringe has been full of personal journeys, and Ze: Queer As Fuck is another one. Taste Merchants was full to bursting to experience Michelle/Ryan’s voyage through life. This one person show is not what I expected; initial impressions made it sound like it was going to have a linguistic and etymological focus. This is a raw and passionate odyssey through confusion, labels, rejection, a desperate seeking and redefining of identity.
Michelle/Ryan’s identity evolves and develops in reaction to each set of circumstances that life presented hir with. It begins in an evangelical home, with an abstinence only sex-ed teacher as a mother. As a teenager the media’s portrayal of sex proves only a disappointment when re-enacted in real life. At a strictly Christian College in Canada Michelle/Ryan finds hir new label of lesbian and revels in it.
The pride and thrill of exploring this new way of being is sadly offset by the loss of family. Happily the new wife’s family is a much more open and welcoming support network. We all need a family of some sort, and if yours is insufficient, then you choose your own. Relationships change and develop over time, as do identities and sometimes both sets of development don’t keep pace with each other.
Attaining a new label of gay divorcee leaves Michelle/Ryan without a wife and also without a family and rejected from the community that provided hir safe harbour while wearing the lesbian label. Where do you go when all sides say they don’t want you? Already intrigued by some fetishes, Michelle/Ryan explored this further with a pansexual ‘volunteer’ and quite literally thrust hirself into genderqueer confusion.
Ze: Queer As Fuck is part lecture, part re-enactment, part introspective, part storytelling. It is one human on a tiny stage opening hir heart and life for the audience to see their own selves through. At the start one person is clearly reliving experiences from their own life through the performance, but by the end the majority of the audience has identified strongly with at least a part of Michelle/Ryan’s story and the appreciation in the room is palpable.
Hir performing style is strongly reliant on voice, which is extremely loud for such a small venue. Ze hits hir top note early and spends a lot of time there. The true power of hir performance comes in hir moments of silence. These parts of the show really hit home with the people watching. Ze doesn’t wallow in these moments, and we are pulled out of the sad moments with hir snappy sense of humour. The humour is bold, fun and completely honest and the physical humour is by far the best.
The sincerity of this show is the thing that hits you the most. The next thing is the craziness of society. The pressures to conform, the completely arbitrary boundaries and schematics for accepted behaviour are the cause of so much pain. The desperate desire to be accepted, to have a place to belong, is reflected in this urgent scrabbling for a label. Why? So that once you have a name for what you are/have you can relax into the rulebook that comes along with it? Can we not just take each person as they are in that moment of time, or is that just too much effort?
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