By Darby Turnbull
I’m running out of superlatives for Kikki Temple. She’s asserting herself as one of the most exciting, and highly respected theatre makers here in Naarm, especially within the queer creative community. Her new play Stuck which she’s written and starred in is a thoughtful and haunting exploration of the divisions that exist between the alt right and trans and gender diverse people. Venus, a trans sex worker and a plumber with neo-Nazi ideation find themselves trapped in an elevator on their way to work and their mere presence triggers in them deep wells of trauma, self-loathing and fascinatingly…desire. Temple’s writing is masterful in the efficiency with which she explores the many fragments that her concept inspires without it feel bloated or congested; colonialism, fetishization, grief, internalized transphobia and gay panic all simmer beneath the insightful and often very funny text. She’s found the ideal creative partner in Gabriel Cali who brings immense focus and understated intensity to the damaged young man, who’s breaking under the weight of trans-misogyny, he also, in a fabulously effective turn doubles as Venus’ born-again Christian mother who attitudes mirror hers and trigger a heartbreaking flashback or maternal rejection. Cali’s inhabitation of these characters doesn’t tip into caricature, under the direction of Margo Fenly he’s found an essential truth in both of them no matter how vile their behaviour is. Temple for her part uses her masterful timing and command of her face and body to seduce and command her audience. She’s an artist who can modulate a turn or a gesture to get them where she needs them to be. It’s a powerful contrast to the previous play where the characters are much younger, Venus is a much older, hardened and offers a more complex and worldwide exploration in her gender.
In an elating of subversion, the play also finds room for a riotous exploration of kink and fetishization. It’s well known that trans women, especially trans women of colour are treated as fetish objects, and the violence inflicted on them is overwhelmingly motivated by cis men’s desire for them. So many pieces of media and performance end up making the trans person a fetish object in their attempts to explore this. Temple, however, has flipped the script and turned the Nazi into the object of lust. Desire and attraction are not logical and one of the more taboo subjects is our sexual fixation on those who would denigrate or cause us harm. There are few opportunities to see a trans femme person turn a Nazi into her sub much less with the intellectual rigour and honesty that Temple applies, and for those inclined, it’s reason enough to flock to Stuck en masse.
Margo Fenley’s production is tight, tense and innovative, despite a few technical mishaps the focus of the performers within the production does not waver. Fenley’s command of space and distance, especially within small square of the elevator and beyond offer an exhilarating and dazzling experience.