nytheatre.com review by Jonathan Warman
August 15, 2004
You don’t have to be well acquainted with queer theory—an adventurous, dizzying field of study carved out on the cutting edges of gay and lesbian studies, gender studies and philosophy—to enjoy John Fisher’s playful farce Queer Theory. But, to quote the classic SNL fake ad for Jewess Jeans (starring Gilda Radner), “it wouldn’t hoit.”
The wacky premise: Dr. Jeff Webster (Matt Weimer), a queer theory specialist at the University of California at Berkeley, has this little theory about why, in Shakespeare’s time, female roles were played by boys. The fear, Webster asserts, was that the heat of performance would cause women’s vaginas to suddenly invert into penises, turning them into men (a superstition that queer theorists really did unearth). Well, suddenly Webster finds his own genitalia doing flip-flops on a regular basis, wreaking havoc on his plans to make the jump from UCB to Harvard. Plus, Webster seems to hate transgendered people, an unusual quality in the scrupulously inclusive world of queer theory. Gender and identity confusion have been standbys of comedy for thousands of years, and the situations caused by Webster’s instability are firmly in that classic comedy tradition. In other words, they’re reliably funny.
There are plenty of in-jokes that take me back to my days as a graduate student in NYU’s Performance Studies department; for me they are funny, but I’m not sure how broad their appeal is. Most of the humor is pretty accessible until the very end when the slippage of identity goes so far that it ceases to be funny (or particularly insightful). The best of the strong cast is Matthew Martin as Webster’s transgendered sister Renee (ah, that’s where his damage comes from!)—Martin performs with a brashness and showbiz savvy that plays like a cross between Kate Bornstein and Liza Minnelli. Le theory hot!