nytheatre.com review by Loren Noveck
February 28, 2008
"When forced to choose a label," says the performer bio for Kestryl Cael Lowery, writer and performer of the solo show XY(T), "he identifies as a transgender butch." What that means, exactly, is the meat of the show: what it means to be forced to choose a label; what taking testosterone (the "T" in the title) as a biological female does to one's sense of self and one's sense of body; what gender identity meant to the girl Lowery was born, to the young man he currently lives as, to the community of transgender men in which he lives, to his sexuality, to those who see him on the street and question who—or what—he is.
The coming-of-age narrative is a solo-show staple—but since Lowery is still in his early 20s, the material feels fresher and more specific than a coming-of-age told from the perspective of the older, wiser man. The piece is full of brave, heartfelt moments that are genuinely something new in a sexual-awakening narrative—the experience of wearing a strap-on dildo and making love to one's transsexual boyfriend, for instance. One of the show's strongest stories reflects on the differing perspectives of Amanda (Lowery's name as a child) and Kestryl—where Amanda crosses the street to avoid a man who seems a potential rapist, Kestryl later inspires the same reaction in a woman, and is forced to look at himself as a man in a negative sense. There's also an appealingly wry humor laced throughout, especially when Lowery talks about his community of transgender male friends (Aidan, Jaden, Braden, and so forth) and his own attempts to measure his experience with testosterone against their yardsticks.
Lowery has an appealing stage presence and a lovely rapport with the audience, but the show could use a stronger directing hand. The staging feels a little arbitrary, even given the constraints of a festival setting, and his performance can be a little too presentational. And though the material is compelling, sometimes Lowery's storytelling techniques are less sophisticated and less interesting than the stories themselves: there are a number of times where he re-enacts a scene (like trying to get a first testosterone prescription from a "quack" doctor) that might have been more effective told more simply.
The strongest parts of the performance, not surprisingly, coincide with the strongest writing—where Lowery simply strips away many of the assumptions we hold about gender and identity, and tells us what it's like to live the life he lives. Lowery definitely has a story to tell—and I hope that he continues to refine and shape the piece as he continues to add to his life story.