More “Toy Story” than Judith Butler, “TRANNEQUIN!” is a deliciously funny new musical conceived and created by a handful of “freshmen” from the Yale School of Drama running this weekend at the Yale Cabaret.
The brainchild of the show’s cast and crew (but with a book and direction by Ethan Heard DRA ’13), “TRANNEQUIN!” tells the story of Georgia, a successful female mannequin working at a high-end department store in New York City. It gets worse before it gets better for Georgia after she realizes her biology as a woman mannequin is poor window dressing for a more complex gender identity that yearns to be free.
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It’s your standard caterpillar story. Georgia’s world is rocked when Jenny, a former Sapphic crush from her “mannequin school” days, is transferred to Georgia’s 5th Avenue window. Jenny triggers an awakening of unknown pleasures in Georgia that drive her to cross-dress. Disasters ensue.
The show’s basic conceit operates the same way as the magic of “Toy Story”: When the real people aren’t around, the models spring to life and waddle about their mannequin business. They boast of their good looks, covet other mannequins’ good fortune, and generally reinforce heteronormative gender assumptions. You see, it’s actually very similar to “Toy Story.”
As productions go, this one holds together strikingly well. There’s none of the extraneous goop that seeps from the average undercooked collaborative effort, excuse me, “thought experiment,” at Yale. Every scene works, and each performance is nuanced in a different and charming way. Stiffness is especially full of life in the bold performance of Marissa Neitling DRA ’13 as Georgia. As one can imagine, her role requires a certain amount of near nudity, which Neitling parlays into psychological depth and, well, hotness.
Max Roll DRA ’13 and Monique Bernadette Barbee DRA ’13 also do incredible things with their multiple roles. (As I’ve noticed is the case with the best student-written shows at the School of Drama, “TRANNEQUIN!” is almost completely double-cast, providing it a huge swath of characters with just a few actors.) Barbee plays Jenny for most of the show but had me fooled later when she transformed into a frumpy and embittered lesbian dummy.
Although “TRANNEQUIN!” might not advance quite as far afield as Michael Warner and some WGSS majors would hope, the real question I left asking myself was whether a musical as technically excellent and consistently entertaining as this one should be allowed to simply have fun with a complicated and controversial premise. Must we always have a dissertation on the side? I’m not convinced “TRANNEQUIN!” settles the issue once and for all, but it sure presents a good case for entertainment.
But take a chance on “TRANNEQUIN!” As soon as the first number starts up, you’ll stop worrying about Foucault and start having fun again. After it’s over, you might leave worrying about Foucault more than ever. Maybe that’s its failing. Maybe that’s the point.