Without the freedom to yee-haw, what kind of country would we be?
“A Fistful of Trespassing,” a new play written by Minghao Tu, is a shipwrecked comedy en route to answers. Produced as a part of UT New Theatre, this fresh script offers many ha-ha’s despite the tragic use of man-in-dress humor. Under the direction of Anna Skidis Vargas, this loose adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” finds its legs among a sea of misunderstandings.
Chop cut to cowboy wannabe Liberty Vale (Nathan Tran), desperate to leave his totalitarian country where comedy (ha-ha’s and yee-haws included) is outlawed. With the help of Captain (Elizabeth George), he embarks on a journey towards Hollywood where he’d be free to continue his work as cowboy movie star. But a storm leaves them shipwrecked on an island with more rules and less sense. Also there is an assassin following close behind. Here, our cast of characters are ever-changing, with heartening ensemble work in moments of chase and chaos. Director Skidis Vargas has a deft hand for quick shifts from levity into sharp descent.
Further scene-setting comes with stellar projection design (John Erickson). A love interest/past friend/maybe mirage finds his light with a steady stream of smoke that billows, crowning him in old-timey Western vibes. Water moves of its own volition, delicate and otherworldly. The shapely state of Texas is drawn in sand. Such subtleties are welcome in an otherwise bare set, sometimes featuring a shack in other times featuring a governor’s seaside office.
With smart one-liners and great physicality, this new work almost swims by without qualms. Yet, major plot points and humor depend on Liberty Vale donning a dress and assuming womanhood. Despite what Hollywood and Broadway continue to produce, this is simply transphobic and has no place in our cannon, new or old. It is especially disappointing that in an educational setting this is condoned as exploration. It must be noted that few students working on UTNT shows get a choice of script or production team. Nevertheless, since the development of new plays inherently leans on those in the room, choices like this are felt harder — because it was a choice.
Still, “A Fistful of Trespassing” gifts us with a questioning of values — whether it be of morals or capitalism or the entertainment business. Audiences will appreciate the playfulness of language and yodeling respites. But trans folks and allies beware.
“A Fistful of Trespassing” continues through March 11. theatredance.utexas.edu/event/