Testosterone: not the hormone bath I’d hoped for

The Cultch and Zee Zee Theatre are presenting Testosterone at the York Theatre.

Kit Redstone leads the charge in Testosterone, a quasi-autobiographical show about maleness.

I wanted to like Testosterone so much more than I did.

Written by trans man Kit Redstone, the script declares early on that it’s going to examine what it means to be a man, but its exploration is so rudimentary that it could barely be called Maleness 101.

Don’t get me wrong. There are things to like in this loosely autobiographical show, including the set-up: having recently transitioned, Redstone enters a male locker room for the first time—and has no idea how to negotiate the inner sanctum. Often speaking directly to the audience, Redstone is a charmingly humble performer. There’s an excellent crisis, which I won’t give away, and a transcendentally moving resolution. But that ending doesn’t make what came before it any more interesting.

In the locker room, our hero encounters behaviours that are both common and weird. Do men really check out one another’s crotches all the time in locker rooms? Yes, yes we do.

The script, which relies heavily on stylized movement and dance, also regularly flips into magical realism. On that plane, Redstone meets three archetypes—The Diva, The Sportsman, and Marlon Brando.

A drag queen, The Diva represents androgyny, but Redstone quickly declares himself unready for that level of complexity. Fair enough, but his refusal hints at what turns out to be the fundamental problem with Testosterone—for me at least: it’s really only concerned with the broad outlines of traditional masculinity and that territory has already been very well covered.

Redstone spends a lot of time talking about how men aren’t allowed to cry, for instance. Yes, traditional gender division forbids male expressions of vulnerability. This is real and massively destructive, but it ain’t news and Testosterone brings no fresh insight.

When Redstone does find an arena in which men are allowed to cry, it’s a literal arena, one where guys play rugby. But, really, sports is the best you’ve got? In the post-show discussion, Redstone said that he wants to celebrate some of the beautiful things about masculinity, but a wacky send-up of male tears—the players squirt water from their workout bottles onto one another’s faces to indicate that they’re crying—is Testosterone’s most sustained effort at presenting male intimacy.

And then there’s Marlon Brando. Referring to privilege, this archetype says, “It has been mine ever since I was born and the doctor pronounced me a boy.” He also says, “I am the voice in the room that gets heard”, and “You feed my hunger every time you laugh at my fucked-up jokes.” We know, Marlon. We know! I’m not knocking the analysis, but these ideas are so familiar that, as they’re expressed here, they sound like sloganeering.

Something interesting does start to happen with Brando, though: as critical as the script is of this kind of man, it also feels like Redstone kind of wants to be him, and that is an intriguing edge. It’s most potently explored in a scene in which a young Redstone sits between his two quarreling parents. They’re both being jerks, but Redstone likes his dad’s swagger—or something—and, as they join one another in a nonsense song, Redstone seems to want to merge with it.

There are a couple of other hints of greater subtlety and mystery: a dance between a couple of the jocks in the change room, for instance, that gets distinctly sensual.

Also on the positive side, William Donaldson, who plays The Diva, can sing. Alberta Jones’s set, which makes the square locker room feel like a boxing ring, is clever, and its mirrored back wall increases the claustrophobia while adding theatrical flexibility: characters can turn their backs to the audience and still address us directly.

I’m coming from a particular place in all of this: over 66 years as a queer boy and man, I’ve thought a lot about maleness. But gender is a huge part of the conversation for everybody these days and Testosterone does little to expand the terms.

TESTOSTERONE By Kit Redstone. Directed by Julian Spooner. Produced by Rhum and Clay Theatre Company and Kit Redstone. Presented by The Cultch and Zee Zee Theatre. At the York Theatre on Tuesday, October 2.  Continues until October 13.

Tickets.

 

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About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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