Mashuq Mushtaq Deen’s one-person show Draw the Circle is a radical act of empathy. Not only does he explore the impact his life and gender transition has had on his loved ones and other bystanders through their own perspectives, he offers his audiences a true and honest look into the complex lives of transgender Americans—especially when those individuals are the children of immigrants. The show invites us to let the outsider in and draw a circle big enough that it can include everyone.
In Artist Advocacy Specialist Dane Figueroa Edidi’s note in the program, she points out that although transgendered characters and themes are becoming more common in popular culture, only four theaters in DC have produced shows this year that feature trans and gender nonconforming characters, and only one of those was written by a trans person of color. For that reason alone, Draw the Circle stands out as a show worth seeing and championing.
The other reason is Deen’s performance. While Draw the Circle may be a solo show, Deen inhabits a dozen or so roles, from his partner Molly and his parents to his 5-year-old niece, Rabia, and his friends from high school. Each character offers his or her own take on Deen’s transition from Shirine and the impact it’s had on them.
Most notably, the one role Deen never assumes is that of himself—everything we learn about him and his life comes through the filter of another person. It lends the piece an almost haunting quality—while Deen is the only person on stage, his physical presence serves only to highlight his narrative absence.
Deen doesn’t leave much out in telling his story. He begins with his adolescent self, the one who wear military jackets and shaves her head—very much to the displeasure of her parents, Indian Muslim immigrants living in Connecticut. He discusses his struggles with depression and attempted suicide; meeting his partner and how their relationship changes when he starts taking testosterone; and telling his parents about his desire to get top surgery during a Thanksgiving visit after having not seen them for years.
Draw the Circle
closes December 24, 2017
Details and tickets
Deen has an even hand when discussing the impact his transition has had on those he loves. Molly, for instance, supports him and loves him wholeheartedly, but also struggles with the changes in their sex life that his transition necessitates and grapples with being seen as a straight woman now that Deen can pass.
Perhaps the most complex character is Deen’s mother, whose adherence to tradition and concern for what others will think of her is maddening (and she even mentions, through Deen, that she could be painted as a villain), but whose genuine distress that results from not being able to recognize Deen’s voice on the phone anymore when he starts taking testosterone also is heartbreaking. Deen captures the nuance of each of his loved ones’ mixed emotions in a way that speaks to an immense amount of soul-searching and self-knowledge.
The set is kept simple—a white square in a black box on which a white chair sits. Under Chay Yew’s understated direction and Deen’s performance, that chair becomes a seat in a waiting room, a driver’s seat in a car on the New Jersey Turnpike, and even Deen’s own body for Molly to cradle and console. Aided by simple projects of names on the wall, these elements serve to enhance Deen’s performance rather than distract from it.
On a personal note, this show closes the loop on a year that included for me reviewing a tone-deaf and offensive portrayal of a trans character by a cisgender playwright. Draw the Circle ends in much the same way my review of that show did—by listing the names of the transgender individuals who had been murdered in 2017 (Deen’s list sadly, but unsurprisingly, contains more names than mine did in July).
Edidi asks, “What happens when we invest in the trans community beyond seat filler, magical friend, entertainment’s marginalized victim and trauma doll or in nuanced stories and characters written by trans people?” In the case of Draw the Circle, it means creating excellent and enlightening theatrical experiences.
Draw the Circle written and performed by Mashuq Mustaq Deen. Directed by Chay Yew. Lighting designer: Mary Louise Geiger and E-Hui Woo. Sound designer/composer: Matthew M. Nielson. Stage manager: Elisabeth Ribar. Artist advocacy specialist: Dane Figueroa Edidi. Produced by Mosaic Theater Company. Reviewed by John Bavoso.