Many theatrical experiences are perfect for Pride Month, but few are devised specifically for the celebration. Enter Brett Abelman’s Switch, a new play set on the night of DC Pride, during which the two halves of a heterosexual couple swap bodies when they simultaneously orgasm, leading to what could be described as the Freakiest of Fridays (if it didn’t all go down on a Saturday, of course).
Abelman is a member of the second generation of The Welders, DC’s playwrights’ collective, and Switch is produced at Capital Fringe’s Logan Fringe Arts Space, meaning this story screams DC, but still manages to be universal in terms of raising timely questions about gender and sexuality.
The couple in question is comprised of Leila (Mary Myers) and Doug (Anderson Wells), who, on the night of the DC Pride parade, are (accidentally) on their sixth date after being set up by their nonbinary friend/coworker Lark (Tyasia Velines). Leila is in a rut; she thinks she’s boring and is sick of attending the same tired brunches over and over again. Doug, on the other hand, is struggling to keep a lid on his stereotypical straight-guy impulses—to the point of nearly not being able to have sex with Leila at all, despite her clearly signaling her enthusiastic consent.
It’s when they trade bodies, however, that their differences are really laid bare. Leila, now in Doug’s body, has always wondered what it would be like to have sex with a man as a man, and charges out into the Pride night festivities with gusto. Doug, trapped in Leila’s body, is more cautious, but eventually decides to also join the hunt for new experiences. Throughout the evening, they encounter potential hookups, their exes, Adams Morgan homophobes, and more. The real drama occurs at the end of the night, when they struggle with whether they even want to switch back—Leila is enjoying having a large frame and taking up space, while Doug likes being able to shrug off the inherent threat of predation that he feels his body represents to the outside world.
closes June 23, 2018
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Velines as Lark is a revelation in the role of our narrator, nearly bursting with trickster-y energy and enthusiasm. As written, the role threatens to veer into Manic Pixie Dream territory, but some moments late in the play give the actor the opportunity to show real depth and vulnerability. Chloe Mikala and Matt Baughman round out the cast and show their versatility as they embody a variety of roles—Baughman’s turn as a gay man disillusioned by the churn of casual sex and Mikala’s transformation into Doug-in-Leila’s-body’s stoner hookup are particularly noteworthy.
Abelman’s script crackles with humor and DC-specific jokes, and Megan Behm’s direction ensures that the cast takes advantage of Brian Gillick’s simple set. Behm is given a challenge with the wide variety of settings and constant changing of perspectives inherent in the play, and she rises to it admirably. Sam Cooper’s original music and sound design are clever and effective in creating this rapidly changing world as well. Unfortunately, while the moves from beat to beat are fairly quick, the long string of them does begin to wear on the audience by the end—this is one production that may have truly benefitted from an intermission to break up the evening a bit.
Switch is a play that avoids tidy lessons and lazy gender stereotypes, and instead closely examines the experience of two very specifically DC characters. While the concept is fantastical, Abelman, through Lark, is sure to remind the audience that while Doug and Leila are just passing through the complicated world between and outside of traditional gender roles, many individuals in the real world struggle every day with dysmorphia and the desire to be accepted for who they truly are. Switch pulls off the rare feat of being both a lighthearted romp and a thoughtful examination of what it’s like to live in a restrictively binary world.
Switch by Brett Abelman. Directed by Megan Behm. Featuring Matt Baughman, Chloe Mikala, Mary Myers, Tyasia Velines, and Anderson Well. Original music and sound design: Sam Cooper. Set design: Brian Gillick. Lighting design: Elizabeth Roth. Costume design: Moyenda Goodrich. Intimacy consultant: Emily Sucher. Stage manager: Eileen Goodrich. Production manager: KayCee Tucker. Dramaturg: Aria Velz. Assistant stage manager: Amanda Zeitler. Produced by The Welders. Reviewed by John Bavoso.
[Editor’s note] Besides being a prolific playwright, Brett Abelman also writes for DC Theatre Scene. That did not impact this review.