In “To T or Not To T,” a fascinating and funny autobiographical monologue, the performer known as D’Lo impersonates his father giving a speech at D’Lo’s wedding ceremony:
“Even though I was sad that D’Lo didn’t become a doctor, I told him that I wanted him to do whatever he liked. I didn’t know becoming a man was part of his plan.”
D’Lo is a transgender Tamil Sri Lankan-American artist, and he explores each of those identities in “To T or Not to T” (the T in the title referring to the taking of testosterone), the 70-minute show at Dixon Place that opens the 26th annual Hot Festival , “the world’s longest-running LGBT festival.”
Entering the stage bouncing on a trampoline, then jumping on a pogo stick, he offers a whirlwind tour of a tomboy childhood spent among the Sri Lankan immigrant community of Lancaster, California; a lesbian adolescence as an undergraduate at UCLA; and adult life as a transitioning trans man and a performer.
Along the way, backed by numerous projections, he portrays some dozen characters, none more hilariously than his Appa, his father, and offers insights about both queer and Sri Lankan immigrant culture
At one point, he describes when as a child one of his “aunties” executed “the immigrant grab, where her fingers are pressed up on the fat of my inner arm and her thumb is piercing that muscle you don’t use but hurts like a bitch when you press it.”
Much later, a butch lesbian academic says to the transitioning D’Lo: “We’re losing all you young studs and butches. You all are becoming the worst thing – men.”
To which D’Lo replies: “We’re still feminists….And isn’t feminist men what you wished existed?”
D’Lo is an appealing performer and a deft humorist, and “To T or Not To T” is full of wonderful moments. But the show would have benefited from both a director and a dramaturge. When he re-enacts a conversation with a childhood friend, D’Lo cleverly uses a prop that in one character’s hands is a half-eaten sandwich, and in the other, turned upright, is a milk carton. But it’s easy to get lost in many of the other scenes involving dialogue between multiple characters.
In D’Lo’s urge to share the fullness of his life with us, he gives short shrift to some obviously important moments, and the show winds up feeling insufficiently focused. On some level, D’Lo seems aware of this, but makes it more exasperating by referring to a previous show of his that apparently told more about the death of his sister in an airplane crash, and to a future show that will apparently focus on his courtship and marriage to Anjana,which is only briefly mentioned in the current show.
judging by the wildly enthusiastic audience response at Dixon Place, D’Lo has enough fans to accept what one might call the transitional nature of “To T or Not To T.” As D’Lo astutely observes: “There is no such things as ‘transitioned.’ Trans or not trans, we’re all transitioning, just some of our transitions include surgeries.”
To T or Not To T will be on stage at Dixon Place Fridays and Saturdays through July 22, 2017
3 thoughts on “To T or Not To T Review: D’Lo’s Tamil Transgender Adventure”
I saw the same performance Friday night, because my trans friend recommended it. As an actor myself, I experienced a show with great potential. But the actor was definitely struggling with his lines, even calling for lines midway through the show. (Every actor’s nightmare.). I didn’t get a program, but I’m pretty sure the show had an actual director because the staging was very effective and the visuals on the back wall and on stage kept me engaged when the actor lost his way here and there. To the performer’s credit, he’s putting on very brave work. I might return on closing weekend with other trans friends to see how much it has grown, as I’m sure it will. It’s still a stronger show than most I’ve experienced at Dixon.
I saw no director listed in the marketing material, but you’re probably correct that somebody directed it. Perhaps I should have phrased the sentence: The show needs better direction and a dramaturge.
Hmm, it’s why I’m inclined to return on closing weekend. If his lines are fully memorized by then I’ll be able to see some better direction, I think. I know I can’t hold any direction when I’m not off book. He also seems to have a flair for improvising, so it’ll be interesting to see if the performance changes much. All in all, an important show to see and as a man of color myself, I’m still recommending it to friends.