Review: Dinosaurs and Doctors Cause Trouble in Queerly Festival's Double Feature
A Probably Disastrous Experiment
Created and performed by Rachel Weekley
Directed by Nazlah Black
Welcome to My UNAverse
Created and performed by Una Aya Osato
Presented by FRIGID New York at The Kraine Theater
85 E 4th St., Manhattan, NYC
June 26 and 30, 2023 (*masks required)
This year's annual Queerly Festival, a "celebration of all things artistic and LGBTQIA2S+" presented by FRIGID New York at the Kraine Theater and UNDER St. Marks from June 15th through July 3rd, includes in its mix of plays, storytelling, comedy, drag, and more (visit FRIGID New York for the full schedule) a double feature of short works that both, in different ways, explore the juxtaposition of humor and tragedy. And although A Probably Disastrous Experiment stars a giant dinosaur while Welcome to My UNAverse focuses on a human New Yorker who comes in at well under 100 feet tall, both shows also offer perspectives on bodies that violate hegemonic boundaries. (The second performance of the double bill will pair A Probably Disastrous Experiment with the unscripted Shakespeare of As You Will, no doubt generating equally fruitful parallels.)
A Probably Disastrous Experiment, created by actor, clown, and movement director Rachel Weekley, begins with a report of unexplained waves near an unnamed island (voiceover by Anna Stacy) that quickly progresses to evacuation orders in the face of an enormous creature approaching the coast. That creature, its arrival effectively anticipated through the lighting and sound design, is played by Weekley in a fuzzy green dino costume, which in combination with the miniature cityscape and Weekley's making the sound effects for things from the creature's booming footsteps to its faceoff with a cardboard puppet helicopter can give the effect of a child at play. But such appearances belie the dino's quite mature internal monologue, vocalized by Weekley, even if it does arguably display an element of naïveté. The creature laments, for instance, the pattern by which they show up somewhere and are "too big," worries about existence as a mode of solving the problems they were "built for," and implies the scriptedness of that existence (one can perceive some thematic echoes here of the previous festival's Definitely Not a Pirate Show, which also paired Weekley as the creator/performer with director Nazlah Black). It's as if we had access to Godzilla's thoughts during one of his (narratively required) rampages and it turned out that he was having an ontological crisis. Weekley combines a sense of fun and Beckettian absurdity with philosophical pondering to great effect in a small amount of time, and their performance is masterful blend of humor, whimsy, and humanity (humanity might seem like the wrong word for a giant reptile, but aren't we too all probably disastrous experiments in progress?). And just as Weekley's dino is about to share some profound insight…well, we know how most kaiju films end.
The primary monsters in Welcome to My UNAverse are less reptilian but also less sympathetic: doctors and, more distantly, the entire system of globalizing neoliberal capitalism in which they are embedded. The UNAverse in question belongs to writer, performer, and educator Una Aya Osato, and much of her storytelling in this solo show takes a funny, open, angry dive into her experiences as someone with long COVID. Through relating these experiences, Osato, crowned with some eye-catching glittery flowers, offers a scathing critique of the medical and insurance establishments' refusal to believe people seeking care, their making the receiving of care onerous if not outright demeaning (Is it any wonder, she asks, that people just don't pursue medical care? We have had more than occasion to wonder that recently ourselves), and how the needs of capitalism are always paramount (her discussion of people being forced back to work and of the "end" of the pandemic may remind audiences, for example–and because periodic crises are an inextricable feature of capitalism–of the government's post-9/11 encouragement to go shopping). Osato also talks about her past few years teaching sex ed. Any teacher will instantly relate to her tales of black boxes on Zoom and desperate attempts to engage students who, in Osato's peerless description, appear to have agreed to act as black boxes in person as well. But there is also, ironically thanks to a particular monster from Florida, a change in plans that results in a hugely successful lesson and important work and community building being done in the classroom. Throughout the show, Osato augments unvarnished emotional honesty with a fantastic laugh; and juxtaposed to what has come before, a closing segment set to a song from electro-goth artist Nostalghia feels celebratory and perhaps even defiant.
A Probably Disastrous Experiment and Welcome to My UNAverse are two great tastes that explore subjective agency and bodily autonomy together. Together, they're also a microcosm of the range of exciting work that the 2023 Queerly festival has to offer.