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The Birds and the Bees, Retold

Emerson, played by Jordan Ho (center), looks to defy established gender norms by adopting the “they/their” pronoun. PHOTO/ Lilian Cole

By The Excelsior

Published: October 31st, 2018

Honest Accomplice Theatre (HAT) returns to Brooklyn College to present, in coordination with BC LGBTQ resource center, arguably its most well-known work: The Birds and The Bees.

An ambitious queer-focused comedy, HAT’s The Birds and The Bees play looks to examine nearly every letter in the acronym “LGBTQQIAA” by way of projecting each form of sexual identity onto its characters. The characters grapple with their struggle as they face varying forms of backlash in light of realizing their respective preference.

According to HAT founders and writers Maggie Keenan-Bolger and Rachel Sullivan, HAT’s plays are seen “from the perspective of ciswomen and trans people, mostly dealing with stories that are seen as shameful, silenced, unconventional, or not as fleshed out as they need to be.”

Electing to buck these common mundane trends in storytelling, HAT goes to incorporate and showcase said personal conflicts in the characters of their plays. They often are appropriately played by an actor/actress bearing the same gender preference and race as seen by the diverse cast for The Birds and the Bees.

Even before its proper beginning, the play teems with thoughtful and insightful dialogue that never strays far from its central messages of self-acceptance and acceptance of others; it starts with a brief video highlighting these points as a part of the opening act.

In it, an audience seated in a theatre is ready and in anticipation for the show to start only to find themselves subjected to a less than cohesive story as the would-be actors in the video’s stage say in a hypnotic, synchronous tone, “We’re here to talk about our sexuality like it’s the same for all of us.”

It prompted a curtain change in the video to a riled throng of radical feminists progressively becoming more chaotic on-screen, much to the audience’s displeasure, until the video cuts, queuing the proper start of The Birds and the Bees’s first act.

Presumably, this was an affirmation for the writer to try to avoid forcing the theme of the work down the audience’s throat.

With a flurry of brilliant scenes, often serving as compromises to an otherwise graphic script, it is not surprising that the play has been so well regarded by many in the audience who were neither first-time viewers of The Birds and the Bees or Brooklyn College students.

“It was different than what I thought it would be about, and we’re really glad we got to see it because it was so different,” said Jenn and Kane, students from Pratt Institute. They commended the play for its ability to subvert expectations while being highly entertaining.

By using separate actors to dance with each other to portray how well or sloppy sex was between two characters and using words like “cooking” as a euphemism for intercourse, HAT was able to produce a play that kept the audience engaged and at times laughing hysterically with little in the way that would diminish the core message.

“Why do I have to choose?” questioned Emerson played by transgender actor Jordan Ho, to his on-stage mother Jean, a reserved and traditional elderly woman. She responds in an unintentionally malicious tone, “Do I have a boy, or do I have a girl?”

“Is it weird if I hangout in this party, eat pizza and talk nothing about sex?” says Grace, a frustrated and unaware asexual character to his friend who herself questions her own sexual identity.

Moments likes these are what HAT hopes to touch on and bring awareness of – a modern, much needed extension to the The Birds and Bees discussion for young adults.

Some students like Rivkah Bryski, a freshman and member of the LGBTQ resource center, found the play to be highly entertaining. In terms of its central message regarding sexual identities, while noticeable and concerning, it didn’t resonate with her. She said, “I don’t know about most people, but I had pretty good sex ed in high school.”

Other students, some of whom were themselves not queer, praised the play for being more than just a humorous act but highly insightful and educational in understanding matters like asking and respecting gender pronouns.

“When you go and research about the LGBT community, you get all these definitions. You don’t get all these life experiences, don’t get advice, you don’t see every single day interaction, you don’t see as many homonormative relationships on TV and it being publicized,” said one gratified anonymous viewer.

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