About Face Youth Theatre Presents Remount of Last Year’s “What’s The T?”
Reviewed by: Joseph Hillenmeyer
The About Face Youth Theatre Company has remounted last year’s “What’s The T?”, this time with a focus on the changing Boystown district, racism and police harassment – mostly as it relates to the LGBTQ community.
The production has a large ensemble cast, made up mostly of actors from high school through young adulthood and is more a series of vignettes with numerous characters and locations than a fluid, related story. Whether that is intentional, or the play just lacks continuity is kind of hard to tell as it appears that’s it’s all going to come together at the end, but then really doesn’t.
While the play does carry on a common theme and the characters clearly exist in the same universe – present day Chicago – there are too many characters and far too many parallel story lines to ever really connect or empathize with any of them.
The glue holding the story together is Ms. Ma (Mikkhal Holt), an Internet trans activist and community leader who helps LGBTQ youth find queer safe spaces in the city through her YouTube page. Many young LGBTQ follow and interact with Ms. Ma and become worried when she seems to have disappeared.
While we realize that all of the characters in the play in someway know, or know of Ms. Ma, they don’t do a lot of talking about her and she is nearly forgotten about for a large part of the short production. The in between deals mostly with different groups of queer teens dealing with rejection or acceptance by their peers, and discussing the issues they face on a daily basis in the southern and northern ends of the city. To Chicago natives there are some familiar topics, such as the frustrating humor of obnoxious loud mouths on the L to more serious ones like the acceptance of ostracized Southside teens making their way to Boystown in search of a more accepting community.
When dealing the more serious issues “What’s The T?” comes off more preachy than entertaining, though, and I think the message would have been more powerful if it was delivered through stronger character development and realistic dialogue, and less forced sociopolitical talking points.
However, to the credit of the young cast, they do an excellent job of introducing us to a character as much as is probably possible in just five- and ten-minute scenes.
Unfortunately, trying to tackle the issues of the LGBTQ community, racism and gentrification in a city that is known for all three is a daunting task and requires either a more focused plot, or a longer run time.
All that being said, the performance is clearly a personal one for the AFYT actors and the company itself, which strives to create a “safe space for [LGBTQ youth] to tell their stories and create community.” The cast does have talent and performs the production with genuine enthusiasm.
“What’s The T?” will likely resonate best with other young adults, particularity those in the LGBTQ community, but for theater goers looking for a character-driven, engaging story, “What’s The T?” falls a little flat.
“What’s The T?” runs through June 2 at the Prince Charitable Trusts Rehearsal Room at Victory Gardens, at 2433 N. Lincoln Ave. Curtain times are Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m.; Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets run $5 – $15 and are available at www.aboutfacetheatre.com or at the door. Visit www.theatreinchicago.com for calender information.