[Review] Picking up the pieces: Kaleidoscope by Charles O’Grady

kaleidoscopeCharles O’Grady’s Kaleidoscope is a hell of a show.

This one-man one-act one-scene play — performed at the M2 Gallery in Surry Hills — follows Gabe, played by the effervescent Harry Winsome, as he gets ready for work in the morning. From the beginning, we are comfortable with his world and routine as we peer into his tiny, barely-furnished bedroom, the perfect picture of a child just moved out of home: a single mattress on the floor; a forest of shirts hanging from a cheap rack in the corner; a dirty hamper overflowing with used clothes. There is nothing to suggest that Gabe is anything more than an ordinary man in the eyes of society. But Gabe did not always know that he was a man. He used to think he was a woman.

Kaleidoscope is not confronting because it’s edgy, or graphic, or twisted. It’s confronting because so much of this play is intensely personal and we want nothing more than to reach out to Gabe and comfort him and tell him everything will be okay, it will be alright, but we can’t because we’re helpless and besides, we’re not even confident it’s true. As Gabe says, being trans is not a problem that he can walk away from because the problem is inside him and it is him. Watching him try to muster the courage to face work, his mother and the trial of simply stepping outside his front door is all the more sobering because this is not just a special morning — the waves of doubt and self-assurance and crushing despair that batter him are lurking in every reflective surface. These are not easy emotions to portray, but Harry’s performance as Gabe is mesmerizing and never forced.

I found a lot in Kaleidoscope that spoke directly to me. Though I am not transgender, I recognized so much of myself in Gabe. Feeling ugly staring at yourself in the mirror trying to be what society says you’re not; feeling great as you try on clothes for the day and then crashing down when reality re-asserts itself; arguing with yourself over people’s stupid attitudes towards gender that shouldn’t matter, they shouldn’t, but they still do and you can’t stop yourself feeling awful. By the end I was a little bit (okay, a lot) dizzy with emotion and overwhelmed with thoughts swirling around in rainbow colors in my head. In a sense, the sheer honesty of the play is overwhelming, but never in a bad way — it makes you think, and it makes you feel, and it shares with you a powerful experience of being transgender, captured in a heady sixty-minute draught. Watching Kaleidoscope is like drinking down a slightly-too-hot cup of tea that leaves the lingering taste of honey in your mouth.

My biggest disappointment is that I only saw it once. An enterprising theater-goer I encountered at the gallery was seeing it that night for the fourth time, and I can understand why. It may be my own lack of experience, but I have never seen a piece of theater so genuine and affecting as Kaleidoscope, and, having tasted it, I want more. I want to roll it around on my tongue and let it seep into my system. Though I only caught it on the last night of the season, I cannot wait until it returns so I can feel it again.

And remember, Charles reminds us as we leave, with more than a hint of self-interest, buy a trans a drink. Chances are, they’ve earned it.

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