Diversionary Theatre in University Heights is presenting the world premiere production of “Ballast” by Georgette Kelly in what some might call real life experiences. Two of its cast members are in real life trans characters and know from whence the playwright is coming as she characterizes the difficulties either ‘coming out’ or ‘transitioning’ has become in these days of ‘enlightenment’.
Years ago prime time talk show host Phil Donahue was one of the first to host a show totally dedicated to transgender issues. The San Diego Reader devoted much print to the story of a local man who went through the surgery only to decide that he wanted to reverse it.
Fast-forward to today and ‘transgender’ is as much in the vernacular now as is the favored term ‘same sex couples’. That said resistance to any such change in this current political environment has become as toxic as it has ever been. It is in this context that Kelly's play is so important.
|Dana Aliya Levenson and Jacque Wilke
“Ballast” zooms in on two relationships, both dealing with partners and or family that may or many not share to the fullest the others’ need for acceptance in their newly chosen sex, thereby turning their lives in an upside down situation. On the other hand each of the partners experiencing the change is seeking stability or balance as their own lives are rapidly transitioning as well.
|Dana Aliya Levinson
Zoe (Jacque Wilke), a social worker is married to Grace (Dana Aliya Levinson), who in his past life had his own parish. Now because of his transitioning to a woman the church frowns/will not recognize same sex marriage leaving Grace without a pulpit and Zoe wishing she had her husband back. “He used to smell different. When I roll over in bed, I smell a stranger on the sheets”. “My one is now two”.
In each case dreams play the better part of living out their subconscious desires while the reality in their waking hours is not as wonderful, or as bad, as dealing with the same issues in real time.
|Jacque Wilke and Skyler Sullivan
Zoe used to be able to fly in her dreams. “Now I keep having a different dream…my spirit has forgotten how to fly.” In her dream sequences she hires a flying instructor (Skyler Sullivan) to give her flying lessons. “I’d like to get away from earth awhile.”
On the other hand dreams stress Grace out. She dreams of standing in front of a pulpit, where her congregation accepts her transition from male to female. What she remembers though is that her dreams are ‘disjointed, disheartening, dysphoric: the tone always off…like a reminder I don’t belong”.
|Jennifer Paredes and Maxton Mikes Baeza
Xavier (Maxton Miles Baeza) sees his birth sex as a mistake. Born with all the female parts he sees himself as a male; always dressed as a boy and always will. His mother Ruth (Dana Chase) has had it with his antics and eventually throws him out of the family home.
In his dreams Xavier sees an older self staring back through a prism. His dreams are like nightmares. “The nightmares? They suck. But so does insomnia.” His way of dealing with his conflict and pain is self- mutilation.
His partner in crime is high- school buddy since kindergarten Savannah (Jennifer Paredes). She thinks he is the one for her. She sees him as a person and accepts him as he is. His sexual identity is whatever he wants it to be and she accepts that. “I want you to stop hurting”. On so many levels she is more in tune and or more mature about Xavier’s needs to being accepted than Zoe is to Grace
|Dana Aliya Levinson and Dana Case
Her dreams are kind of out in left field, “Sometimes they’re sexy.” She also has dreams about Xavier most of the time. The two play off of one another but its obvious Savannah leads and Xavier follows as in their getting drunk together at Zoe and Grace’s apartment.
Xavier and Grace met on a transgender website, chatted a bit about age music, school, religion; she’s a pastor his rabbi accused him of breaking his mother’s heart. He wants to meet IRL but it’s against the rules. Later on Grace finds Xavier at her home, much to her surprise and Zoe’s chagrin.
|Maxton Miles Baeza and Skyler Sullivan
Kelly’s play toggles back and forth from dream sequence of the two couples interacting/exploring their relationships, and how gender plays an important part in their dreams and their spirituality as the time line moves them forward in their transitioning of acceptance or not.
“Ballast” is an engrossing piece wonderfully mastermind by executive artistic director Matt Morro who keeps the pace clipped and always moving with an ace cast that never once is out of sync with his or her character.
Real life situations abound as Wilke convinces that she is lost in a sea of transition not necessarily brought upon by her. The same can be said of Levinson’s experiences even though the changes are of his choosing.
Paredes is all over her role as the enabler Xavier needs to get him through the rough spots and Baeza will continue to struggle until, I’m guessing, the age of innocence morphs into the age of reality and he gets help along the way.
Case and Sullivan give excellent support as they assume the roles of several characters each of them encounters on ‘the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference’.
Ron Logan’s all minimalist scenic design, Sherrice Mojgani’s accurate lighting, Emily Jankowski’s sound and Tara Knight’s projections enhance the easy and oft times very short transitions/changes from ‘dream to reality’. It works perfectly on the wide stage at Diversionary.
In all “Ballast” deserves 2 thumbs up.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through June 4th
Organization: Diversionary Theatre
Production Type: Drama
Where: 4545 Park Blvd. University Heights, 92116
Ticket Prices: $15.00-$45.00
Venue: Diversionary Theatre