Playwrights: Sara Kerastas and the About Face Youth Theatre Ensemble . At: About Face Youth Theatre at Red Tape Theatre at St. Peter's Episcopal Church, 621 W. Belmont Ave. Tickets: 866-811-4111; www.aboutfacetheatre.com; $15. Runs through: July 29. Also at: National Museum of Mexican Art, 1852 W. 19th St. on Aug. 3 and 4
After its disappointing Queertopia two years ago, About Face Youth Theatre is back in top form with its world premiere of What's the T?, now at Red Tape Theatre through July 29 before touring to the National Museum of Mexican Art on Aug. 3 and 4. But be sure to wear summery clothing if you catch What's the T? in Boystown, since it's a non-air-conditioned time out if you do (even with provided paper fans.)
Created by playwright Sara Kerastas with members of the About Face Youth Theatre Ensemble, What's the T? was developed in summer workshops last year to look at transgender issues and identity. But along the way, the youthful cast wanted to bring up issues affecting them that summer, when many LGBT youths of color were accused of increasing crime in the Boystown neighborhood.
The result is a show that feels vital and up-to-date in every way. Rather than focus on the whys when it comes to transgender identity, What's the T? includes trans-identified characters as part of a larger mix of people dealing with ageism, racism and economic class conflicts within Chicago's Boystown neighborhood.
What's the T? also showcases how technology can be a lifesaver and equalizer for the LGBT community by offering up a virtual "safe space." It's this online connection that ties male-identified Shaman (Sukari Stone), who has just been thrown out of his home and school on the South Side, with the flamboyantly female-identified Ms. Ma (Mikkhal Holt) who offers advice and a welcoming sense of community via her much-followed online video postings.
But Ms. Ma has her own problems, as her friends AJ (Leo St. Leo) and Blush (Christian Gorostieta) debate what to do with a smartphone video they possess showing the celebrated transgender online video personality arrested by the police on suspicion of solicitation.
Kerastas and her cast have a great time lampooning many types of characters who live and hang out in Boystown. Much comic relief comes from the accessorizing fag hags who love their gays to ever-annoying drunken Cubs fans who rowdily crowd Red Line CTA trains.
However, Kerastas and her cast also aren't afraid to show how Boystown isn't as all-welcoming as it should be to all members of the LGBTQ community, particularly when the young lesbian Jude (the intense Jade Ryin) is treated differently from her non-Black friends Riley (Anna Rangos) and Brit (the hilarious Irene Tu).
Director Eric Hoff creates a fun and kinetic production, which is greatly enhanced by the multimedia video designs of Liviu Pasare. True, not all of the performances are fully polished, but the cast's youthful enthusiasm at dramatizing recent Boystown controversies is certainly fresh and extremely timely.