Photo by Omnes Photography
Good art makes you feel things; great art makes you grow and learn as a person.
I am struggling to write an honest review of Charles O’Grady’s Kaleidoscope without typing out a four-page awe-filled scream followed by the words “SEE THIS PLAY”. The piece centres around the dysphoria felt by Gabe, a young transgender man struggling to come to terms with everything that his identity entails for day-to-day living. Oliver Ayres, the solo performer, brings so much depth to Gabe; there is a very real, lived-in quality to him that keeps the audience captive for an hour and a half through deft use of poetry, comedy, and the tragedy of normality.
The space, set up as Gabe’s physical bedroom and metaphorical mind, has a very tangible quality to it as well. This may be because most of the dressings and clothes come straight from O’Grady’s actual room, though he stresses in his introduction that the play is not autobiographical. Co-directed with Finn Davis, this is the second run Kaleidoscope has had; this time, it runs as part of the Mardi Gras celebrations.
The plot is simple: Gabe, a frustrated ball of dysphoria, stress, and fluffy hair, talks to his reflection as he struggles to get dressed. The mirror, represented by an empty frame in the centre of the stage, acts as a pathway to a better identity to Gabe, a Gabe who insists on being trans no matter how difficult it is for other people to accept. This internal struggle between Gabe’s desire to make people happy, his desire to fit in a world of body positivity and steamrolling queer pride, and his desire to feel peace drives his monologue.
Kaleidoscope dealt with self-image in ways that were totally alien to me as a cis woman, but there were so many very relatable moments of criticism and self-doubt. The empathy within the room was palpable as Gabe not only begged questions of his reflection, but attempted to answer many of them. At the very least, Gabe aimed for a positive conclusion through meaningful human connection – both with the audience and in his own world. Gabe accepts that terribleness is inevitable, but reconciles himself to not become terrible as a result. In a culture where queer art often ends in trauma, striving for happiness becomes in itself a transgressive artistic act.
I urge you to see this play. O’Grady’s masterful writing and Ayres’ superb performance evokes such a complex, deeply human character. I had forgotten what true empathy can do. This is not only a very important play, but also a very good one.
Kaleidoscope is on from February 22 until March 4 at the Kings Cross Theatre.