From the wilds of Kentucky (with a stop over at the University of Iowa Playwrights Workshop) comes one of the brightest and freshest theatrical voices that US theatre has seen in some time; introducing the fantastic Basil Kreimendahl whose not-to-be-missed play Sidewinders world premières as Cutting Ball Theatre’s bold season opener. As the Bay Area’s go-to-theatre for outstanding experimental and groundbreaking works, this production delivers the excellence that audiences have come to expect from this stand-out company.
Winner of the 2013 Rella Lossy Award for playwrighting, Kreimendahl’s play is truly a work of landmark political and artistic significance. With hybrid dramatic stylings that tip their hat both to the best of absurdism and vaudevillian clowning, the work deftly explores the shifty terrain of liminal embodiment, or at least those people perceived as somehow being in-between worlds. With fine performances and precision direction by M. Graham Smith, Sidewinders keeps you on the end of your seat with laughter, delight, and pathos made all the more profound by their unexpectedness amid all the hilarity, and hijinks.
The minute one walks into the theatrical space, you enter a different world of purple-hued softly clouded skyscape, or perhaps in this world, this ‘up’ is down. Sidewinders has audience members wondering before the first word is uttered. Once it is, the metaphors rush with meticulous pacing and multi-layered interconnectedness, demonstrating Basil’s verbal and philosophical virtuosity while showcasing the skill and talent of the excellent cast.
The play’s point of attack lands us at the end of the tracks, on the threshold of a world that “not a thing has tread on”. To make matters more discombobulating, Bailey isn’t quite sure what they have, you know, ‘down there’. As the gun-slinging, sharp shooting Dakota, Bailey’s travel companion in the wilds opines, “having a ‘this’ or a ‘that’ makes you right side up.” Knowing what’s in our pants orients us in the world, or does it? Sidewinders’ journey explores this question of boundaries, limits, selfhood, and what separates and connects us all.
Immediately, the audience is drawn in by the dynamic performances of DavEnd as Bailey, the sad clown, and Sara Moore as Dakota. The two have great chemistry and comic timing that breathes stunning vitality and tenderness to the characters.
The work’s script combines Basil’s unique take on classic abusurdist theatrical technique, a skillful and refreshing departure from the usual social realism which tends to dominate US theatre, with a nuanced exploration of gender, sexuality and embodiment as it is defined in the binary economy of language and culture. Bereft of academia and theory, the play instead uses image, sound, absorbing metaphorical narrative and physicality to expertly dramatize the experience of a spectrum of non-gender normative people or those born with a sex or gender presentation that is ‘indeterminate’ according to society’s cultural conventions. Best of all, it reminds audiences members, that “we should all enjoy a good fuck”, according to the expertly performed parable of The Sandy, a traveler the lost duo Dakota and Bailey encounter in their Old West wanderings. Donald Currie who plays this role quite possibly steals the show; his performance is flawlessly moving, funny, and appealingly racy.
Kreimendahl’s play employs an interesting interpolation between the Old West’s concept of manifest destiny and how an individual’s own destiny becomes ensnared in society’s grip on the terrain of our selfhood based on the contours of our biology and physical bodies. It is its own kind of conquest and it is practiced and enacted on us from the moment we draw breath to the moment breath passes through our lips for the last time. Sidewinders conveys the disorienting constriction of this without being pedantic and revels in the joy, wonder, and beautiful bizarreness of those that are outlaws in this world. While all the characters are their own unique outlaws and outliers, Currie’s Sandy and Norman Munoz’s stirring ‘Sam in exile’, (Sandy’s travel companion and much more), are embodiments of this in ways the audience continues to discover. It will surprise and subvert your expectations.
According to Kreimendahl, “the queering of gender has brought us into a new frontier. I wanted to explore that ambiguity and that in-between. It’s really important that we see ourselves on stage and hear our stories, and it’s as equally important that we be given the opportunity to feel for people and situations outside of ourselves.”
Despite its myriad themes, complexity, verbal acrobatics and amusing cartoonish clowning (the stellar Sara Moore, is part of Thrillride Mechanics, a group of human cartoons), at its heart, Sidewinders marvels at what it means to human, and the seeming impossibility and miracle of human connection, no matter what kind of body you are born into.
At one point Dakota asks, “where are we?” and Sandy replies, “no one has named it.” Sidewinders certainly takes the audience where theatre has never gone before, reminding us, as we look into an expanse of the unknown or ourselves in the mirror we can find the freedom to see, “a blank canvas.”
Sidewinders runs until November 17th, so roundup a posse and mosey on over to Cutting Ball for one of this season’s must-see plays. The theatre is in the heart of the Tenderloin, the historic epicenter of San Francisco’s gender-queer and trans activism. The stage is just blocks away from where the 1966 Compton’s Cafeteria uprising occurred—San Francisco’s pre-Stonewall Stonewall, the perfect location for the premiere of this historic play.