Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Review: A Slice of LGBTQ History

By Michael Block 

There are certainly periods of time that seem to get lost in the shuffle. When they do find their way back to the surface, they offer a new and important reflection on history and culture. In Trinkets by Paul E. Alexander, a community of drag and transsexual prostitutes in the 1990s are explored through the lens of hope and promise in a time of darkness and despair. But rather than a well-made play, Trinkets is more of a slice of life transportation to a time of the past that requires more substance to hold the impact it deserves.
Trinkets recently closed after playing the Gene Frankel Theatre, extension after extension. With a cast of almost twenty, the musical follows the lives of some lost souls looking to earn a buck in the 1990s meatpacking district. Diva, Janet, and Blondie work the streets as hookers. Strawberry, an ingĂ©nue, arrives to learn the ways of the streets under the tutelage of Diva. After a quick stop at Trinkets, a local club owned by an ex hooker of the same name, Strawberry meets the man of her dreams while Diva and her sisters wonder the whereabouts of fellow woman of the night, Monique. With a cavalcade of additional subplots added to the mix, there are hints of a promising story in Trinkets, but it’s buried deep within the execution. There is a familiarity to the story. Alexander sticks to common tropes and themes to tell this fantastical story, which is fine. There is depth to the potential of where these characters could roam and live, but they’re lost in within the confines of inexperienced writing. Trinkets is a character-based show. It thrives on the characters to move the story. But when the complete arc of a character is lacking, it stops the piece dead in its tracks. Perhaps what this piece needed was a couple more workshops, without Alexander doubling as the director, to flesh out the promise that is clearly here. As the piece stands now, it lacks firm direction. It certainly can be hard to be so close to a piece and be unable to see its flaws. Alexander, who wrote the lyrics to the canned tracks, sticks to the stereotypes of storytelling. It is blatantly predictable. Alexander gives so much weight to characters that do not need to exist beyond ensemble bits, that time that should be given to the arcs of characters like Diva and Strawberry is gone out the window. Binky, Bev, and Candy Man easily can be one-off bit players and have their songs eliminated. If any supporting players deserve more, it certainly is Blondie and Janet. Trinket’s backstory from lady of the night to owner of the bar could get more of a presence. Strawberry and Diego’s romance could be fleshed out to be less impulsive. And Monique? Let’s see her! She is, in fact, the inciting incident. What Alexander has going for the piece though is a genuine and raw gaze into the LGBTQ community. Key work, community. At its heart, Trinkets thrives on this family aspect.
With certainty, this show suffers technically. It’s always hard to produce a musical with a canned track. Despite the electronic sounds being the pulse of the show, it does a disservice to the actors. With only hanging mics, some of the actors are forced to fight the sound levels of the tracks, and in turn it causes them to refrain from singing full out. Sadly, this makes moments, like the big finale “I’m Proud of Me” to lack the gravitas both performer and writer bring to it. Zachary A. Serafin successfully provides the club vibes of Trinkets. It has a hint of seediness mixed with reflective history. The atmosphere is clear. The costumes marry sex and seduction with an aura of trepidation. As the song says, “look but don’t touch.”
Trinkets is an ensemble piece. This ensemble thrives on love and unity, and they sure are a strong unit. Individually, Honey Davenport as Diva is the center of the story. Serving as the primary cog, Honey Davenport brings an edge of sincerity to Diva. She’s got an attitude with a heart of gold. As her sisters Blondie and Janet, Jay Knowles and Antyon LeMonte are the scene stealers of the night. They both have a strong, alluring presence on stage, and make the most out of their characters. You always wonder what characters who you’d like to see get a spinoff show, in Trinkets, it’s Blondie and Janet. Their energies are just delectable. Mercedes Torres as Strawberry is given some pretty difficult dialogue to play. At times, it comes off as pedestrian. Perhaps different intentions and objectives to play can make Strawberry not come off as monotonous and unflawed as the script has her. Her backstory comes far too late in song form, which spoils her arc a bit.
There’s no denying, this play is an important piece that characterizes a pivotal moment in time for an underrepresented people, but it is not a strong work of theater. There are flaws and kinks that need to be worked out. It’s evident why the intermission is needed with how the play flows, but the show doesn’t need an intermission. Swap around some moments to cover changes and Trinkets can be an intermission-less show that maintains momentum. But perhaps, I’ve gotten it all wrong and Trinkets isn’t a traditional work of theater. Perhaps what Trinkets wants to be is an installation piece. Perhaps it wants to be staged in an actual bar where patrons can experience it along side the cast. And also take photos as they please. Perhaps that’s the grit that’s missing. Regardless, kudos to Paul Alexander and the team behind Trinkets for telling the story. It's what we need.