Along the spectrum of queer identity (LGBTQ) transgendered women are perhaps the most marginalized, the most persecuted. And among those, African American women. This demographic comprises the premise of In The Tall Grass, currently playing at The Bishop Arts Theatre Center in Oak Cliff. Describing it as a “verbatim play,” playwright Paul Kalburgi conducted inquiries, regarding the murder of Shade Schuler; an MTF whose body was found dumped in Dallas. Using a similar methodology to The Laramie Project, Kalburgi went into the field, interviewing cops, friends, family, neighbors and anybody else impacted by the death of this spirited, radiant lady. All the dialogue from In The Tall Grass was constructed from the testimony of actual persons.
In The Tall Grass reveals many details about what it means to live on the fringes of society. Because women transgenders often find it difficult to find legitimate work, desperation can force them to turn to sex work or drug trade. For some reason, their sex clients seem to be among the most violent and unstable. Many are ostracized by their own families. Blackmailed into trading sexual favors to avoid abuse by the police. All these factors combine to diminish their self-esteem and contribute to their sense of isolation and pain. Consider how profoundly cultural attitudes can influence members of the queer community. How not so very long ago, the message that gays and lesbians got, in a thousand variations, was how unwelcome and contemptible they were. We are gradually moving away from that (though not completely out of the woods) but those who question their birth gender, too often remain at the bottom of the heap. Without means to support themselves, they must put themselves at risk, daily. Sometimes just by stepping outside the front door. That is, if they aren’t homeless.
Kalburgi and his impressive cast (Miecko Hicks, Kyndra Mack, Neil Rogers, LeMar Roheem Staton, Sheila D. Rose, Michael Salimitari, Shannon Walker) navigate this emotional, heart-breaking, infuriating and discouraging material with precision, compassion, courage and humanity. One particular line that emerged from this powerful script was how mysterious and complex gender is. At their core, maleness, femaleness are enigmatic, beyond the trappings, roles and archetypes society imposes on them. This is rarely discussed or even articulated, but it resonates with with every one of us. No matter who we love, or make love to. Perhaps because women transgenders challenge culture in ways not always easy to conceal, they become targets for all our ugly feelings and doubts and disappointments. Whatever the explanation, Paul Kalburgi, his cast and crew, have brought keen insight into this widely misconstrued and sorely neglected issue.
Bishop Arts Theatre Center presents : In The Tall Grass, closing this weekend on September 24th, 2017. 215 South Tyler Street, Dallas, Texas 75208. 214-948-0716. BishopArtsTheatre.org