By Raye Weigel
Radcliffe Adler, a senior theatre major, transitioned from female to male when he was 19. In the upcoming play at The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, he has been cast as a woman: Lady Bracknell, a trying and sassy aunt. He swoops onto stage in a purple and silver flowing dress and feather hat.
He explained any production by Oscar Wilde is going to be inherently queer. He sees the play as a homage to Wilde, whom he described as a gay man living in the 1900s.
“It was empowering to be a transgender theatre artist and to be cast in a very queer and subversive role it’s like, yeah, absolutely that’s my role, that role was made for me,” Adler said.
He said he felt a sense of gender euphoria, a term used by the trans community to combat typical media narratives of transition to be filled only with pain and sadness. He described it as experiencing something that reinforces your gender expression and validates the way you hold yourself.
“I think this role does that for me because I do have these skills that no other man my age, for the most part, has. I know how to walk in heels. I know how to wear a corset. I know how to do my own makeup. I know how to talk and act like a woman. I know how to perform womanhood.”
“I did this for 19 years, don’t tell me I can’t do it again,” Adler said.
Adler’s transition did not go as smoothly as he thought it would. He said he thought because he was becoming who he was meant to be, that everything would be okay. That was not the case. He took off a year from school to relearn how to perform in the world.
After being a woman for his whole life, he had to relearn how to perform simple tasks such as walking into a room, having conversations with both men and women. He described transition as full of pain, but also a path to an indomitable sense of self-love.
Since transitioning, he said his self-image has changed dramatically: “I think pretty lovingly of myself. I think that comes from being so harsh with myself for so long and just finally giving in to a radical sense of self-love and knowing that self love is an act of resistance in its own way.”
Adler seems to be a perfect fit for this role in a play he said satirizes the pillars of marriage, education and class. He thinks of theatre as an interactive experience and would like to see the audience fully engaged — leaning forward, listening talking, fidgeting, anything but sitting in their seats like wax figures.
The play, put on by the university’s School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies, will take place on a stage with wooden floors and an abundance of luxurious purple curtains. The players’ over-the-top British accents add to the play’s inversion of gender norms.
The opening scene features a high-brow quarrel over cucumber sandwiches and a missing cigarette box. The plot moves along accordingly.
In this play, Adler said has been able to re-engage with the female part of himself he said he has not left behind or forgotten. He wants to change ideals through theatre: “Theatre is a part of culture just like food and dance and clothing, and if we can make theatre that’s queer, we can enrich our culture.”
Of his transition, he said “I grew and I grew and I grew.”
The other main character, Jack, is played by Kristen El Yaouti, a senior theater and family sciences double major. She wears a black wig, mustache and a purple suit with tails as she struts stiffly across the stage: “It takes a lot of technical work learning to use my body like a man, especially a victorian man. I personally do lots of yoga, wear flowing dresses and have hair down to my hips. Jack is the exact opposite.”
However, she emphasized the emotions she has to portray as Jack are universal: “love and marriage, feeling insecure about where he comes from and wanting control over his life are not gender specific experiences.”
Both characters call into question what it is to perform gender, and where the lines between genders blur. As Adler struts about the stage as Lady Bracknell, skirts rustling audibly behind him, he criticizes Jack for being found in a handbag as a baby and not knowing where his parents are. The audience incessantly is called to question the arbitrary complexities of the societal constructions of gender and class.
The Importance of Being Earnest will be at The Clarice from Feb. 10-18.
Featured Photo Credit: Radcliffe Adler performs as Lady Bracknell during the dress rehearsal for The Importance of Being Earnest in the Kogod Theatre. Adler is a senior theatre performance major and Erasable Inc. alumni. (Cassie Osvatics/Bloc Reporter)
Raye Weigel is a sophomore multiplatform journalism and English major and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.