May 27, 2015

"Tuesdays at Tesco's" May Be Out-of-Date

When Le Mardi à Monoprix premiered in France five years ago, playwright Emmanuel Darley’s sympathetic look at the life of a transgender woman must have seemed a bold statement. The play may have maintained some of that cachet when Matthew Hurt and Sarah Vermande translated it into Tuesdays at Tesco’s for a London production starring the acclaimed actor Simon Callow in 2011. 

But both of those productions came before the women-in-prison series “Orange is the New Black” made a Time magazine cover girl out of its transgender co-star Laverne Cox, before “Transparent,” the sensitive dramedy about a middle-aged man’s transition to a woman won the Golden Globe for Best Comedy series and before former Olympian Bruce Jenner came out as a trans woman in a TV interview with Diane Sawyer that was watched by 17 million people.

So the arrival of Tuesdays at Tesco’s as part of this year’s annual Brits Off Broadway series at the 59E59 Theaters seems somewhat anti-climactic.  Even a little retrogressive.

The show is a 75-minute monologue in which Pauline, born Paul, tells the audience about her weekly visits to clean, cook and shop for her father, a recent widow who has no domestic skills. 

Dad, an Archie Bunker type as Pauline describes him, refuses to acknowledge that he now has a daughter and the neighbors, including the customers and cashiers at the eponymous British supermarket chain, have their own responses to her, which range from tittering ridicule to out-and-out hostility.

Director Simon Stokes’ staging is a little-too self-consciously stylized for my taste.  A glowing ring encircles the stage, symbolizing what I’m not sure. A pretty pink dress is suspended in the air, to underscore, I suppose, the life that is out of reach for Pauline. A pianist sits onstage but never interacts with Pauline, except when he occasionally plays a song and she sings or dances along to it.

Nevertheless, Callow, who is again playing Pauline, gives a courageous and affecting performance, in which all vanity is dispensed with (click here to read an interview with the actor). His Pauline is an awkwardly-dressed woman with broad shoulders, beefy muscles and the gait of a farmer with bad knees. She speaks in Callow’s own resonant baritone.

And yet, there is also an undeniable—an almost defiant—femininity about Pauline that, in an echo of the anthemic declaration of La Cage aux Folles' Alban, makes it clear that she truly is just being, as she puts it, “me, myself, now and forevermore.”

Still, the play makes Pauline seem more resigned to herself than accepting of it. And its final moments give into every tragic tranny cliché in the book. Life is still a challenge for trans people but the times they are a-changin' and they may already have passed Tuesdays at Tesco’s by. 

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