Playwright: Sonja Mills
Cast: Sonny Mills, with special non-appearance by Elley-Ray Hennessy
Review by: Anne Bokma
There are two major genders when it comes to how we sexually identify: male and female. And many of us carry around a lot of very specific ideas about the characteristics of these genders. For example: women share their feelings and men clam up. Women are swayed with diamonds and flowers, men with sex and a good meal. Men do the barbecuing, women the dusting. Men are all hard muscle, women soft pliable flesh. I could go on, but you get the idea.
In Sonja Mills one-person (I hesitate to say one-man or one-woman) show, The Wrong Sex, we are challenged to think beyond the binary model of male and female and acknowledge just how devoutly we adhere to the heterosexual paradigm, even when it comes to homosexual relationships.
Mills sets up a clever scenario of a couple in therapy who are trying to sort out their gender identify. (Mills does all the talking here as the second character on stage is actually a half-mop, half-broom stand-in for her other half.) Admitting that they want to fall into “the fat part of the bell curve” and be accepted as a “normal couple at the mall” and not “ a couple of freaks,” they figure they’ll try to make things work as two gay men. But still they are confronted with a host of stereotypes–who is the “real” man, who is the top and who is the bottom? In their frustration, they opt to be lesbians instead and yet those pesky preconstructed ideas of gender persist—who is the butch and who is the femme? When they try living as hetereosexuals, they are practically suffocated by the prescribed rigidity of their male and female roles.
Mills cancelled the opening night of The Wrong Sex and when I ran into her during Fringe festivities and asked why, she confessed she was still writing the show right up until the last minute and just wasn’t ready. You’d never know it from watching her on stage. Her performance is polished, the delivery sublime and the writing is thoughtful and penetrating. Gender identity is a subject that’s usually handled with a whole lot of earnestness and sensitivity. With Mills in the driver’s seat, there is plenty of sensitivity, but also a lot of laughs—a real accomplishment given the fact that she gets us to confront just how uncomfortable we are with sexual ambiguity and how it’s high time we questioned why we cling so dearly to stereotypes of what makes a man a man and what makes a woman a woman.