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BWW Review: BURGERZ at EMERSON PARAMOUNT CENTER JACKIE LIEBERGOTT BLACK BOX is a Captivating Look at Privilege and our Place in Society

Would you stop to help someone who just had a burger and transphobic remarks thrown at them?

BWW Review: BURGERZ at EMERSON PARAMOUNT CENTER JACKIE LIEBERGOTT BLACK BOX is a Captivating Look at Privilege and our Place in Society

From the moment we are conceived, society tries to tell us who we are and who we should be. Before we even get the chance to breathe our parents and their doctors determine our gender and how that makes us who we are. As children, if we play with someone of a different gender people say things like "awww look how cute, they're boyfriend and girlfriend!" But if anyone chooses to break from these norms and live their lives how they so choose, they are ridiculed by society and cast aside. Theater artist Travis Alabanza is all too familiar with this ridicule. One day as they were crossing the Waterloo Bridge in London, a burger was hurled at them. Not one of the hundred or so people who witnessed the incident stopped to help them or check if they were okay. This incident is the basis of Alabanza's play BURGERZ, running now through April 24th at the Emerson Paramount Center Jackie Liebergott Black Box Theater.

The play forces the audience to think about their own privileges and their place in society. Through the creation of a burger, Alabanza talks about their struggle and experience as a trans person of color. They talk about how they worry about just walking down the street or riding the subway. Alabanza allows the audience to have fun, laughing with them and making jokes. They are able to build a strong and seemingly-personal connection to the audience. This connection makes the more intense moments of the play feel close to home and you hurt for Travis, though you understand that depending on who you are, you may never feel the true hurt that they've felt and probably continue to feel.

Alabanza is joined on stage by an audience participant who assists in the making of the burger. This person is always white and cis, as he serves as the representation of societal privilege. Throughout the play Alabanza asks the participant questions about their own life, one of which is "do you feel as nervous as you do right now walking down the street," and at my performance, the person answered no, which only highlights the privilege of being a cis, white male.

I left the play asking myself "what would I have done if I had witnessed the burger being thrown at Travis?" Would I have stopped to help them? Would I have said something to the person who had thrown the burger? Before I saw this play, I don't think I would've. Whether it would be fear stopping me or something else, I don't believe I would have. But now, I feel that I would. I know that being white and cis (even though I am not straight) gives me a certain level of privilege that I need to use to help others and I hope that other people who see this show feel the same way.

The show is also well designed. The set and costume, designed by Soutra Gilmour, had a retro feel to it. The set featured a working "kitchen" which aided Alabanza in their storytelling. The lighting, designed by Lee Curran and Lauren Woodhead, was extremely effective in adding to the story Alabanza was telling. It highlighted the more intense moments but gave great support throughout.

BURGERZ, is being presented by Arts Emerson and is directed by Sam Curtis Lindsay. The show runs now through April 24th. Tickets and more information may be found on the Arts Emerson website.

Photo by: Dorothea Tuch

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