BWW Review: DRAW THE CIRCLE at Mosaic Theater is Essential Viewing
Mashuq Mushtaq Deen's DRAW THE CIRCLE marks Mosaic Theater Company's first time featuring a transgender artist telling their own personal story, which alone makes the work noteworthy. But Deen's extreme vulnerability and creativity coalesce to make it a vitally important piece of theater.
Chay Yew directs Deen in this startling solo show depicting Deen's gender transition journey through the eyes of his friends, life partner Molly, Muslim-American immigrant family, and other diverse individuals with whom he crosses paths. Set off by spare lighting (Mary Louise Geiger and E-Hui Woo) and a minimal set (Yew), Deen inhabits each of these personas with only a chair as a prop. As Deen relays pieces of the story in an anecdotal, confessional format, names are projected across the back wall to let us know who's speaking. (It's never Deen himself.)
Unsurprisingly, the content is heavy. Molly struggles to reconcile the "butch" lesbian she was first attracted to with the man Deen is becoming. Deen's mother is unable to accept that her daughter is truly a man. And as if grappling with his gender identity and fighting for the love of those around him weren't enough, Deen experiences further monumental hardships as a result: suicidal behavior, self-harm, rape. These harrowing topics are addressed head-on, sometimes with dark humor, but with no dancing around the truth.
It's difficult to hear about disturbing events, especially from the perspectives of those closest to Deen, but this method of storytelling feels completely authentic. Deen's portrayal of various individuals is remarkable, not only because of his careful craft, but also because of his great empathy. His play is more powerful than a first-person account. Rather than focusing on reaching members of a certain group, he makes sure to include a range of characters participating in a common story with universal emotions. The phrase "draw the circle" is itself meant to evoke inclusivity.
DRAW THE CIRCLE is a singular theatrical experience. It concludes overwhelmingly, rendering transgender issues unignorable in today's divisive political climate. It's also uplifting - in a different way than the usual holiday-season play, but on a much deeper, more meaningful level.
Running time: approximately 1 hour 20 minutes with no intermission.
Mosaic Theater Company of DC presents DRAW THE CIRCLE through December 24, 2017, at Atlas Performing Arts Center, Lab II, 1333 H Street NE, Washington, DC 20002. Tickets can be purchased at www.mosaictheater.org or by calling (202) 399-7993.
DRAW THE CIRCLE plays in repertory with Dan Hoyle's THE REAL AMERICANS.
Photo: Mashuq Mushtaq Deen, courtesy of Mosaic Theater Company of DC