It's Complicated

Review of Xander Xyst, Dragon: 1, Yale Cabaret

In Jeremy O. Harris’ Xander Xyst, Dragon: 1, directed by Jesse Rasmussen at Yale Cabaret, Xander (Kevin Hourigan) is an online celebrity, more particularly, he’s a porn star. People sign onto his website and get to watch videos of Xander’s sexual trysts. In this play we simply accept that such access and self-exploitation is something that would earn one a following—and I guess it would. A further question seems implied: what kind of person will shape his life to be known by random access through an online window? That question could probe into much of what passes for life—as virtual life—in our day. But Harris pretty much sticks with Xander’s dilemma: to be a sex hero online or just a dude on a date. Which would you rather be?

 Xander (Kevin Hourigan), Michael (Josh Goulding)

Xander (Kevin Hourigan), Michael (Josh Goulding)

The date is what’s taking place as we watch, and it’s awkward and arch the way depictions of people on dates tend to be, with the fun in the mix provided by Josh Goulding’s breezy seducer, Michael. Xander, in his videos, is hetero, and he remarks to Michael that in his imagination the date would be “more gay.” We might wonder what’s driving Xander to explore. It might just be something to do, or it might have something to do with his relation to his younger brother, Matt (Abubakr Ali).

 Lena (Sydney Lemmon), Matt (Abubakr Ali)

Lena (Sydney Lemmon), Matt (Abubakr Ali)

Matt, a singer/musician/composer, is also on a date, sort of. Ostensibly, he’s trying to find a female singer to collaborate with, and Lena (Sydney Lemmon), in hot pants, form-fitting T, and one helluva wig, shows up to try out. But Matt is the kind of guy who seems rather “closeted” about the fact that he’d like to get laid, and his interactions with Lena have an awkwardness that seems endemic to these brothers. Lena, learning that Matt’s brother is a digital stud, is agog with interest, leading to jumps back and forth between the brothers’ simultaneous encounters, and to very busy projections—including porn footage—of Xander’s website. A live chorus, the Internetz (Amandla Jahava, Jakeem Powell, Ivan Kirwan-Taylor), tends to praise Xander in the hyperbolic terms of his own imagination, or of his most fervid fans, or both.

 Lena (Sydney Lemmon)

Lena (Sydney Lemmon)

The “dragon” imagery comes from something the boys shared, a fantasy in which, perhaps, sexual molestation is figured, or maybe it’s just the kind of quest fantasy that occupies the imagination of many at that age. There’s also an overlay of Greek god imagery, to suggest, I suppose, that we’ve always been keen on virtual beings.

 In any case, the brothers have some confronting to do, particularly after Matt stops just short of raping Lena and Xander may have done something much worse to his date—worse even than dismissing him with the ringing line: “Your insignificance has been made manifest.” That may be the put-down of all put-downs when “being known” and being glorified for being known is the height of narcissistic self-enjoyment.

 Matt (Abubakr Ali), the Internetz (Amandla Jahava, Jakeem Powell), Xander (Kevin Hourigan)

Matt (Abubakr Ali), the Internetz (Amandla Jahava, Jakeem Powell), Xander (Kevin Hourigan)

Both brothers, together with Lena, are good singers, so that helps keep us interested in their self-projections. As performers they tend to be of the self-involved type that doesn’t exactly reach out to the audience. And maybe that’s the kick of the one-way camera of online performing: you know the audience is out there, but you never have to see them. They’re just in your head and you, the performer, are in their personal space—or at least on their personal device. It’s personal, yes, but decidedly detached.

The flesh-and-blood performance elements of the show are carried best by Lemmon’s Lena, who emerges as a supporting character able to redirect the drama away from the principals. “What’s her story?,” we might find ourselves asking, or “I wonder what she’s up to now,” while Xander and Matt pursue their efforts to gaze into one another’s navels. It may be that the main drama is too static in its presentation, or too detached in its characterization, but it brought to mind lines by Leonard Cohen, from “Death of a Lady’s Man”: “So the great affair is over / And whoever would’ve guessed / It would leave us all so vacant / And so deeply unimpressed.”

 Lena (Sydney Lemmon)

Lena (Sydney Lemmon)

The projections and the music add considerable elements to the show as an event, making us privy to worlds and possibly feelings that are of our cultural moment. Though deliberate, the staging of the date between Xander and Michael leaves a bit to be desired as it’s rather like trying to watch what’s happening at a table on the far side of the Cab space—unless you happen to be sitting right next to that table—which, I suppose, makes us all eavesdropping voyeurs. How you feel in that space may have a lot to do with how you feel about Xander Xyst, Dragon: 1.

 

Xander Xyst, Dragon: 1
By Jeremy O. Harris
Directed Jesse Rasmussen

Original Music: Isabella Summers, Jeremy O. Harris, Steven Cablayan; Production Dramaturg: Amauta Marston-Firmino; Set Designer: Ao Li; Costume Designer: Cole McCarty; Lighting Designer: Erin Earle Fleming; Sound Designer & Additional Music Production: Michael Costagliola; Projections Designer: Yaara Bar; Technical Director: LT Gourzong; Stage Manager: Sarah Thompson; Producer: Adam J. Frank

Cast: Abubakr Ali; Josh Goulding; Kevin Hourigan; Amandla Jahava; Ivan Kirwan-Taylor; Sydney Lemmon; Jakeem Powell

Yale Cabaret
March 2-4, 2017