Coming out as transgender: it’s an experience many creatives have tried to capture in their art. Most fail to fully encapsulate the tumultuous deluge of emotions that ensues, both for the trans person coming into their own and the people who love them. Luckily, budding social action playwright and fourth-year theatre arts major Raine Grayson knows a little something about being trans, and he isn’t afraid to bring the raw, evocative reality onto the stage.
Grayson’s two-years-in-the-making passion project, “Unmasked!,” debuted at Parker Theatre this past Friday, Dec. 2. Set in a relatable post-grad living situation, “Unmasked!” follows the story of Andy (Maddie Morgan), a nightclub owner and transgender man, who comes out to his girlfriend Nadya (Meghan Tobias), a nurse who’s fallen on hard times. Andy also confides in their housemates and fellow queer couple, the flamboyant, boisterously unemployed Teague (Evan Greene) and closeted civil rights lawyer Dakota (Zach Gibson).
As Nadya grapples to come to terms with her partner’s imminent physical transition, Teague works to throw Andy a birthday party-slash-gender reveal extravaganza. Teague’s criminal tendencies, made all the more laughable by his deep love for his righteous lawyer of a boyfriend, provide much-needed bouts of levity to the show. A talented playwright, Grayson never shies from throwing wrenches into the mix, using building tension and a dramatic, Shonda Rhimes-esque plot twist to give his characters some perspective.
According to Grayson, “Unmasked!” was pulled together with about a month of rehearsals, something savvy theatregoers know is truly a feat for busy actors on a college campus. Time and budget were truly the team’s biggest obstacles, he said: the designers and stage crew only had $1,000, plus some grant money for costuming, to work with.
“We all set out to kind of go bigger than similar productions have planned to in the past, or at least in a really long time,” Grayson said. “Of course, shows in the ‘real world’ go up like this all the time, but those are with actors who aren’t college students and who come in knowing their lines and knowing exactly what to do. We’re learning, we’re doing and we’re doing big.”
Grayson really wanted to tease out common stereotypes about people in the LGBTQIA+ community, he said. In “Unmasked!,” he played with stereotypical queer figures, like the loud, effeminate gay man, and fleshed them out into multi-dimensional, complex characters.
“‘Unmasked!’ is a trans coming out story, but I hate calling it that because it’s so much more than that,” he said. “It’s about how identities interlock; it’s about how when one person realizes something about themselves, it can kind of ripple out and affect everyone around them. It’s a realistic telling more so than a coming out story.”
Most of the people involved in the production, including Grayson, did not receive any credits for their participation besides industry experience. The project was something Grayson and his team pursued out of a twofold passion for theatre and love for the LGBTQIA+ community.
“This is the kind of thing where it’s not about getting credit; it’s about doing something that needs to be done,” Grayson said. “I can’t think of a more timely piece. I feel so blessed that I was able to do this piece at this time because we all need a breath, and the great thing about art is that we can still activate people in that breath.”