THEATRE REVIEW: NO STRINGS (ATTACHED) (2016)
Written by Sunny Drake
A Buddies in Bad TimesProduction
Not every performer can pull off a solo show. The good news is that writer and performer Sunny Drake can - he's a charismatic and instantly likeable presence with energy to spare. The bad news is that he doesn't trust himself to go it alone. As a result, in No Strings (Attached), he's forced to contend with an endless parade of pre-recorded video projections, text message conversations and puppet dream ballets that constantly upstage his story.
Drake plays Jimmy, a trans man so in love with love that he's wound up in Romance-aholics Anonymous. Clearly, Jimmy needs someone to talk to: he's fresh from a not-quite-perfect poly relationship and far from over Brian, one of his exes. Over the next hour or so, Jimmy fills us in on his journey beyond the heteronormative and monogamous mechanics of mainstream dating in the hopes of discovering an acceptance of himself and those he loves.
In her program notes, director Gein Wong mentions how rarely we see a story by and about a trans person that doesn't position them and their bodies as spectacle. She's right, unfortunately, and the fact that No Strings (Attached) goes deeper is one of its strengths. Drake has written a piece that feels both personal and political and casts a canny eye on evolving definitions of modern relationships.
Ironic that a show seeking to avoid spectacle has way too much of it. In one sequence, rather than simply recounting a conversation, Jimmy literally jumps back and forth in a tiring and unnecessary he-said, he-said. Another repeated convention imagines Jimmy as a game show contestant (he plays the host, too) only to convey an already interesting story about post-breakup broken hearts.
This may come down to having too many collaborators. The approximately 25 listed in the program include four video designers, two greeters and a ballroom dance consultant. They do some strong work, but I can't help but wonder what No Strings (Attached) would have been like without so much "theatre."
Queer and trans stories have long been asked to adopt sensationalized forms to justify their stage time. They don't need to, and Drake's is no exception. Occasionally, he gives us a moment of real connection. Most of the time, though, we're just watching him talk to himself.