Switch, The Welders

Brett Abelman's Switch, the newest production from the playwrights' collective The Welders, is positioned as an exploration of sexuality, gender, and how these impact our relationship with bodies (both our own and others). Switch wants its audience to enter into a celebration of those ideas, but unfortunately, spends too long asking the wrong questions along the way. 

Leila (Mary Myers) and Doug (Anderson Wells) use a kiss to share with Lark (Ty Velines) the magic of the night. Photo credit Teresa Castracane Photography. 

The play centers around DC Pride, and Ty Velines' Lark is positioned as our guide. Velines has firecracker energy to spare, and commands the audience's attention in every scene they are in, but almost singlehandedly seems to carry the burden (and emotional labor) of dragging a crowd of cis straights (both onstage and off) into a brave new world of genderswapping magic and queer identity.  There's an odd tone at times in the play where characters, sometimes Lark and sometimes others, played by Matt Baughman and Chloe Mikala, walk our token-straights Leila and Doug (Mary Myers and Anderson Wells) through remedial LGBTQ+ 101. Admittedly, not all audience members will be at the same level, but setting this relationship up between Lark and the audience in particular feels like it sets up the expectation that that's what our queer friends are for- explaining the LGBTQ+ world and its complexities to outsiders, rather than asking that majority to put in some work to understand the minority.

The play's basic premise is that new couple Leila and Doug mysteriously switch bodies during sex the night of the DC Pride parade and have to figure out what to do with a night that may become their new reality if they can't switch back by sunrise.  They decide to spend their evening pursuing sex with partners of their new gender with mixed results, until Abelman finally lets them start to ask deeper questions about what this change means to each of them (including moments when Lark is able to express their own frustration with their friends' lack of understanding).  These are the questions that I wish that the play had spent its time exploring, rather than watching Leila and Doug fumble their way through Pride night sex (it's common with this trope that little consideration is given to consent in these sort of encounters, but it's worth noting that it's pretty whack to have sex in a body that literally is not yours to give enthusiastic consent with).  In the final moments of the play, Leila and Doug finally turn to each other with new honesty and new questions that feel immediate, new, and desperately urgent, and I wish that more time could be spent exploring these ideas than in exploring new genitals. 

Although I have frustrations with Ableman's play, director Megan Behm does excellent work with a talented ensemble. In addition to Velines' Lark, Myers in particular embodies a deep discomfort with her body once the swap has taken place that grounds the play's magical premise for the audience.  The production benefits enormously from the contributions of Intimacy Consultant Emily Sucher's work with the ensemble, in line with the vision of Behm and Abelman, navigating sexual sequences with honesty and vulnerability.  These sequences were some of the standouts of the evening and felt fresh in a way that I haven't seen before onstage during intimate scenes.

While I salute the intentions of Switch, it feels like a production that doesn't reach what it's striving for because it only clarifies those intentions in the final moments.  The last twenty minutes of the play are exciting and arresting theatre, with a final sequence that achieves its aims exquisitely. I wish that the rest of the play captured that same excitement and promise for me. It may well be that I'm the wrong audience for this play, in that I've spent a fair amount of time over the years debating sex, gender, and identity through tropes like body swap, but I wish that the play reached those deeper articulations of its core questions much earlier in the night so that we could explore those ideas, not how strange it would be to have sex in a new body as a means of avoiding hard questions.


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