At the Mauckingbird Theatre Company, every play is gay.
The local company is changing the way audiences think about theater and traditional gender roles, defining itself as the only company to perform classic texts through a “queer lens.”
For the members of Mauckingbird, this means changing the gender of the characters in an existing play to shift the viewer’s focus from gender norms to the character’s experience as a human being.
While many theater companies have incorporated gender-swapping before, Mauckingbird is the only company that uses gender-swapping and a “queer lens” to reimagine traditionally straight characters as gay.
“My greatest compliments have always been when an audience member says, ‘I completely forgot that that role is usually by a woman,’ or ‘I forgot this is usually a straight couple, I was just engrossed in the story,’” said Peter Reynolds, an associate professor of theater at Temple, and the artistic director and co-founder of Mauckingbird Theatre Company, in an email.
Recently, the company ran a production of “The Sisterhood” from Feb. 3-21. Adapted from Molière’s “The Learned Ladies” by Ranjit Bolt, “The Sisterhood” features a predominantly male cast. The play is set in the 17th century, in a world where homosexuality is an accepted way of life.
David Reece Hutchison, 24, plays Henriette. Portraying an originally female role was an interesting experience for Hutchinson.
“Being able to speak words that were written for a female was really liberating,” he said. “I don’t let the femininity influence my character. I took the reins with it and allowed the femininity to take some part in my own interpretation of it.”
Associate Professor of Theater Donna Snow plays Philaminte in the production. A controlling mother who loves intellectual poetry and meddling in her sons’ love lives, Philaminte is more concerned with who her sons marry than their sexual orientation.
“It was just the way it was,” Snow said. “Or with my [character’s] brother-in-law being gay, and my other brother-in-law possibly being gay. And it appears that my husband is possibly bisexual … I don’t think any of that bothers my character. I’m interested in the mind and art. But as far as people’s sexuality, it doesn’t bother Philaminte.”
“I have never come across a theater that uses a queer lens exclusively,” Hutchinson added. “I like that it’s the only theater in Philly that is exclusively LGBT. It keeps gender-bending unique.”
The idea for Mauckingbird started at Temple. 2008 music education alumnus Lindsay Mauck met Reynolds in 2005, when she was his student. At the time, Reynolds was creating a production that examined Molière’s “The Misanthrope” through a queer lens.
Mauck helped him secure a venue, and the pair discovered Philadelphia had an audience for their vision. The one-show experiment in 2006 turned into a nine-year adventure for Mauck and Reynolds after they co-founded Mauckingbird in 2008.
The process of finding a script that can be adapted for gender transformation can be difficult. Modern pieces relatable to younger generations are not an option for the company to perform due to copyright. However, using classical texts has its benefits, like displaying how “truly universal good stories are, when two men or two women in the midst of a love story experience the same trials, tribulations, joys and fears as heterosexual couples,” Reynolds said in an email.
“I feel relieved to be in a profession where men and women feel free to be who they are,” Snow said. “And not have to hide what their sexual preferences are. And also I think in theater, we try to be aware of certain racial and ethnic prejudices. I think it’s important that we always try harder to do that.”
Katelyn Evans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.