Absurdist Play Considers Queerness
Courage of your convictions is a good thing, but there is also something to be said for courage of your confusions. That’s a central theme running through Basil Kreimendahl’s "Sidewinders," a new play having its world premiere Oct. 24 under the aegis of Cutting Ball Theatre. The confusion in this case is rooted in gender, and the fluidity extends into finding further ways to describe the play.
"It’s hard to describe because it is absurdist," Kreimendahl said during a recent interview. "We are setting it as a more grounded period piece in the Old West, but because it is absurd we could have gone really absurd with the location as well." M. Graham Smith is directing the production at Exit on Taylor.
Into a Wild West landscape wander two characters, Dakota and Bailey, who aren’t quite sure if they are men, women, or something else entirely. "They are the ones who are courageous enough to be confused," she said. "They don’t know what sex they are, and the play is sort of them wanting to nail it down."
Sara Moore and DavEnd play Dakota and Bailey, roles that require a lot of clowning skills but can be cast, the playwright said, in "any combination of genders, even though I think audiences will probably assign them a gender." Casting needs are a bit more restrained for the character of Sandy (played by Donald Currie), whose appearance further confuses Dakota and Bailey. "Sandy is a bit of a sad drag queen and a bit of a diva, so it’s a little more important that the character be played by a man."
Kreimendahl, 33, drew initial inspiration for Sidewinders from William Faulkner’s 1932 novel Light in August, and specifically from the character Joe Christmas. "He doesn’t know his background, and his ethnicity is up for question," she said. "Wherever he goes, people assign to him whatever they want."
The play also wound up as an unexpected homage to Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. "Structurally, I think it’s a lot like Godot, and maybe language-wise too," she said. "I wasn’t intending to adapt Waiting for Godot, but I do love that play, and I think that unconsciously it came through, because I knew I wanted to write an absurdist play about queerness."
The search for gender identity in a culture deeply invested in the male-female construct is something that Kreimendahl knows a lot about. "I grew up as a girl," - Basil is a nickname that stuck - "and now I would use the term ’gender queer’ if I had to pick a label. I actually prefer ’gender neutral,’ because none of the labels really fit."
Growing up in Louisville, Kreimendahl was already projecting a masculine persona when school became untenable at age 14. "I dropped out for a multitude of reasons, and the social aspects of school were difficult. My parents were very upset about it, but I was pretty stubborn. The truancy officer did come to my house a couple of times, and then she just stopped coming." But this high school dropout recently received an MFA from the University of Iowa, and is now teaching there on a one-year fellowship.
Kreimendahl has written several other plays, but Sidewinders is the first to receive a professional production. She had never even seen a play until an Atlanta theater produced a 10-minute play she had written after taking a theater class at a community college. Her parents were not theatergoers but did travel to Atlanta to see the play.
"There is usually a gender aspect in my plays even if I’m writing about something else," she said. "With Sidewinders, it wasn’t something that I just wanted to explore from a personal perspective, but to add something to the conversation happening in the world."
Tickets for Sidewinders are available at cuttingball.com.