I was an appropriate coincidence that I read Jordan Tannahill’s 2014 Governor General’s Award-winning trilogy of one act plays just as Alberta’s absurd Gay Straight Alliance “debate” reached it’s status quo hiatus. Tannahill’s Age of Minority, consisting of Get Yourself Home, Skyler James, rihannaboi95, and Peter Fechter: 59 Minutes, present, as Tannahil writes in his Preface,
Three young people backed up against walls, metaphorically and literally, who risk everything for a chance to love and be loved. And all three, to some extent, are queer. Beyond a merely sexual understanding of the word, they refuse the norms they are confronted with. They are sublime outcasts.
The timing of my reading could not have been better.
I’ll confess a personal prejudice to begin. This prejudice was unfortunately triggered when I flipped to the biography of Tannahill a the back of the book and read:
Jordan creates performances exploring the lives of diverse Torontonians.
And I thought “Oh, Lord! Not Toronto!”
I was unjust. Tannahill is, as I so recommend to Edmonton’s arts community, making his own home the universal. These plays are not about Toronto, they are about human experience. I apologized for my anti-Toronto bigotry.
Now, to the brilliant plays.
As Tannahill says, these three plays are about young people who “to some extent, are queer.”
Skylar James is clearly — well, as clearly as anything in life is clear — lesbian. Get Yourself Home, Skyler James was developed for performance in school classrooms, for small audiences of students. The cast of one would move from class to class over the course of a week or so, performing and reperforming the play. I expect the heroine, lesbian army deserter Skyler James, became a sort of friend to many students and the seed of an informal school-wide Gay Straight Alliance.
rihannaboi95 is — well, what is he? Is he gay? He is certainly attracted to one man. Is he trans? Truth is ambiguity. The play rihannaboi95 is a ground-breaking production. The play was produced live on YouTube, not on stage. The result is something more real-life than any theatre we normally experience. rhiannaboi95 is a young man from an immigrant family who has a talent for dance and an obsession with pop star Rhianna. But, because of his family and their culture, he can only be himself in secret YouTube videos. But, of course, nothing on YouTube is secret, and an old-fashioned family isn’t the only danger for a “different” young man.
And Peter Fechter, the tragically failed escapee from East Berlin, the boy most literally Against The Wall, violently never allowed to become himself, whatever self that might have been. We’ll never know what his relationship to Helmut would have been. And that perpetual ignorance is the entire point. This is a life snuffed out before its blossoming by the violence of dominant, unprotecting society. Peter Fechter died, in actual historical fact, for the sins we continue to commit each day against the most vulnerable in our societies.
While Get Yourself Home Skyler James and rhiannaboi95 are true monodramas, with only a single character, a single voice on “stage”, Peter Fechter 59 Minutes has a few extra disembodied voices. But these voices are counterpoints and grace notes to Peter Fechter’s fifty-nine minute threnody to himself as he lies against the Berlin Wall, bleeding to death from a pelvic gunshot wound. With this study of a young victim of Cold War stupid evil, Tannahill cries out for understanding and tolerance of difference.
The message of Age of Minority is not just about the LBGTQ “community”. None of Tannahill’s three characters are part of such a community. They are solitary, without support. The emphasis is not on sexuality. These plays are not about LBGTQ life in Toronto, Canada. They are about individuality, about types of individuality which are not accepted by society, which society tries to wipe out, whether that society is the military, school, family, Communist East Berlin, or YouTube. We, the audience, come to not simply accept Tannahill’s characters, but to be charmed by them. We like — perhaps love — them, not in spite of who they are, but because of who they are. Such is the power of the one act monodrama in Jordan Tannahill’s startlingly creative hands.
Age of Minority is drama of great importance and Jordan Tannahill, still in his twenties, will certainly continue to be a leading voice in theatre for years to come.
Age of Minority is published by Playwrights Canada Press.