Wednesday, 11 September 2019

How Gay Am I? - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

Sunanda is a queer woman of colour who came out at the tender age of 27. Through storytelling, stand-up and sketch, How Gay Am I? examines the confusion arising from being a Bangkok-native, adopted, third generation Indian lesbian. Having also lived in New York City, Sunanda brings a refreshing burst of energy to the stage in her solo debut as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival.

Sunanda traces her queerness back to the days spent lip syncing to Britney Spears songs until she realised she didn’t want to be Britney, but simply wanted Britney. From there we cover her coming out experiences and her penchant for larger-than-life character work become evident. Sunanda is loud and not just with her voice but also with her expressions. When she isn’t talking, her facial features are. When she’s an angry Hindu Nationalist cow vigilante, we can see it in her eyes as well as hear it in her voice. It is a complete contrast to the vulnerability she exposes when opening up about coming out to her parents.

Alongside her comedic flair, Sunanda displays genuine emotional depth in her observations of her life, culture and society. Her brother’s demand to know what percentage of her is still straight upon learning of her sexuality is humorously reenacted while highlighting the difficulties of being queer in another country.

These intimate recollections are broken up by various sketches that explore her sexuality and open discussion on what it is like to be a woman, and a woman of colour at that. Her “Shaady.com” matchmaking commercial followed by a meeting with an "aunty" to discuss suitable marriage candidates cleverly puts the focus on the patriarchal society women live in, where despite promising job prospects she is expected to give up on a career and become a wife and mother or risk being labelled “expired goods” at the age of 23. 

However, other ideas are not as successful and this is mainly because of the tenuous link between them and Sunanda’s life. How Gay Am I? is strongest when Sunanda is directly or indirectly referring back to herself so her "TED talk" on “Why Everyone Should be a Lesbian, Today” is disappointingly too broad and slapdash in its execution. Similarly, her beef-police sketch is too far removed from the show, but with some rework could be used more effectively to draw attention to queer persecution and issues. 

How Gay Am I? is an entertaining debut from Sunanda that strikes a good balance of absurdity and honesty. Given her history, there is certainly a lot to unpack - with undoubtedly many stories yet to be told - and for the most part this is performed in an engaging and unique way. 

Venue: The Butterfly Club, 5 Carson Place, Melbourne
Season: until 15 September | 10.00pm
Duration: 60 minutes
Tickets: $35 Full | $31 Conc 

Bookings: Melbourne Fringe Festival

Image Credit: Liza Nelson

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