Review: D’Lo’s ‘To T, or Not to T’ is a moving, queer comedy

We tell each other stories from the past to learn more about each other and the world we live in. It is so basic and yet so powerful. Who would each of us be without the stories passed down from our parents and grandparents? How could we ever have understood each other without hearing the stories of our neighbors, teachers, and friends?

The more human experiences we have, the more compassionate we become. It’s hard to judge someone who has confided in personal struggles. Venturing beyond our clans is how civilization evolved. It is human work, which means it is deeply political.

In “To T, or not to T? A Comedic Trans Journey through (T)estosterone and Masculinity,” D’Lo, a Tamil-Sri Lankan American actor, author, comics and culture worker, tells his story of confronting his identity as a trans man. This is a coming out story which means it is both an internal saga and a family drama. Emotions collected in peace are alchemized into a touching comedy.

D'Lo is on the stage.

D’Lo performs in rehearsal for his solo show ‘To T, or Not To T?’ on. on a Friday night at the Kirk Douglas Theater in Culver City.

(Emily Monforte/For the Time)

D’Lo grew up in Lancaster with his sister, two “dark brown Hindu children who attended Baptist schools in the high desert of Southern California.” Her doctor father, whom they call Appa, was considered a “desirable immigrant”. D’Lo puts the phrase in audible quotation marks, painfully aware that her emotionally reticent father “fought in America as a brown man.”

Amma, D’Lo’s mother, was an artist. But D’Lo identified with Appa even though he wasn’t particularly interested in science. “You are exactly the same,” says Amma. “It’s what they really say, the same two coins on the same one side. Complete headache.”

D’Lo stands on a set depicting an explosion of the color orange and occasionally takes a sip from a bottle. D’Lo sketches all of the characters with a light and loving touch. He traces his journey from a childhood aversion to wearing clothes, to an unease with the changes of puberty, to a slow acceptance that the tomboy phase isn’t just a phase.

Speech is not available in this LGTBQ culture desert. Like many people who have to look far beyond the home to discover fundamental aspects of themselves, D’Lo found connections and clues in the lesbian scene, identifying first as a bisexual superfan of Queen Latifah, then as queer before others discovered who were embarking on their own trans journeys.

D'Lo kneels and looks at a projection on the stage wall.

D’Lo’s solo show, a production utilizing elements of performance art, comedy and theater, involves projections on stage.

(Emily Monforte/For the Time)

We know “To T, or not to T?” has a happy ending, as it begins at D’Lo’s 2015 engagement ceremony to his partner, two months after beginning testosterone therapy. (That’s why, he jokes, he sounds like an auto-tuned Drake.) But the show is extensive enough to include the tragedy of D’Lo’s sister’s death in a plane crash.

Honest coming-out stories recognize that life is not defined by single milestones in personal identity. Therefore, this show is the second part of a trilogy about queer rites of passage. Judging from my own experience – and this show’s evidence – this process never ends. Meena Murugesan’s projections bring this psychology to life by casting a shadow of D’Lo’s inner child in constant motion.

This Los Angeles LGBT Center production, directed and dramaturgically developed by Adelina Anthony, is presented by the Center Theater Group at the Kirk Douglas Theater as part of this year’s Block Party. (The Sacred Fools Theater Company’s production of “The Art Couple,” another local intimate theater offering that was supposed to be part of the Block Party lineup, was canceled.)

The larger showcase expands the reach of D’Lo’s community artistry, which blends comedy with education. Having just watched Hannah Gadsby’s latest stand-up show “Body of Work,” I couldn’t help but become aware of how “To T, or not to T?” was more of a hybrid piece wrapped in one flowing theatrical space exists, not quite stand-up, not quite performance art.

The show’s energy at Wednesday’s opening seemed bland at times, as if D’Lo didn’t know his audience well and was reluctant to go full throttle. D’Lo tells a story about a “super aunt” who warned him at the engagement ceremony, “You can get drunk, ah? But don’t play the fool.”

Maybe the Douglas gave off some super aunty vibes. But this larger-than-life female figure, with her sari billowing in the wind like a superhero’s cloak, made bridging diverse communities easier. D’Lo recounts how he looked at the assembled guests and saw how his Tamil Sri Lankan family and the queer transgender BIPOC family “loved each other”.

The show ends with a video of D’Lo’s Appa delivering his wedding speech. After tragically losing one child, he’s not ready to lose another. Pronouns can still trip him up, but he understands that D’Lo’s journey is fueled by the same fundamental question Hamlet asks: “To be or not to be.”

“To T or not to T? A comedic trans journey through (T)Estosterone and masculinity’

Where: Kirk Douglas Theater, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City
When:8pm Tuesday to Friday, 2pm and 8pm Saturday, 1pm and 6.30pm Sunday. Ends July 10th. (Call for exceptions.)
Tickets:$30-$75 (subject to change)
The information:(213) 628-2772 or
Duration:1 hour and 20 minutes without a break
COVID protocol:Proof of full vaccination is required. Masks are mandatory at all times. (Check website for changes. Review: D’Lo’s ‘To T, or Not to T’ is a moving, queer comedy

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