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Simon Callow Takes on a Trans* Character at Tuesdays at Tesco's

This startling one-performer show probes the difficulties of being a transwoman and a family caretaker.

Photo by Carol Rosegg

Every Tuesday since her mother died, Pauline visits her elderly father to take care of his household chores—cleaning, laundry, the weekly trip to the Tesco's grocery store. But what should be a simple enough series of errands proves fraught with emotion, as Pauline must manage the whims of a domineering and capricious parent, and Andrew cannot come to terms with the fact that, as he sees it, his son Paul has suddenly started to dress like a woman. Tuesdays at Tesco's by Emmanuel Darley, translated from the French by Matthew Hurt and Sarah Vermande, is a powerful one-performer show about a transwoman that dramatizes and invokes the terror of the everyday.

The play does not concern itself with Pauline's time of questioning or struggle to come out as trans*, instead presenting a confident adult woman constantly undermined by the rudeness and misunderstanding of strangers and family alike. Every moment of the piece is a battle for Pauline, whether it is to get Andrew to use her chosen name, to hold her head high in the face of whispers or to convince her father that his laundry can be done by machine rather than by hand. These seemingly petty issues become critical in Pauline's world, in which such small matters can--and do--prove to be life-or-death concerns.

And though Pauline's situation is obviously dependent on her gender identity, Tuesdays at Tesco's encompasses universal struggles that are immensely relatable despite the unique framework, from grieving the loss of a parent to managing a recalcitrant older family member in the wake of his lifelong intimidating behavior toward her. Such an emotional connection proves vital, as with only one actor and one musician onstage, the potential for literal action and theatricality is limited. Even within such confines, what you take away from such a performance is a series of searing images that are only ever in your own mind's eye: Pauline subtly choosing the checkout line behind a pillar at Tesco's to avoid stares, crossing her shaved legs defiantly at the cafe or kissing her father's shockingly kind friend on the cheek after a chance encounter.

That's not to say that you spend the 85 minutes of the play staring at one actor on a bare stage. In fact, if anything, the beautiful set incorporating sleek aesthetic shapes and fairytale childhood elements actually distracts from the performance, as these elements are not truly incorporated into the action of the piece at all. Likewise, while the live musical accompaniment by pianist Conor Mitchell adds another dimension to the piece, his "character" wandering about the area of the piano making notes is unrelated to everything else occurring onstage, while Pauline's occasional dance interludes to the piano music are simply confusing.

Ultimately, however, this is a show carried by the performance of a single actor, and Simon Callow certainly does not disappoint. His extraordinary storytelling and bodily confidence transforms Pauline into a relatable, fully fleshed out character, her quirks and joys as believable as her constant anxieties. There is no rush to get through the text or to any particular moment; instead, Callow gently makes his way through gestures large and small as we together experience Pauline and Andrew's day together.

Despite an abrupt ending, audiences will leave Tuesdays at Tesco's feeling as though they have spent a lifetime with these characters, understanding the insignificant and the commonplace as well as the dramatic elements of Pauline's life. It is a sympathetic and intellectual play in one, in a perfect balance to inspire conversation long after leaving the theater.

Tuesdays at Tesco's plays at 59E59 through June 7.

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