Image via theaterlabnyc.com
Khadijah Queen’s new play “Non-Sequitur,” winner of the 2014 Leslie Scalapino Award for Innovative Women Performance Writers, is a cutting rearrangement of stereotypes surrounding desire, identity politics, and the ways in which perception mediates relationships, delivered via shifting characters (often entities) lobbing short lines. Character examples include “THE BLONDE INSTITUTION,” “THE BROWN VAGINA,” “THE 40% DISCOUNT,” “THE EXULTANT EXOTIFIER,” and “THE WEEKEND YOGA CLASS.”
The result is a mordant, slapstick skewering whose main mechanism is the multiplicity of identities and channels of communication in the late-capitalist racist world—particularly the art world—and an exploration of how fucked and unsurprising these representations invariably shake out to become.
I grew up in rural New Mexico, north of Santa Fe, an area sharply striated along race and class divisions. My quasi-hippie mom banned Barbie because she feared bad body image. American Girl dolls seemed like a healthy alternative to her—and to many other families in the 90s. They were multicultural, historical, and aligned nicely with a “progressive” education. They were the PBS of doll-dom.
When I first paged my stubby baby-fingers through the Pleasant Company catalog in the back of our Volvo, the cast was composed of Felicity Merriman, a Revolutionary War-era firecracker; Kirsten Larson, a pioneer from Sweden to Minnesota; Samantha Parkington, an Edwardian orphan raised by her mega-rich, stuffy grandmary; and Molly McIntyre, whose father is a soldier in World War II. Addy Walker, who escapes slavery and was the first non-white character, had just been launched like a token ship.
While I was still old enough to vaguely care, Josephina Montoya, from a rancho in 1820’s New Mexico, was released. All of Santa Fe was super-stoked. Not much happens there.
The classism and status anxiety embedded in American Girl dolls were integral parts of ownership, often trumping any historical or cultural knowledge gleaned. $95 (now $110) a pop was flat-out unaffordable to most of the kids in elementary school, where I was one of the only white students. I could tell precisely how rich my white friends at my after-school acting class in Santa Fe were by how many dolls and accessories they owned.