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StageStruck: Being “Me”

D’Lo celebrates his/her queer/Hindu/hip-hop identity.

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Thursday, December 06, 2012

D’Lo is a compound of contradictions. And that’s exactly the point—the point of his one-person show Ramble-Ations, and of D’Lo himself. Even the male pronoun is a contested term in the diverse identity of this self-described “queer Tamil Sri L.A.nkan-American, political theatre artist/writer, director, comedian and music producer.”

As D’Lo told me recently, “I identify as transgender, but I don’t pass as a cisgender male all the time. I go by male pronouns but sound female to most. And though I love being me, ‘me’ also gets me into some heated situations at times.”

Ramble-Ations, which D’Lo partly developed a few years ago with New WORLD Theater at UMass, returns to the area this weekend as part of Sandglass Theater’s Voices of Community series of performances with visiting artists exploring issues of diversity and identity. The show confronts the contradictions of being “born Queer into a Tamil-Sri Lankan Hindu family and raised by hip-hop.”

What most struck me, seeing the work-in-progress then and revisiting it now, is that D’Lo has rejected none of those warring identities and influences, but embraces all of them. Even though “they don’t allow for one another,” he has said, “these things make me.”

Ramble-Ations is a multidisciplinary, six-character compound of real-life and imagined people whose stories reflect the experiences of America’s “outsiders”: immigrants, people of color, queers and others, all of whom exist within the “me” that is D’Lo. They include Uncle G, who channels the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi; mother Amma, performed in a sari and full makeup; cousin Vanathi, a hyper Valley Girl with heart; and Nic, “the most free of all of the characters—the epitome of ‘two-spirited,’ done street.” There are also passages performed in silhouette, recalling the South Asian shadow-play tradition and, in this weekend’s performance, complementing Sandglass’s own identity as a puppet theater.

Enacted with both passion and humor, the characters and their stories touch on the pressures of assimilation and “normalization” in America’s melting pot. D’Lo’s very presence challenges assumptions about gender and sexuality. He “looks like a man but sounds like Mickey Mouse,” as one writer observed. He had a double mastectomy a few years ago and, while he says there has always been “a desire to be the man I never could be,” he currently rejects hormone therapy because he “doesn’t want to lose the ability to convincingly play both genders”—that is, to be completely himself.

As D’Lo told a Sri Lankan newspaper last month after his first-ever performance there, “For me my queerness is my social-justice politic. I would rather be visible in a world that pushes me to be invisible than be invisible because I fit in.”•

Ramble-Ations: Dec. 7-8, 8 p.m., Sandglass Theater, 17 Kimball Hill, Putney, Vt., (802) 387-4051, sandglasstheater.org.

Contact Chris Rohmann at StageStruck@crocker.com.

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