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Spectrum Theatre Ensemble gives neurodivergent artists a voice!

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Malcolm Streitfeld

Anchor Staff Writer

Disclaimer: This article is about two plays, “Gay Narcissus” and “She was a Conquistawhore.” “Gay Narcissus” tackles depression and suicide and “She was a Conquistawhore” involves rape and the aftereffects of trauma. Only keep reading if you are comfortable with these themes and topics.

Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting the Askew Bar & Lounge for day one of the 4th Annual Neurodiversity New Play Festival. Presented by the Spectrum Theatre Ensemble (STE), a neurodiverse theatre company based in Providence, and Die-Cast Collective, a Philadelphia-based theatre company, the festival showcased a series of ten-minute plays written by neurodivergent artists from all over the country. These playwrights worked with STE during the writing process. On the first day, four plays were being presented at the Mirabar and two at the Askew. I ended up seeing the latter two, and they didn’t mess around! Here are my thoughts on “Gay Narcissus” and “She was a Conquistawhore”!

“Gay Narcissus” stars Han Van Schiver. In this poignant melodrama, Schiver plays a traveling country musician who has recently broken up with his partner Cassandra, the seer of Greek-myth fame. Cassandra was well known for her gift of being able to prophesize about the days ahead. Unfortunately, she was also cursed so that no one would ever believe her. The musician now searches for Narcissus, who fell in love with his own reflection and drowned as a result. He hopes to find Narcissus in the Underworld. As Schiver relays the story of Narcissus and his lover, the nymph Echo, to the audience, his emotions burst out in a furious rock metal medley that completely took me off guard. I found myself closing my eyes and losing myself in the raging harmonies as Schiver’s character lashes out at the deities who dared to condemn an innocent human for the so-called crime of having a positive self-image. Every so often, Cassandra leaves a message on Schiver’s answering machine saying that their relationship is over and urging him to move on. She also asks for him to send her his favorite song. As someone who struggles frequently with a harsh inner-critic, I can deeply relate to the issue of having low self-esteem. Schiver completely turns the myth of Narcissus on its head, exposing the flaws inherent in this story and its fellow legends that have been revered for so long. We shouldn’t live in fear of loving and embracing ourselves for who we are, nor should we try to hide our true nature from the world. Everyone is special and unique in their own way and there’s nothing wrong with that. Society has taught us to believe in the false notion that the non-conformists are making a mistake by not acting the same as everyone else. I reject this idea. The world would be much more colorful if people could live in fear of rejection.

That brings me to the second play of the night, “She was a Conquistawhore.” In this scathing Western epic, Rachel O’Hanlon Rodriguez roams the countryside as the legendary Conquistawhore. Rachel’s character frequently argues with her vagina, which is represented by a boisterous gun-slinging rootin’ tootin’ cowboy alter ego named Pete. As the two fight, they repeatedly are forced to confront the expectation of being a good obedient girl forced on them by society. Pete’s attempts to break free of these metaphorical shackles and Rachel’s attempts to steer the two clear of the disastrous consequences that often result from Pete’s adventures both stem from a deeper trauma. The horrors of the past continue to haunt the two wherever they go, and only by reconciling, will they truly be able to ride off into the sunset, no longer afraid of what the many misogynists of 1800’s America think of them. “She was a Conquistawhore” is an emotionally raw and outrageously hilarious play that is unafraid to be more than a bit risque. It boldly challenges traditional gender norms with a fiery roar.

I’m glad I took this opportunity to see the amazing things my fellow neurodivergents are capable of in the theatre world. They poured their hearts and souls into these plays, and those efforts paid off. I encourage all of you to check out the future shows of Spectrum Theatre Ensemble, because they are helping young neurodivergents like myself learn more about who we are. I can’t wait to go to the Festival next year.


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