North Brooklyn’s Trans Theatre Fest: Toxic and Heartfelt “Love Letters to Nobody, or Insignificant Others”

Graphic by Kevin Burke
Graphic by Kevin Burke

“Daily reminder: you’re spectacular.”

It’s refreshing when this quote returns in Maybe Burke’s one-person, self-explorative show. For sixty minutes Burke shares personal accounts both harrowing and poignant, so this motif, delivered downstage right every few anecdotes, becomes a welcome respite and window into Maybe’s world: As their motivational adjective of choice, “spectacular” does not connote one sex or another.

And this refrain becomes necessary, which is not to say that Burke’s show, Love Letters to Nobody, or Insignificant Others, is devoid of levity or humor. Instead, the writer/performer alternates between the two poles in their play at The Brick’s Trans Theatre Festival, sharing their side of the ever-evolving trans story in America. No topic, from nascent gender queries to a beautiful mess of adolescent sexual encounters, is out of reach in Burke’s dynamic script.

The show is sincerely if not expertly performed; Burke is a captivating though fledgling artist. Their dances to (often Robyn’s) transitional music create some of the most upbeat, infectious moments. Other times, monologues lack bridging and idle past their expiration date. Director Arial Mahler makes apt use of The Brick’s exposed wall, giving Burke an indomitable obstacle to battle when discussing their sexual abuse. While this strategy wears thin the more it is used, it is still hard to contend with Burke’s pointed climax that they hurl at the wall: “You stole so many firsts from me.”

Photo of Maybe Burke by Gyda Arber
Photo of Maybe Burke by Gyda Arber

A more effervescent moment shows Maybe imagining a proposal after making eye contact with a potential partner. They steal a napkin from their first date’s restaurant and begin collecting more in the hopes that the cloths will weave a tapestry of Maybe’s passion. Ever self-aware, Maybe asks, “Is this optimistic or pathetic?” The young yet savvy artist explores the question just enough while letting it linger.

More stories play out — some half-baked, the majority warm and salty at the center. The monologues are often direct addresses, but a few — especially one fraternal confrontation — depict Maybe’s clear audience. Highlights include an ecstatic Maybe after a first “girls night” and a college romance gone sour when a lover insisted Maybe was “handsome.” Most of the stories vocalize some kind of trauma, and even if Maybe is better suited for activism or writing than solo performance, the onstage euphoria is irresistibly contagious. When Maybe smiles, the audience beams.

Love Letters comes at an appropriate time — the final show kicked off Pride weekend and is a welcome addition to The Brick’s Trans Theatre Festival (performances wrap up on June 25 in Williamsburg). Even if the play is self-serving, Maybe ensures it is one worth hearing.

And one thing is certain: Maybe is spectacular.

The Brick Theater is located at 579 Metropolitan Avenue in Williamsburg.
The Trans Theatre Festival runs through June 26, with performances closing on June 25 and art finishing on June 26.

About Billy McEntee

Billy McEntee has been fortunate to work for arts non-profits in Boston, Denver, Berkeley, and now New York. His writing has appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, Vanity Fair, American Theatre, HowlRound, Observer, and others. He's usually getting wine at Dandelion or eating cookies at Archestratus.

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