Nataline Rine, Associate New York Critic
“13 Fruitcakes” dazzles and destroys in one-two punches expertly strung along thirteen original musical vignettes depicting the queer experience across history. These thirteen scenes transport us from ancient to modern times, highlighting obscure and noteworthy LGBTQ+ figures and the prices they paid throughout their historical impact, ranging from AD 780 Korean King Hyegong (said to be more woman than man) to Eleanor Roosevelt (seen kissing many women in projected photographs). This range of time travel is connected through video and photo projections, with minimal text setting up the circumstances of each scene about to unfurl.
Each scene is also led and connected by a fictional character the program calls Orlando, played with ferocity and flair by Korea’s most prominent drag performer More Zimin, who makes appearances sometimes as the prominent figure in question or other times as merely a supporting role, an omniscient and conspicuous presence symbolizing the encouragement and inspiration needed throughout time and space for these “great gay ancestors” (as the program describes) to fight against social injustice and oppression in order to be true to one’s identity.
Written and directed by Byungkoo Ahn and featuring the Singing Actors Repertory from South Korea, this beautiful song cycle composed by Gihieh Lee is a kaleidoscope of opulence and tragedy, combining the original music with lyrics by such notable writers as Walt Whitman, Federico Garcia Lorca, Oscar Wilde, and Gertrude Stein. Lesser known to a Western audience are the scenes depicting ancient Asian struggles, with heartbreaking words by Chungdamsa and Hagiwara Sakutaro, elucidating universal struggles against man-made definitions of “nature” (aided by gorgeous costume and projection design incorporating birds, trees, and flowing design to highlight the ebb and flow of all creation). Each scene’s poem is projected onto a screen for easy following; even when the lyrics themselves were not always in English, the universality was clear throughout the frequently operatic and heartbreaking scenes told only through the singing and silent acting of the top-notch ensemble. More Zimin lip synchs their songs, performed live by the superb Jayoung Jeong, welcoming and berating each period’s struggles with open hearts bleeding to reach a large audience during this Pride Month.
“13 Fruitcakes” could benefit from trimming transitions, with wordy slides interrupting the flow of otherwise silent and visual cues. The somber and sometimes silly scenes are accompanied by Los Angeles Laptop Collective who, dressed as angels, add layers of electronica noises throughout the show, serving a similarly omniscient presence as More Zimin, as constant observers on the fringes of the stage. It is as if they are commenting or drawing energy from looking back in time from the perspective of today, mixing the contemporary electronica sound as a layer on the historical visual anecdotes. Intense and intriguing, “13 Fruitcakes” is a slice of history mixed with a poignant message and visual artistry of the continuum of universal queer oppression, deftly meant to be chewed on long after one leaves the theater.
“13 Fruitcakes” is written and directed by Byungkoo Ahn, and is presented as part of Stonewall 50 at La Mama. Music by Gihieh Lee, and lyrics by Lorca, Wilde, Whitman and other Queer Poets, with electronic music by Los Angeles Laptop Collective. The cast includes More Zimin and the Singing Actors Repertory.
“13 Fruitcakes” ran on June 13-16, 2019 as part of the STONEWALL 50 Festival at the Ellen Stewart Theater (66 E. 4 St).
Photo of More Zimin – 13 Fruitcakes by Theo Cote