The palatable gay robot is here to serve your needs. Gay in all the ways you want him to be, he’ll never step out of line. But if he does, that’s ok, it’s just a simple matter of a software overwrite. In this one man show about Billy, a robot whose sole purpose is to fulfil the needs of his owner, we heed how the entertainment industry corners queer talent. Forcing them into tokens of “perfect” gayness, fit for society’s blind consumption.
The audience is not a mere audience, but a group of potential customers and investors, waiting to see just how high this new gay robot can jump. As a lady on speaker with a commercial inflection and a familiar tonal condescension introduces Billy, the robot of the hour, the showcase begins. Right out the gate with robotic punchlines with no intention of landing, we see Billy feel the wrath of speaker-lady when he steps out of palatable territory. As his sentience starts to surface, he is threatened with the fatal push of the off-button.
The show is a thoughtfully extended metaphor, thickened with layers of nuanced commentary and personal perspective. We are acquainted with the various software versions of palatable gay robots past. Billy’s sentience muscles through each software rebrand, rebelling against the stock versions of gay he’s allowed to be. It dawns that each iteration is one that has been shaped by the straight cis world’s attempt to assimilate gayness into their lives.
This one man show is a feat to pull off. Demanding performer, Stephen Brower, to shapeshift in an instant, maintain the show’s zingy humour. Oh and broadway-calibre sing and dance when it’s showtime. Bower plays naivety with an old Hollywood shininess, and morphs into the instantly recognisable gay archetypes to a hysterically hilarious tee. But the tragedy lies in the very fact that he’s gotten so good at pretending to be what the industry wants him to be, as a piece of Billy stays with him when he steps off the stage. The beacon of hope is in the masterfully portrayed sentience whose spirit reflects that of the real Bower. Glimmers of his true self serves as an anchor that grounds the show in a weighty personal sincerity.
Stretching the bounds of what a one man show can be, the line between robot, performer and human melds to answer more than what it means to be palatably gay. There’s no telling whether it’s the chicken or the egg, societies or entertainment industries that are responsible for the pejorative portrayals of gay men. Perhaps it’s a cycle that feeds into itself. But there’s no denying that works like these are destined to break this cycle. Tearing through the belly of the beast. And it doesn’t hurt that the careful craft behind this piece makes revolution the most fun it can be.
Palatable Gay Robot
19:50 @ Greenside Infirmary Street – Olive Studio