Review: The Steppenwolf Production of The Christians

One of the top things I wanted to do during my brief stay in Chicago was see a live theatre performance. I only had time, practically speaking, to see one show, so I saw The Christians by Lucas Hnath as performed by the Steppenwolf Theatre Company.

The production itself – the acting, the directing, the set, the lighting, etc. – was excellent. Which, given that Steppenwolf is considered one of the best theatre companies in the entire United States, is not a surprise. Given that the production as a whole is excellent, I do not have much to say about it, so I will discuss the play itself instead.

In the play, a pastor has grown a storefront church into a megachurch, and they have just paid down the debt they incurred to build their large gleaming building. As soon as the debt is paid, the paster comes out with a sermon which claims that a) there is no hell and that b) belief in hell creates divisions with people, therefore Christians ought to drop their belief in hell to be better able to spread the word.

The play briefly discusses the Christian theological basis for both the ‘hell exists’ and ‘hell does not exist’ hypotheses, but really, the story is about how this impacts the people rather than about the dogma. The pastor claimed that belief in hell creates gaps between people which makes communication impossible yet, ironically, by declaring his lack of belief in hell, he creates gaps between himself and his congregation.

Even though I have never been a Christian, I still felt the play spoke to me, because ultimately, it’s a play about human nature, not strictly Christianity. One of the stand-out lines was “Does absolute tolerance mean being intolerant of the intolerant?” In the context of the play, that meant whether the pastor’s ideas of accepting that everyone goes to heaven means casting out the members of the church who invoke hellfire in their preaching, but it’s a valid question in many other contexts.

Another issue in the story is that it is strongly implied that the pastor had stopped believing in hell long before he came out with this sermon, but did not dare preach about it until the debt was paid off. This leaves some members of the congregation feeling like they were manipulated in order to secure their tithes. This gets to the issue of having a religious organization which requires a lot of money – it creates economic incentives for people to preach ideas they don’t believe. Though the pastor in the play is not an atheist (he believes in God even though he does not believe in hell), it reminds me of some of the people that The Clergy Project reaches out to – religious leaders who have stopped believing in their religion yet keep on working because they need the paycheck (or they fear backlash from the congregation, etc.)

The play also makes clear that treating the members of the congregation who continue to believe in hell as ignorant or hateful people will not cause them to drop their belief in hell – quite the opposite, in fact.

After the play, I was talking with a young couple about it. For them, the play resonated with them because it showed how a change in beliefs could break personal relationships, and one of them said that he avoids discussing what he feels about religion with his parents because he is afraid that would cause damage to his relationship with them.

It is a thought-provoking play which I think is worthwhile for both Christian and non-Christian audiences. If given an opportunity, I recommend seeing it.

CAUTION! FALLING ICE! – My Stay in Chicago

Okay, I could not resist using this movie poster. I can hardly believe that this is a 2002 film - I remember when it had its first run in theaters and was really popular.

Okay, I could not resist using this movie poster. I can hardly believe that this film dates as far back as 2002 – I remember when it had its first run in theaters and was really popular.

Before I went to Chicago, EVERYONE was warning me about how cold it would be. Even when I boarded the train in St. Louis, the conductor said “It’s cold in Chicago. We should be going south, not north.” I kept getting told that ~nothing~ I have experienced would prepare me for Chicago’s coldness. And windiness. And snowiness.

The train crossed into Illinois pretty much as soon as it got out St. Louis city limits. The train made stop after stop in various Illinois towns. As a native of Chicago I eventually met in Chicago said (with her distinctly Chicago accent) “Outside of Chicago, Illinois is a rural state. I remember, when I was going to Springfield, there was a thirty mile stretch when I lost phone reception, and I thought ‘Whoa, we’re still in Illinois, we’re not far from Chicago.'” She also said in the same conversation “The people downstate say we are moochers, but Cook County [where Chicago is located] provides 70% of the tax revenue for the state of Illinois. We’re not moochers.”

Indeed, the only place the train passed through which was not rural was Springfield, the capital of Illinois. I enjoyed seeing the small Illinois towns, and watching the people all bundled up boarding the train. And a lot of people boarded the train – it was an ‘overfull’ train since there were more passengers than seats. Most of those passengers did not board in St. Louis – there were entire cars which were empty when we departed St. Louis – which shows that a lot of people in small-town Illinois use the train to get to Chicago.

When I was in Missouri, I didn’t see any snow. However, only about 40 minutes into Illinois, I started seeing frost, and about twenty minutes later, I saw landscapes coated with snow. There were a lot of fields, but there was also quite a bit of forest.

Meanwhile, I was uncomfortable, because the train was overheated – way more heated that any other Amtrak train I have ever taken.

Anyway, as we were getting to Chicago, I was bracing myself for the test – was I ready for Chicago winter weather?

Answer: the streets of Chicago – on a night which even local Chicago people said was particularly cold – were more comfortable than that overheated train.

I am happy to report that Chicago (at least near the train station) has better street lighting than New Orleans. It was pretty exciting, not just walking through a city I had never been to before, but walking through an environment I had never been in before. I have experienced snow in Kyoto, but Kyoto snow is much less intense than Chicago snow. The sidewalks of Chicago, even when they are cleared of snow, retain a thin layer of salt crystals which give them a frosty appearance.

That said, I must thank everyone who gave me dire warnings of Chicago winter weather. They persuaded me to bring clothing which made my time in Chicago more comfortable than it would have been otherwise (long underwear is very useful).

I slept in a hostel in Greektown, which is on the eastern edge of the ‘Near West Side’ and has a lot of Greek eateries. I suspect that the managers/owners of the hostel are also Greek-Americans.

The next day – which was the only full day I spent in Chicago – I spent hours walking around in downtown. I loved the look of snow blanketing the urban landscape. I noticed an abundance of signs saying ‘Caution – Falling Ice’ – hence the title of this post. Though I never rode the El, I enjoyed looking up at the tracks and hearing the trains above me.

Chicago is famous for its architecture, and yes, a lot of it is nice. However, the Sears Tower (I know it has another name now, but I still think of it as the ‘Sears Tower’) does not look like anything special at ground level – it just looks like a generic skyscraper.

The highlight of the walk was not the buildings, but Lake Michigan. It was the first time I had seen any of the Great Lakes. I liked its blue/turquoise/cyan color against the white/gray sky. I saw a great variety of ice floating on the lake waters. In some places the ice was really choppy and broken up, full of white edges, as the lake water undulated beneath it. In another place, the ice formed large sheets which were nearly translucent, making them the same color as the water, but one could see cracks in the plates of ice, like cracks in a glass window. I was impressed by a pair of ducks which were happily splashing in the lake water right next to one of the ice sheets. And the beaches – I have never seen a beach blanketed with snow before. I love the interested blobs of frozen sand which looked like cool complicated rocks – and felt as hard as rock.

In the afternoon, it began to snow anew. I felt that walking through Chicago was like walking through a Christmas card, and experience I’ve never had before. I grew up in coastal California, where it simply does not snow – in California, winter means the landscape because green with sprouting and reviving plants and new life (in other words, winter is to us what spring is to East Coast culture). As a child, the only times I ever saw snow was when my family visited the Sierra mountains – in summer. I saw snow fall from the sky for the first time in Kyoto, and that is the only other urban environment to date where I have seen snow, but, well, Kyoto does not look like a Christmas card.

I loved the weather in Chicago. I felt it was a challenge and an adventure, and the scenery was gorgeous. However, most residents of Chicago had a reaction like this when they heard I was going to San Francisco next –

Me: Next, I’m going to San Francisco.
Chicago Resident: I want to go to San Francisco.
Me: It doesn’t snow in San Francisco.
Chicago Resident: I know, that’s why I want to go there!

Some residents of Chicago seemed a bit … disappointed that I was not put off by the weather. However, they explained that, while the weather had novelty value for me because it was all new to me, dealing with the snow and the wind and the cold gets old when one has to put up with it all winter, year after year. I can understand that perspective.

In the evening, I … went to the theatre. There was no way I was going to stay in Chicago without seeing a theatre show (well, maybe if I were in Chicago on a Monday night I would skip the theatre). I saw The Christians performed by the Steppenwolf Theatre Company. I had seen a Steppenwolf production more than ten years ago when they toured in San Francisco, but this was obviously the first time I saw a show in their home theatre. I will post a review later, but in summary, it was excellent.

I was talking to one of the employees at Steppenwolf, and I learned that she is from Jackson, Mississippi. That’s near Vicksburg, so I told her that I had recently visited Vicksburg. I then learned that both of her parents were from Vicksburg. It’s a small world.

I was seated next to a long-term Steppenwolf subscriber, and I enjoyed talking with her before the show began.

After hearing about my travels, the Steppenwolf employees decided to give me a Steppenwolf notebook, a Steppenwolf pen, and a complementary drink at their bar after the show. I was amazed by their generosity. I enjoyed a cocktail at their bar, and was impressed without how many people went to the bar right after the show. I guess it is a Chicago tradition, or maybe just a Steppenwolf one. I really liked the cocktail, which had vodka and ginger and spices and some other things (I guess it was a variation of a Moscow Mule).

On my last morning in Chicago, I went to Hull House. That happened to be the one day of the week that it is closed, but that was okay, since I was content to just look at the building and peek through the windows. Hull House, of course, was the base for the historically important social activist Jane Addams.

In summary, I loved Chicago and its winter weather. This was the right time for me to visit.

An Asexual Perspective on the play IN LOVE AND WARCRAFT (Part 3)

In Part 1 I introduced the play and its protagonist, and in Part 2 I focused on Evie’s relationship with her new boyfriend Raul. Here, I get to the heart of why I think this play sends a harmful message to people who are sex-averse or otherwise prefer not having sex. In other words, I think this play supports compulsory sexuality.

The playwright discusses the play in this video. I recommend watching the whole video, but if you can’t/don’t want to, here are the quotes which I wish to discuss (emphasis is mine):

But the irony of that is that she is so terrified of intimacy that she has never been in a real relationship herself…

… And she’s happy in her own little bubble until she meets this guy, who comes to her first as a client, but then she falls in love with him, and he really challenges her to get out of her shell and get her from her Warcraft world, and to be with him, and to be intimate, you know, go past those boundaries that she set on herself

…I want them to come away with the feeling that whoever they are, and whatever they feel, whatever their own desires are, um, whatever they want for themselves, in terms of relationships, in terms of sex, in terms of, I guess, life, is that it’s okay to want that, and that it’s also okay, and I also want them to understand that sometimes the ideas we have about ourselves are often not based on what we want or what we feel, but are based on fear, fear of trying something out, fear of being different, fear of trying to push back against the boundaries that you’ve set for yourself. So I hope that they have a good time, and that they are kinder to themselves when they leave.

Somehow, when the playwright is talking about people having to get over their fear of trying something different and pushing against their boundaries, I don’t think she is talking about Raul challenging himself by entering a sexless romantic relationship.

Having seen the play, I can tell you that ‘intimacy’ is just a euphemism for ‘sex’. Evie seems perfectly fine with every kind of non-sexual intimacy (for example, cuddling) which is addressed in the play.

The playwright talks about how “sometimes the ideas we have about ourselves are often not based on what we want or what we feel, but are based on fear.” First of all, fear is a feeling, so I don’t get how something which is based on fear is not based on a feeling. Second of all – and this is a point which I hammer again and again in this post – is that the playwright implies here that Evie actually wants sex and feels a sexual impulse, and that she is mistakenly basing her idea about herself on “fear” rather than her feelings (which somehow don’t include fear) … YET the playwright never bothers to actually depict Evie wanting or feeling inclined toward sex (until the very last minute of the play – I’ll get to that later). For 99.9% of the play, Evie’s feelings about sex seemed to be entirely fear, repulsion, or, just maybe, indifference.

In the version of the play I saw, Evie does not have a single reason to have sex which is not based on fear. The only reasons, as far as I could tell, for Evie to have sex are a) because of peer pressure (embodied by Kitty), b) because she’s scared of losing the new boyfriend she likes and c) because she considers herself broken for not wanting sex. Do any of these seem like a good reason to have sex?

Again, I would interpret this very differently if Evie were shown as having any reason to have sex which is not based on fear – such as experiencing sexual desire, or seeking thrills, or curiosity, or wanting to make a baby or … something positive.

I am sure the playwright could have written a very entertaining scene where Evie has a supremely unrealistic sex-fantasy, and then her attempts to make that fantasy a reality with Raul are sabotaged by her insecurities and lack of experience. Such a scene would have indicated that Evie feels sexual desire.

Given that the play offers no other reason for Evie to want sex, I must conclude that the playwright thinks either that a) everybody automatically wants sex (and thus asexuals like myself, and many of the sex-averse people who read this blog, aren’t real people), so there is no point in showing why Evie would want sex (aside from peer pressure and self-esteem issues) or b) peer pressure and a sense of being broken are excellent reasons to ‘push against’ sexual boundaries one has put up for oneself. Both of those thoughts are toxic. If anyone who has seen/read the play can think of a non-toxic explanation, please comment.

Yet another real life example of a sex-averse geeky young woman who has had boyfriends is Queenie, and she’s written about how the assumption that everybody is going to have sex has created trouble for her romantic pursuits. A passage from that post:

What made everything more confusing is that, when I was a teenager, my mum gave me a lot of those oh-no-you’re-hitting-puberty-and-you’re-getting-all-these-weird-feelings-and-growing-hair-in-awkward-places books, which would inevitably say, “Don’t have sex if you don’t want to. Just say no.” The thing is, the scenarios the books would present were:

A. a skeezy guy walks up to you at a party and says, “Hey, girl, let’s have sex in a suitably grubby place and probably without any protection,” and you say no


B. your boyfriend (always your boyfriend, because apparently none of your Weird New Feelings could be directed toward ladies) is pressuring you to have sex and you ask him to wait until you feel ready. Do you see the issue here? You are asking him to wait until you feel ready. The implication is that there will be a time that you feel ready and that then you will have sex, because this is what people do in romantic relationships. Saying “please wait” is not saying “no”; it is saying “maybe later.”

And this is a Problem.

To be fair, there is one scene in the play which possibly could have been construed as Evie acting on sexual desire … in a different production. In the production I saw, the acting showed that Evie was acting sexually because she was afraid of losing Raul – it did not seem like she enjoyed or wanted it at all. If the playwright did not want it to be performed that way, she should have been more explicit about Evie experiencing sexual desire so that it would not be misinterpreted.

If Evie wanted sex for a positive reason, I would accept the playwright’s talk about how people should “push their boundaries.” However, given Evie’s intense sex-aversion and lack of any reason to want sex for her own good, I interpret the playwrights comments about ‘boundaries’ as “If you have boundaries such as ‘I do not have sex’, you should push those boundaries, and capitulate to social pressure to have sex.”

If anyone reading this thinks that I am bringing up an academic point – I am not. As an active participant of both an online and a “real life” asexual community, I can tell you that it is very common for people to become hurt and unhappy because they and the people around them said that it was wrong for them to avoid sex, and once they realize that it is OK to not want sex and to live without having sex, they become much happier. I would have included some real life examples but, unsurprisingly, people who have had particularly difficult personal experiences are reluctant to write about it online, and even if they are online, I would not want to bring such personal experiences into this discussion without their permission. If you want to find out about these kinds of personal experiences, leave a comment, and I’ll see what I can do.

If Evie is meant to be a person who actually wants sex for a positive reason, you know what would have been a great plot device to show that? Let Evie go to an asexual meeting, like the ones organized by Ace Los Angeles (to be fair, I don’t know whether or not Ace Los Angeles itself was active when the play was written, but I am pretty sure there was some asexual group based in Los Angeles which was active at the time – the play is less than five years old). If Evie met with the asexuals, she would have a) found out that she is not broken (!!!), and b) either found out that she does not want sex (and is possibly sex-averse and/or asexual), OR that unlike many people who go to ace meetings, she does want sex. Just as the playwright contrasted Evie with the Christian bride, the playwright could have contrasted Evie with the people who show up at asexual meetings.

Yet another reason putting an asexual meeting in the play would have been good is that it would help asexuals in the audience. First of all, if they did not already know that asexual communities exist, it would have told them that, and then they could look up their local asexual groups, or look for online groups. Second, even if they already knew about asexual communities, seeing ourselves acknowledged in media feels good, especially since good portrayals are rare (portrayals of asexual groups are even rarer – here is a discussion of asexual groups represented in media). Third, even if Evie ended up being totally into having sex, the asexual meeting would demonstrate that people who don’t want and don’t have sex are still totally OK.

Ah, I haven’t spoiled the ending of the play yet, have I? Well, at the very end of the play, Raul says he wants to continue the relationship even if there is no sex, and Evie says that she just might want to rip off his clothes and have sex with him. The End.


Again, the play gave no reason which I understand for Evie’s change of heart. Why, when she was so sex-averse throughout the entire play, and never had any reason to have sex which was not based on fear, would she suddenly have a change of heart. If she avoided sex only because of her fears, what dispelled her fears, or how did she over come them? I don’t get it.

Also, assuming that Raul is not pretending to be okay with a sexless relationship like he had earlier in the play … what changed his mind? My best guess is that he missed Evie so much while she disappeared that he decided that he is willing to have a sexless relationship with her if that’s what it takes to stay together. If that’s the case, I wish he had said so.

Anyway, back to Evie. Maybe Evie is a sex-averse demisexual who does in fact want sex with the rare person she is sexually attracted too, and it took a while for her to become sexually attracted to Raul, or maybe Evie is actually arcflux, or maybe … I could keep going, but considering the lack of context which supports such explanations, I consider them improbable.

The only probable explanation which I can think of is, once again, compulsory sexuality. Evie must finally want sex, because everyone wants sex eventually (except those of us who don’t, but oh well, I guess acknowledgement of our existence is too much to ask for).

The theme of the play is that we should get out of our imaginary world and face the real world.

The irony here is that, for many of us, the ‘imaginary world’ is the world where we are all late bloomers who are waiting for the “right person” to sweep us off our feet and turn on our sexual natures. A long time ago, I myself believe this about myself. For us, living in the ‘real world’ has been about realizing that we are different, that we aren’t going to be sexual like other people, and coming to terms with that reality.

That said … this play came very close to depicting this kind of situation well. Even if Evie’s last line had been changed – if instead of talking about how she might want to rip off Raul’s clothes, she is totally floored by Raul’s willingness to have a sexless relationship that she composes an awesome oral love letter to him on the spot (after all, he became interested in her in the first place because of how she writes love letters, so it would have been an appropriate ending), my perspective would be different. I would have still preferred having asexuality at least mentioned in the play, but I would not be saying that this play supports compulsory sexuality. I also thing this kind of ending would have better affirmed the idea it’s okay for people to be who they are and want what they want.

Irritating as I find compulsory sexuality, I am not particularly concerned about people like me who are already well versed in asexuality. I am concerned that some 20-something-year olds who have never had sex, feel very averse to having sex, and feel broken because of that, have been in the audience of this play. They may have seen themselves in Evie … only to see that, in the end, instead of Evie reaching out to other people like herself and realizing that it okay to be the way she is, or at least discovering that she can be happy and get what she wants as a sex-averse person, it is strongly implied that she was just a sexual butterfly who ‘needed’ to come out of her cocoon. And I am afraid that some of those audience members may continue to feel broken because, after having seen this play with a character who seemed so much like themselves, they still feel isolated, and they still feel like failures because they haven’t acheived Evie’s metamorphosis. It for people like them that I have written by far the longest post ever on this blog to date.


If anyone wants a good fictional example of couple consisting of a geeky young woman who does not want sex getting into a ‘relationship’ with a nice young man who is interested in pursuing sex, I suggest the novel Quicksilver by R.J. Anderson.


EDIT: If you are a theatre company who is planning to produce this play, I have some advice: reach out to sex-averse and/or asexual people. One of the top suggestions I have for how this play could have better presented people-not-wanting-sex is to mention asexuality – you can do this without changing the script! Include in your program information about local asexual groups (if any), as well as links to online asexual resources. You can invite a local ace group, if there is one in your area, for post-show discussions. Heck, if you offer them a group discount, I suspect a lot of them would be willing to buy tickets. Get your cast (especially whoever is playing Evie) to talk to real 21+ year old sex-averse people who have never had sex so they can better understand the experience. This play has ambiguity with regards to how it presents sex-averse people and their relationships, so there is some leeway in how a theatre company presents it. I think it possible for the producers of this play to significantly reduce the negative impact it could have on audience members who see themselves in Evie.

An Asexual Perspective on the play IN LOVE AND WARCRAFT (Part 2)

In Part 1, I introduced the play and Evie, an obviously sex-averse protagonist who may possibly also be asexual. Of course, much of the play revolves around Evie’s relationship with her new ‘real life’ boyfriend (as opposed to her World-of-Warcraft boyfriend).
Raul is originally one of Evie’s clients – he commissions her to write a love letter to his ex-girlfriend so they can get back together, and then decides, based on the letter, that he would rather have Evie as his girlfriend instead.

Evie, on her part, seems to genuinely like Raul, and is happy to start dating him. Sex happens to be a red line for her. However, her “best friend” roommate Kitty keeps on pressuring her to have sex (hmmm … this reminds me of how my mother “lost her virginity” at the age of 22), and Raul is clearly unhappy about not having sex with Evie.

At some point, Evie makes it explicit to Raul that she does not want sex, and he nominally accepts it … but it’s clearly not okay with him. He is also upset that Evie spends so much time playing World of Warcraft. They strike the bargain that, if Evie stops playing Warcraft, the Raul won’t have sex with her.

That is a disturbing bargain, isn’t it? The bargain basically says “If you refrain from this activity which does not involve me at all, then I agree to not do this activity which involves your bodily autonomy.”

Okay, I get it, having someone spend an excessive amount of time playing a computer game instead of investing in a personal relationship can be a problem. That said, it is much less of a problem than trying to violate someone’s personal boundaries. They should not be treated as equivalents.

And the fact that Raul asks Evie to quit Warcraft completely rather than just asking Evie for more time to spend together or to not play Warcraft in his presence … is worrisome. Why does Raul care if Evie is playing Warcraft when he isn’t around anyway? EDIT: Actually, Evie also has an (ex-)boyfriend in World of Warcraft. Even so, I think if that is what’s bothering Raul, he should be content with Evie breaking up with Warcraft-boyfriend, not tell her to stop playing Warcraft altogether. If he does not trust her … well, that is something they need to address.

A real-life example of a geeky sex-averse young woman who dated a young man who did want sex is luvtheheaven. Her boyfriend was very respectful of luvtheheaven’s personal and bodily boundaries, and never pushed her into sexual activity she had not consented to.

I cannot say the same of Raul. He never goes as far as Kitty – who had made out with Evie without her consent – but he definitely does start small sexual things with Evie which she clearly did not consent to. Raul only makes brief apologies, no apologies along the lines of “I crossed your boundaries and bothered you, and it’s not cool that I did that.” Then again, Kitty never apologizes for what she did to Evie, so I guess that puts Raul on ethically higher ground.

Kitty, of course, keeps on telling Evie how lucky to is to have such a boyfriend, and that most boyfriends would be gone as soon as they heard the no sex part, and she shouldn’t throw away her great opportunity and have sex with him already. Never does Kitty ask whether sex would make feel Evie happy.

The Evie-Raul relationship can be seen as an embodiment of one of the most common ways to invalidate asexuality or sex-aversion in young people – “you haven’t met the right person yet”. “You haven’t met/been with the right man” is the most common way that people try to invalidate my asexuality and disinclination to pursue sex (I am not sex-averse). People like me who don’t even try are told we should try, even if we reckon it’s unlikely to be worthwhile. People who do try this type of relationship and find it doesn’t work out / does not “fix” them are told they tried it with the wrong person, and they should keep banging their head against a wall trying until they find the “right” person. Raul is supposed to be Evie’s “Mr. Right” who will “fix” her sex-aversion. Except he does not, which is consistent with the experience of most asexuals and/or sex-averse people who enter potentially sexual relationships.

Like many of the characters who are cast in the “Mr. Right who will teach Geeky Girl who Does Not Want Romance/Sex that She Really Wants It After All” role, Raul is depicted as a mere ‘Generic Nice Guy’. Compared to Evie, Kitty, Evie’s online boyfriend, the gay Latino barber, the Christian bride, or even the guy with the girlfriend whose ass is “uhn uhn uhn”, Raul’s personality is blank. It not until very near the end of the play that we find out that he is a closet cross-dresser, which is the first sign that he is not in fact a Generic Nice Guy. By the way, there already is a fictional story about an asexual who gets a heterosexual cross-dressing boyfriend.

At one point, after Evie finds that a) Raul has an erection and that b) he thinks of her sometimes when he get erections, she suddenly tells him that it’s okay if he has sex with other people. Later on, Evie walks in on Raul right after he’s had sex with Kitty, and she’s upset, and she accuses him of cheating on her. Raul, reasonably, points out that Evie gave him permission to have sex with other people. This is one instance where I have to agree with Raul – he didn’t do anything wrong by having sex with Kitty under these circumstances.

The fact that this incident of Evie telling Raul that it’s okay for him to have sex with other people, only to get very upset when he does have sex with somebody else, is a sign of a serious problem in their relationship skills. She did not give ‘permission’ to Raul after proper reflection on her boundaries, feelings, and insecurities – she gave permission out of fear, fear that she will lose Raul if he doesn’t let him have a sexual outlet. This jump-into-nonmonagamy-because-of-fear reminds me of how these characters from a webcomic started an “open” relationship (spoiler: it leads to this and then this). Though Evie is ultimately responsible for this incident, all of the pressure Raul and especially Kitty put on Evie to have sex encouraged her to feel this fear in the first place.

On his part, Raul should have been more honest about how not having sex made him feel, rather than passive-aggressively hiding it and then pushing Evie to do things like give up World of Warcraft.

So, how do Raul and Evie resolve their communication issues? Answer: They don’t. Even though at the end they decide to stay together, nothing in the play indicates that they have learned how to communicate with each other better, or even that they know that they need to work on their communication skills. Okay, Raul does start playing World of Warcraft, and understands Evie better in that sense, but the whole incident about whether or not it was okay for Raul to be nonmonagamous and, for that matter, whether or not Evie is comfortable having sex, isn’t about Warcraft. Intimate relationships between sex-averse people and people who consider sex an important parts of their lives can work, but I can think of no instance when it worked without really good communication skills, including a high degree of self-awareness. Without that, I cannot see how Evie and Raul’s will work out any better than it already has.

Near the end, when Evie said that she used to think that love was all about using the right words, and that it’s not about words after all, I cringed inside. Perhaps they don’t need to use more words, but they definitely need to use better words, not less words. Bad communication is the path of hurting each other and hurting themselves.

I thought I could finish this in two parts, but it turns out that properly unpacking what this play has to say about sex-averse (and potentially asexual) people and their relationships takes more effort than I originally thought, so in part three I will address how this play says that sex-averse people are broken and shouldn’t respect their own boundaries.

An Asexual Perspective on the play IN LOVE AND WARCRAFT (Part 1)

Last week I saw In Love and Warcraft by Madhuri Shekar performed by The Custom Made Theatre Company. Overall, I think Custom Made put on a good production. There is a lot I can say about the play, but given the audience of this blog, I think my readers are most interested in an asexual perspective on the play, so that is what this post is going to be about.

For starters, here is the blurb from the Custom Made website:

Evie Malone- gamer girl, college senior and confirmed virgin- has it all figured out. Not only does she command a top-ranked guild in Word of Warcraft with her online boyfriend, she also makes a little cash on the side writing love letters for people who’ve screwed up their relationships. Love is like Warcraft, after all. It’s all about strategies, game plans, and not taking stupid risks.

Well, that’s what she thinks… until she actually falls for a guy. In Real Life. And no amount of gaming expertise will help her out when she finds herself with a non-virtual, totally real, and incredibly cute boyfriend, who wants more from her than she’s willing to give.

Based on this blurb, I thought the ‘confirmed virgin’ bit probably meant that Evie was so heavily geeky that she never got the social skills / confidence to pursue sex, love-letter-writing gig nonwithstanding. In other words, I expected Evie to be like Clive as described in this post about the documentary 40 Year Old Virgins. Nonetheless, I am even older than Evie, yet I have never had sex, nor had an orgasm, and though I have never played Warcraft, I am just as geeky in my own ways, so even though I was not expecting her to be an asexual character, I figured we’d still have common ground.

Instead, Evie is much more like the way Rosie is described in that post about the documentary – someone who genuinely does not want sex, is pressured by her peers to have sex, and feels ‘broken’ because she does not want sex.


I honestly did not expect Evie to be so much like, well, a sex-averse asexual. The sex-averse part is ridiculously obvious – she not only does not want sex, it’s really clear that the prospect of having sex upsets her.

It is less clear whether or not she is asexual, but she has an uncanny tendency to say things which sound like they were pulled straight off a list of things asexuals say before they realize that there are people out there who identify as asexual. At one point, when asked about whether she sexually prefers guys or girls, she says (I have to paraphrase because I don’t have a copy of the script) “I’m not really interested in either of them.” Short of actually saying “I am asexual!” that is one of the strongest possible ways to imply that one is asexual. In fact, there were multiple points in the play when I expected Evie to burst out and say “I AM ASEXUAL!!!!” because it seemed liked the most logical next line.

More than anything, it was Evie’s sense of being broken which made me think of my fellow asexuals. I belong to the minority of asexuals who never felt broken, but I don’t think it’s possible to have even a casual connection to the asexual community without being very familiar with other people’s feelings of brokenness. Evie uses the word ‘broken’ to describe herself multiple times. I don’t know that Evie is asexual – I strongly suspect she’s at least under the umbrella, but it’s also possible that she’s not. However, her experience of ‘brokenness’ is so similar to the asexual experience that I am sure she would benefit immensely from contact with either online or ‘real life’ asexuals, even if she ultimately concluded she was not one of us.

This is what I want to say to Evie - image courtesy of Asexual Archive

This is what I want to say to Evie – image courtesy of Asexual Archive

Also, I think pretty much every asexual in living in American culture (as well as a number of other cultures) is wearily familiar with the reactions other characters have to Evie’s aversion to sex. There are rehashes of the “Just Try It” argument. Her new boyfriend asks her if something happened to her to make her that way (though he did not explicitly mention sexual abuse, it was implied, and it’s a bad idea to suggest that somebody isn’t interested in sex because of sexual abuse). Her “best friend” roommate suggests that maybe she is just a lesbian and then proceeds to make out with Evie without Evie’s consent to turn her into a lesbian/bisexal. The same “best friend” roommate also tells Evie that a lack of interest in sex can be a symptom of hypo-thyroidism – and it’s pretty clear that the roommate isn’t sincerely concerned that Evie actually has a life-threatening illness, she just wants to pathologize Evie’s disinterest in sex (as longtime readers may know, I have some personal experience with thyroid issues). Evie even goes for a pelvic exam – which clearly distresses her – to find out what is wrong with her (the doctor does not find anything ‘wrong’).

One thing which is embarassingly realistic about the play is the type of ‘love letters’ Evie writes for her clients. Evie is an English-literature major, and she writes love letters based on the literature she’s read rather than her own experience, which, when it comes to romance, she doesn’t have. It’s embarrassing for me because, in fact, a lot of how I think of romance is based on fiction. I’d like to think that I would not write love letters like Evie, but then again, I would not bother writing love letters for other people in the first place.

One of my favorite scenes was where Evie was writing wedding vows for a Christian who has been waiting to get married before having sex. I’m not qualified to judge how accurately it represents Christians who refuse to have non-marital sex, but it is consistent with the things I have read about those Christian communities – that they actually think sex is awesome, and everybody should get married and have wonderful sex lives celebrating God’s gift (here and here are posts by asexuals who grew up as Christians about this). The contrast between the bride’s eager anticipation of her wedding night and Evie’s wish to not have sex at all makes it clear that she is not holding back her sexual desires, she does not have sexual desires to hold back.

And then there is Raul, Evie’s “real life” boyfriend, and the relationship they have. I will get into that in Part 2.

SPECIAL NOTE: I don’t plan to post Part II until the San Francisco run of this play is practically over (the final performance is on December 19), so if you are considering seeing it, I have this to say – it’s a good production, and it’s overall a very entertaining show, and as someone who has seen and read an awful lot of plays, I can say that it’s rare to see a character who is as much like a sex-averse asexual as Evie is. That said – and I plan to expand on this in Part 2 – it supports compulsory sexuality, and encourages people who feel broken because of sex-aversion/lack of interest in sex to continue feeling broken unless they can stop being sex-averse/start wanting sex. Overall, I recommend seeing it if you are in the region and have the means, but with the reservation that I think the play has a harmful message.

Review: Cymbeline at Marin Shakespeare

Tommy Gorrebeeck as Posthumus, and Stella Heath as Imogen in Marin Shakespeare's Cymbeline

Tommy Gorrebeeck as Posthumus, and Stella Heath as Imogen in Marin Shakespeare’s Cymbeline

I want to see every Shakespeare play performed live, so when I learned that Marin Shakespeare was putting on Cymbeline, one of Shakespeare’s obscure plays, I decided to go. What did I think?

The Play & Adaptation

Cymbeline is Shakespeare’s third longest play, and not as good as the two plays which are even longer, Hamlet and Coriolanus. I’ve heard that practically every production of Cymbeline liberally cuts lines, and since this production is only about two hours long, it is no exception.

The most famous part of the play is the song “Fear No More the Heat o’ the Sun” which is sung by some outcasts as they bury an innocent youth who had been wronged while alive. It might be the best song to appear in any Shakespeare play. I like this Youtube version.

This production takes the music and runs with it – I lost track of how many songs had been added. Aside from “Fear No More the Heat o’ the Sun”, they were generally light-hearted and simple, and were both enjoyable and made it easier to get into the story.

There are some lines which had clearly been added in order to clarify some of the denser parts of the play. For example, after Iachimo gives a long and ornate speech about what Posthumus has been doing in Italy, he pauses, and sums it up by saying ‘He’s having sex with prostitutes’. It made me laugh. There was also a convoluted speech where Belarius was revealing who his two ‘boys’ true identities, and then he came out and said ‘okay, there are two boys, and four names. Get it?’.

All in all, the plot was fairly easy to follow, which considering that this might be the most convoluted plot of any Shakespeare play, is no small accomplishment. For that alone this production is a success. It is also done as a slight parody of itself which. Considering how ridiculous the story is, maximizing the humor might be the most entertaining way to do this play.

Costume Design

The color theme for the costumes seemed to be blue, with the help of some greens and purples. It certainly made the Romans/Italians stand out with their bright red clothing, which is fitting, since they were foreigners in Britain. Though the Roman military was dressed like ancient Romans, most of the other characters were dressed in Renaissance/Tudor style.

Imogen’s dress (which is not the same as the dress as the dress in the press photo above – those press photos must have been taken before the costume designer finished her work) was lovely, with ribbons trailing from her waist. I think the ribbons helped her seem more innocent, which is exactly what’s needed.

The queen had a very appropriate dress, being stiff and straight, which formed a contrast with Imogen’s flowing dress.

Cloten’s costume had plaid running down his chest on one side, which made him look both snobbish and clueless. The headband also helped identify his head after it was separated from the rest of his body.

The one costume which didn’t work for me was the Goddess – rather than getting the sense that she was a divine being, she just seemed out of place.

Set Design

The diagonal ramps with multiple entrances/exits worked very well at positioning multiple actors in different levels and offering many staging options. The grey + camouflage look also made the set very flexible, so we could believe that it was King Cymbeline’s palace or caves in the wilderness or a battlefield, depending on what was needed.

Lighting & Sound Design

Since I saw an afternoon performance, the lighting was designed by the sun and various nearby trees.


I must applaud Tommy Gorrebeeck. I didn’t even realize he was playing Posthumus and Cloten, even though at one point Cloten puts on Posthumus’ clothes until I checked the cast list. Sure, the wig helped, but that wouldn’t have stopped me from figuring it out if Tommy Gorrebeeck weren’t a fine actor on top of that.

Aside from that, the actors who stood out the most to me were Jed Parsario (Pisanio), Debi Durst (Cornelius), and Davern Wright (Iachimo). What all of their performances have in common is that they are good at comedy. Jed Parsario had good timing and was quick to react to the other actors. Though Cornelius is a minor character, Debi Durst made him into one of the most memorable by being the sardonic Greek chorus commenting on the ridiculousness of what was going on. When reading Cymbeline long ago, it never occurred to me that Iachimo could be a comic character, but now I must admit that Iachimo can be funny.

Aside from the comedic aspects, there was a striking silent moment where, on the battlefield, Posthumus (Tommy Gorrebeeck) and Iachimo (Davern Wright) recognize it other. It added gravitas.

The performer who did not stand out is Stella Heath as Imogen. I could understand her easily enough, and considering that this is Cymbeline, being comprehensible means that your performance is at least OK. However, Imogen, as the most important character in the play, can be a lot better than ‘OK’. That said, this production is slanted towards comedy, and Imogen lends herself to tugging heartstrings, not making people laugh. Still, I get feel that, while Stella Heath’s performance is adequate, it could have been more.


Seeing Marin Shakespeare’s Cymbeline was well worth my time and money. Cymbeline is rarely performed, and I suspect performances which are actually easy to follow and entertaining are even rarer. It’s not a great play, but this time, it is fun.

If, like me, you don’t have a car, fear not – this show is within walking distance of the San Rafael Transit Center, which has buses running to San Francisco, El Cerrito Del Norte BART station, and Santa Rosa.