If superheroes embody what pop culture most admires—physically and morally—supervillains can reveal more subtle contradictions or discrepancies between what we say we value and how we actually behave. (Think of how Erik Killmonger challenges the hypocrisy of Wakandan isolationism in Black Panther.) This possibility seems to have inspired Tobi Hill-Meyer’s new DIY, high-concept one-woman show, Fallen Star, playing for the next two weekends at Gay City.
Superheroes in Fallen Star, unlike the ones in X-Men or the more secretive Marvel vigilantes, resemble celebrity CEOs: revered by the public and press and supported by hierarchical bureaucracy. Through Terra Snover’s animation sequences, screened between Hill-Meyer’s monologues, we learn the predominantly white cis male Heroes Regional Council has invited two trans women of color to join its league. Hill-Meyer plays Celestial, a Native American hero possessing supernatural powers of distraction and diversion. When her fellow new recruit, Shimmer, a Latina who can turn time backward or forward several seconds, disappears, Celestial becomes increasingly frustrated with the Council’s handling of the crisis and sets out on the path of insurrection.
Hill-Meyer—an assured performer with a warm, unfussy presence—uses the nerd-friendly plot to frame an analysis of her own experiences. Celestial laments the strictures on transfemininity even in supposedly friendly milieux, such as the fear of being perceived as “too loud” or too socialized-masculine in women-only spaces. She amplifies autobiographical details for comic realist effect. Hill-Meyer’s fragrance allergy is Celestial’s Kryptonite, with supervillains dousing themselves in cologne to unbalance her.
These confidences ground the play in real life as the stakes climb. Angry at the failures of liberal democracy and its subservience to capitalism, Celestial uses her special talents to disrupt elections. In her eyes, she’s purging corruption, but she might be succumbing to the lure of autocracy. Perhaps conscious of the magnitude of the dilemma, Hill-Meyer welcomes the audience into the play to choose between slow reform and revolution.
This low-budget civic theater coup mines political anger and underground trans talent (like musical references to the Olympia punk band G.L.O.S.S.) to examine some intriguing—and scary—questions. Not least of these: Can the power of distraction, so useful for finding scapegoats, manipulate for good? If trans women and other minorities can be incorporated into hegemonies, is this itself a distraction or a sign of real change? Fallen Star won’t give you the answers, but it will invite you to argue, and to consider those for whom radicalism offers the best chance at survival.