by Brendan Kiley

Brent or Brenda?

Ethereal Mutt at Re-bar

Through Dec 27.

Scot Augustson's stellar transvestite comedy Brent or Brenda? was originally conceived as Bret or Brenda?, a comedy vehicle for local playwright/arts maven/Stranger writer Bret Fetzer. But Bret couldn't, or wouldn't, do it--so it became Re-bar's holiday show instead.

The production is excellently timed. While ACT, Taproot, Book-It, and the rest of the gang drag out Scrooge, turkey, and tinsel, Brent or Brenda? just wants to make us laugh with, not at, transvestitism. And that's an important difference.

"We never make the dress the joke, though there are some really nice dresses in the show," Augustson said. "The thing that makes it work is to take the man in the dress and make him the straight man, in more ways than one. That's the most radical thing you could do with drag now where, in our world, it's so blasé."

He's absolutely right. Most of the show's humor comes from Augustson framing the transvestite as an innocent square, and surrounding him with "regular" characters far weirder than he is. The play is rooted in, but radically departs from, Ed Wood's transvestite study Glen or Glenda? which, ignorant as I am, I've never seen. To Augustson's credit, that didn't dampen my enjoyment of his version one bit. "I've enjoyed it more than I thought I would," Augustson said. "Especially with this cast--they took it and really ran with it."

Augustson is extremely prolific, having written "five or six full-length plays, and a million tiny ones" for actors and puppets. His Gilgamesh, Iowa recently won the Best in Show award at the Minneapolis Fringe Festival, and he's working on a bevy of upcoming projects, from a script for a site-specific festival with Defibrillator Productions to directing a possible remount of Frankenocchio. "I got so stacked up and I was afraid to say no to anything," he said. "It will be a busy year."

Augustson confessed, "[Brent or Brenda?] isn't one of my deeper pieces." Still, it's a smart bit of hee-haw to take the sanctimonious edge off of other Christmas productions.

Augustson said he had a few transvestites on his Christmas list, but wouldn't disclose his purchases. "I just bought some stuff at Muckleshoot Casino, but that's all I'm going to say. So have a merry Christmas, be nice to each other, and there is no God."