Aridhi Anderson is a theatremaker, performer and reviewer based in Melbourne. Check out her work at aridhianderson.com.
A comprehensive primer for conversations about asexuality
Keira is a young woman surrounded by family and friends who are always looking out for her. On the surface, her life seems sorted, except for one thing: she's single, and under a lot of pressure to find "the one". Her friends are astonished that she's managed to get through her teenage years without even having kissed someone, and they take it upon themselves to help her "fix" all that. It's time for her to go clubbing, meet people in bars, get on dating apps, talk to men, talk to women - do whatever it takes to have sex, like everybody else.
Except Keira doesn't want to. She can tell that she's not like her friends, but she doesn't understand why. All she knows is that she is tired of being different, that she just wants to belong. So she agrees to give her friends' advice a shot. What follows is a series of unfortunate events (and their traumatic after-effects) which cause serious friction between Keira and her friends. Keira eventually realises that she identifies as asexual, and embarks on a journey to understand what that means for her, and how this new knowledge can help her family and friends support her better.
Ace of Hearts is a new musical written by Natasha Pearson and Hayden Dun, performed by a talented cast and crew of emerging artists. This show takes on the rarely-discussed subject of asexuality and uses a fictional story to lay out a fairly comprehensive primer on the subject. The story arc is neat, pointed, and intentional, prioritizing its messages over strict realism. It lays out key definitions, points to resources available for people seeking to learn more about asexuality (specifically AVEN), and demonstrates what might be helpful vs unhelpful responses from family and friends. It also introduces some of the lingo and in-jokes popular among the asexual community, such as the word "ace" (people who identify as asexual), and the metaphor of cake (which symbolises things in life that asexual people enjoy more than sex).
The music in this show is catchy, well-written, and for the most part, beautifully performed. A number of songs stand out for the words/music/performances, including "People want to hear what people want to hear", "You're the same as everyone else", and "They gave me cake". The music plays a vital role in unpacking all the information contained within this two-hour show, while also managing the mood changes across scenes. This show makes the interesting decision of using microphones only for the two lead performers - Keira (Rachael Findlay) and Michael (Luke Peverelle), while the other performers rely on their natural projection. This is initially helpful in identifying who the main characters are going to be, but it also introduces a bit of audio unevenness when all the different characters are singing together - sometimes Keira's friends are barely audible on the lower notes, even from the front row. However, this is not an issue for most of the show.
The writing is interesting. It is a mix of being character-driven and plot-driven: it obviously charts Keira's internal journey as she learns what it means to identify as asexual, but it relies heavily on the external sequence of events, and the characters' responses to those events, to get to where it's going. In that respect, it also feels slightly contrived, as most of the other characters - while interesting and varied, and performed well - seem to exist simply to move the plot along, and to help Keira figure herself out. Their roles and their reactions to events are often stereotypical/textbook reactions, both in the good times and in the bad. The only exception is the character of her friend Michael, with whom she also attempts to have a relationship. His backstory and internal conflicts are complex and fleshed out convincingly, and his character is easy to get invested in, which makes the show feel more balanced.
What this show does best is lay a foundation for informed and respectful conversations about asexuality. The extent to which the show spells things out feels like the writers' assessment of where the conversation is currently at: not enough people know that asexuality is a thing, not enough people respect that it's entitled to be a thing, and not enough people know how to respond helpfully to people who benefit from it being a thing. The show also makes an interesting point about queerphobia, and the subtle expressions of it even among people who might consider themselves to be generally well-meaning. There's a sense of asexual people having to fight for visibility and space within the queer community, contending with being perceived as a less valid sexual orientation than others. This is also seen in the reactions of Keira's family and friends, who would have been happy for her to date women, but who can't quite deal with her deciding not to partner up at all.
Ace of Hearts is on at the MC Showroom (Prahran) between 1-10 February 2019 as part of the Midsumma Festival. The show depicts strong themes including sexual assault and suicide. Book tickets here.