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Less Lonely

Jes Tom finds the humor in all aspects of living a life, hurtling towards an apocalypse romance and a major life decision at the onset of the pandemic.

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Jes Tom in their one-person show “Less Lonely” at Greenwich House Theatre (Photo credit: Samantha Brooks)

[avatar user=”Tony Marinelli” size=”96″ align=”left”] Tony Marinelli, Critic[/avatar]

Jes Tom has devised a piece that will keep you laughing, despite the fact this is very much a heartfelt and painfully honest story of their own path to gender reassignment during the Covid pandemic. For those that will not or cannot grasp the decision-making process, Jes provides us with cultural signposts and a heavy dose of gay and lesbian sexual practices that keep us on track, so we are reminded “we aren’t in Kansas anymore.”

If anything, this is church, or at least Jes Tom’s “church.” Scenic design of Claire Deliso and lighting design of Jennifer Fok put Jes in a very red space. The stage is bare except for a smallish box/podium with a tall lit candle resting on it. The playing space is bathed in red light, shaped ovally, reminiscent of Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate (the Bean) in Chicago’s Millennium Park. But we are here to see Jes, dressed in simple-yet-haute couture…a white “origami” shirt over a white tank top and loose black Aikido pants and shiny black “stormtrooper” boots. The simplicity in design leaves us the space to embrace the story.

Jes succeeds where some other bio-storytellers fail. Jes’ secret is being comfortable in their own skin to relate intensely personal experiences yet create a sense of universality, or community, that envelops the entire audience. You may not always agree, but chances are good you will be laughing with Jes, and not at Jes. As Jes puts it, “Most of my material takes at least two semesters of gender studies to truly understand.”

As with most other autobiographical journeys, we get a heavy dose of self-deprecating humor, “I like when people call me “they,” it makes me feel less lonely. Like someone can be like, ‘That’s Jes, they’re gonna go smoke a spliff’ and it sounds like I had a friend.” Reflecting on early career choices, “I was doing non-binary comedy in straight bars and clubs that were ten straight guys and one woman, and the woman was me. And I was like ‘I’m not sure I’m the guy for the job but I’ll do my best for the culture.’ ”

Reminiscing about their youth, “I feel like I’ve been gay for a thousand years. I’m from San Francisco which doesn’t help…I used to sell Girl Scout cookies on the corner in the Castro, the gay neighborhood.” Putting this in perspective for those not familiar, Castro has its own system for what is appropriate/and or legal. The Castro Street fairs are notorious for nudity and leather and combinations thereof…Girl Scouts selling their cookies in Castro grow up fast.

Director Em Weinstein reveals a gentle, knowing hand is the way to go with Jes’ story. The emotional heavy lifting for the audience is left for Jes’ “alone time.” There is a lot of charm to Jes being able to have frank conversations about gay sex with their mom. A misunderstanding of the true function of a “glory hole” would make for some awkward and uncomfortable moments in other hands, but not so when we understand just how much Mom supports Jes in their life choices. Every gay or trans individual should be blessed with such an understanding parent. For Jes, the issue of acceptance was a non-issue. “Everyone thinks growing up queer in San Francisco must have been sooo cool. No, it was boring! There is nothing worse for a queer teenager than a supportive environment…while my friends who grew up in Texas were making out in the attic while their parents were on vacation, I was co-president of the poetry club…”

“I was a late bloomer; I got my first kiss when I was sixteen at Pride from a white girl who told me I reminded her of ‘the Asian version of Shane from The L Word’.” The almost confessional nature of the text in performance gives the audience the wherewithal to embrace Jes. “I was impeccable at girlhood…with a vested interest in ‘Xena: Warrior Princess’ ” resonates with its intended audience. “And instead of becoming a beautiful woman I grew up into a tall little boy. I don’t know what happened. Just kidding. I do. I chose this” is the reason why we are all so attentive to Less Lonely. “I am four years on testosterone which explains why I have the mustache of the coolest boy in eighth grade. That was a big decision for me that I really thought about for ten years” gives the audience the opportunity to ask itself where they are more caught off guard, by the one-liners or the candor.

“So I’ve been looking for my own great apocalypse romance” opens the more serious section of the play, as their childhood best friend gets married to the guy she has been with since they were sixteen. “That’s a straight people love story. I was a gay teenager. I couldn’t do the same thing. If I did the same thing, I would be getting married to a Keira Knightly myspace banner I made in 2006.” Jes finds a match on Tinder, a gynecologist. As luck, or the six degrees of separation, would have it, they follow each other on Twitter. When communication ceases, it is because the doctor finds Jes on her roster of patients coming in for their first hormone replacement therapy consultation. Small world! ”You have a choice, you can either come into your appointment as scheduled and I will be your doctor. Or you can reschedule your lifechanging appointment with someone else, and we can go on a date.” Jes chooses the option that isn’t a HIPAA violation.

Jes Tom in their one-person show “Less Lonely” at Greenwich House Theatre (Photo credit: Samantha Brooks)

Covid has had its way of upending absolutely every aspect of our lives. Dating, and maintaining or cultivating relationships were not immune to the pandemic. As quickly as Jes and the gynecologist got together, necessity separated them. And Jes spent the first part of their transition alone which translates into going through puberty for the second time during the world’s lockdown. That meant having to be more attuned to subtle changes, in strength for instance. “I can do all these things I could never do before like open the door at the bank…opening jars, closing them again.” The non-monogamous nature of the relationship also posed its issues. Jes compares monogamy to spending the rest of one’s life eating nothing but pizza, whereas non-monogamy means having sushi and lobster tails too, but willing to understand that sometimes pizza and lobster might want to have dinner without you.

One doesn’t need a crystal ball to see where this is going. Jes’ girlfriend and her other partner got married…and bought an apartment together…and got a dog. And after breaking up, Jes’ testosterone does something else. “After a 17 year tenure in lesbianism I find myself attracted to men. Dead silence. Sucked the air right out of the room. Everyone just got so worried for me.” This opens up a whole new set of observations, “I have to learn to be chic. As a lesbian I never had to be chic. I just put on my event flannel and went…I make so much more sense as a feminine twink sub bottom than I ever did as a butch, masculine, dyke top.”

A late dose of reality comes with the death of Jes’ grandma. The last person to arrive while Grandma post-massive stroke is still unresponsive in the ICU, Jes has important alone time. Jes leaned in, “Do you know I’m trans? Because I don’t know what she knows,” but as she recalls an earlier conversation, Jes figures it’s all right. Jes knew that Grandma would always be worried about Jes. And for Grandma, that was unconditional love. The death makes Jes realize how obsessed they have been with the way they will die at the end of the world, rather than the way to live with the time that they have. For many, it was just this type of reasoning that got them through the ravages of the pandemic.

Kudos to Jes and Em for keeping Less Lonely an intensely personal piece, shaping the emotional arcs for an audience that will always find a way to connect. Jes Tom’s performance is a masterful blend of humor, personal introspection, and poignant storytelling. With the courage to share the most vulnerable moments, Jes invites us into their world leaving us with a shared sense of community long after we leave the theater.

Less Lonely (through January 6, 2024)

Presented by Elliot Page

Greenwich House Theater, 27 Barrow Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, visit http://www.jestomshow.com

Running time: 75 minutes without an intermission

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About Tony Marinelli (57 Articles)
Tony Marinelli is an actor, playwright, director, arts administrator, and now critic. He received his B.A. and almost finished an MFA from Brooklyn College in the golden era when Benito Ortolani, Howard Becknell, Rebecca Cunningham, Gordon Rogoff, Marge Linney, Bill Prosser, Sam Leiter, Elinor Renfield, and Glenn Loney numbered amongst his esteemed professors. His plays I find myself here, Be That Guy (A Cat and Two Men), and …and then I meowed have been produced by Ryan Repertory Company, one of Brooklyn’s few resident theatre companies.
Contact: Website

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