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KU Theatre’s fall finale centers trans woman, ‘disrupts’ idea of classic American play

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KU Theatre is preparing for the grand finale of its Fall 2021 season this Friday with the opening of “The Devils Between Us,” a contemporary play by Sharifa Yasmin.

The story centers on Latifa, a transgender woman who came of age in the American South, as she returns to her childhood home to take care of her estranged father’s burial.

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The play is also a revisiting of her roots, her Muslim religion, and the shared trauma that tore her apart from her teenage lover, George. Forced to confront devils both have been avoiding, a surprising reunion leaves the two with one realization: their only way out of the past is through each other.

The university invited Cara Hinh to be guest director for the production. Hinh seeks to uplift diverse identities and foster a sense of belonging with her work, and as a queer Vietnamese-American woman raised in Indiana, the intersection of people and place hits home.

Cara Hinh

“This show is radical. It’s exciting because it’s intentional in placing these brown, queer people inside a rural setting,” Hinh says. “The story is set up like a classic American play, like this family has their ‘normal’ until someone from the past comes back and upsets that normal. But it’s also progressive and kind of disrupts the idea of what a classic American play should be.”

The KU theatre department committed to authentic representation of marginalized communities, casting each show with actors who match their character breakdown. Elle Walker, a 29-year-old guest actor from Chicago who plays the role of Latifa, believes authentic trans representation can literally save lives.

“When you put cis people in trans roles, it directly contributes to violence against trans people. 2021 has seen the highest number of trans and gender nonconforming people murdered, and the vast majority are Black, Indigenous and other women of color,” Walker says. “When you let us tell our stories, it shows that we are real. We are not trying to ‘deceive’ anyone. We simply are who we are.”

The four-person cast is looking forward to sharing their own interpretation of “The Devils Between Us” with the Lawrence and KU communities. The show’s creative team has brought new energy to the original script in collaboration with the original playwright, and the cast has enjoyed seeing it evolve.

Jordan Ray, a KU sophomore from Topeka, is starring as Hunter, George’s love interest. Since day one of rehearsal, he’s watched as his character grows and his relationships to the other characters deepen.

Photo courtesy of KU Theatre George, played by Chris Pendry (left), and Hunter, played by Jordan J. Ray, during the cast’s first dress rehearsal.

“Telling stories that inspire people to look within themselves is the coolest thing I can think of,” he says. “This play is so powerful, and I hope the audience walks away with a sense of hope in humanity.”

With its rich, character-driven dynamic, theatre professor Markus Potter says the university’s decision to produce the show was a no-brainer.

“We chose [The Devils Between Us] because it’s an engaging and transformative piece of storytelling that draws you in with its rich characters and inspiring themes of empowerment, healing and survival,” Potter says. “The play takes us on a very challenging journey in conversation with intersectional identities within an intense relationship-driven drama that leaves you glued to each interaction of these multidimensional characters that we want to spend time with.”

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“The Devils Between Us” cast also includes Chris Pendry as George and Isabella Lind as Barb.

Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. starting this Friday, Dec. 3, and Dec. 4, 7, 8, and 9; and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 5. 

A post-show discussion on Friday will be a “meet-the-playwright” conversation between Yasmin and Hinh. A pre-show discussion at 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 4 in Murphy Hall Room 354 will focus on LGBTQ+ themes, and a post-show panel on Dec. 5 will feature leaders from KC Transformations. 

The show will be held at KU’s William Inge Memorial Theatre, with masks required for all attendees. Tickets are on sale now with discounted rates available for KU students and staff. Find more information about the show online or at the box office in Murphy Hall.

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Jordan Winter (she/her), a contributor to The Lawrence Times, is a 2019 KU grad with degrees in journalism and political science.

Check out her work at jrdnwntr.com. Read more of her stories for the Times here.

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