In Azure D. Osborne-Lee’s play Crooked Parts, audiences witness the journey of a trans man before and after his transition. While stories about trans characters are rare enough in mainstream productions, a deep dive into both histories of a character is even rarer.
The play follows Freddy, a Black queer trans man, as he returns to his family home in the South after his fiancé breaks up with him. After arriving, he must deal with his family’s reaction to his transition and other dramas, like his brother’s serial incarceration. In the story of Freddy’s childhood, 13-year-old Winifred (who will become Freddy) struggles to balance her relationship with her mother and her desire to better fit in with her peers.
Crooked Parts is semi-autobiographical. The play sprouted from a writing exercise about childhood rituals that playwright Aurin Squire assigned to Osbore-Lee during an open workshop at Freedom Train Productions in 2009. Now, Crooked Parts will receive a developmental reading as part of this month's Pride Plays, a festival of LGBTQ+ works with primetime live stream presentations and readings.
The play incorporates a lot of music, a key component to the story’s tone and Osborne-Lee’s writing process. The music heard in the play—a collection of more than 10 '90s R&B tracks—helped the writer excavate his childhood memories when first coming up with the story. “I’d sit in my twin bed in my Harlem sublet and play the songs on repeat,” he says. “I’d cry and then I’d write. I’d cry some more, and then I’d edit.”
By the end of the workshop, Crooked Parts had its first act: Winifred’s story. Four years passed as Osborne-Lee grew and learned. By 2013, he was ready for more.
“I speed-wrote the second act,” the playwright says. “I decided to tell the protagonist's story at two different points in his gender journey because it’s a coming-of-age story. Not every trans person has a conscious awareness of their transness in their childhood. I am one of those people and I wanted to see that kind of trans story on stage.”
The play has existed in some form or other and now for over a decade, so having it presented in a reading during June’s Pride Plays is a special treat for Osborne-Lee. “The play is about to be published by Methuen Drama in a collection of trans plays, so I am using this opportunity to hear the script read aloud by actors one more time before sending it off.”
The ability to make it all come together for a digital presentation is, in part, thanks to Osborne-Lee’s director Kirya Traber and stage manager Chiara Johnson. The trio have worked together on each of the playwright’s works, and it’s an intimate collaboration.
“I’ve had directors misgender me and/or my characters in front of a room full of people before,” says Osborne-Lee. “I believe that I’ve always handled that nonsense with grace, but it’s not an experience that I care to repeat… I know that I can trust [Traber and Johnson] to care for my work and my other collaborators whether or not I'm in the room.
The love goes both ways. As Traber says, “Working with [Azure] is a rare space where I get to experiment with craft while fully aligning with my values as a Black queer maker.”
“I’m honored, over and over, that he trusts and chooses me to be a part of his weird, wonderful worlds,” adds Johnson. “Predominately white rehearsal rooms feel safer in the company of these Black characters written with history and humanity.”
The full cast of this reading—Joyia Bradley, Suzanne Darrell, Kevin R. Free, TL Thompson, Jak Watson, and Ileya Robinson Williams—have been in some iteration of the play, and the playwright is excited to have them back in the “virtual” room together again.
Still, Crooked Parts is just one of Osborne-Lee’s several current projects. He’s still working on his newest full-length play, The Crocus Eaters, and a few weeks ago, the Austin Scottish Rite Theater hosted a reading of his The Beasts of Warren, directed by Rudy Ramirez.
In addition, the world premiere of his play Mirrors, directed by Ludovica Villar-Hauser and produced by Parity Productions, set to run at Next Door at New York Theatre Workshop is on hold due to the COVID-19 outbreak, but hopes are high for when theatre resumes. “Our set is still in the building, so once the city opens back up, we'll have to do something about that,” he says. “Maybe there will be an opportunity to finish our run?”
With stories like these, one can only hope.
Crooked Parts will be presented this month in an industry-only presentation. To support works like these, please consider making a donation at broadwaycares.org/prideplays2020.