By John Lyle Belden
Once considered a serious science, Alchemy was the pursuit of turning lead and other metals to gold. No doubt in the process a number of ancient wizards lucked upon some useful metallurgy. Through transformation, iron becomes the steel it was always meant to be.
In “Divine Alchemists,” what is forged is the self, a story told by those who understand as nearly all involved – playwright Lucy Fields, director Kaya Dorsch, actors Rowan Apple-Knotts, Kipp Morgan, Wilhelmena Dreyer, Maya Doss, and the characters they play – are trans or non-binary.
At a college’s informal board-game club, trans woman Aerith (Apple-Knotts) officially comes out to her friends, who are overjoyed – they finally get to present her with “Baby Trans Orientation”!
In this world, you get the mentorship and equipment sorely needed in the real one. Aerith (pronounced “heiress”) is given a Cloak to help her blend in among the cisgender-heterosexual population, the “Misgender Deflection Remote” that acts like a magic wand to correct – or at least remove – uses of wrong gender or name, and access to the Transformation Station, which allows Aerith to dress reflecting her true self.
College projects include a photography shoot for witchy Wisteria (Dreyer), with Aerith as one of the subjects. In turn, for a paper on the trans/non-binary experience, Aerith interviews non-binary Wisteria, trans man Iggy (Morgan) and non-binary Grayson (Doss).
The whole show has a bit of an afterschool special vibe, but even as every line spoken is part of the lesson it comes out naturally from characters who (as seems to be typical) always have to explain themselves, their experience, and, sadly, their validity. There is plenty of fierce humor as well, with moments including the impromptu game show, “Gender Those Clothes!” But there is also a serious undercurrent that especially reveals itself when one is denounced by the ones they love.
The actors reflect the passion and heart that Fields put into this play and Dorsch draws out; their exuberant performance isn’t just lifelike, it’s their lives.
In the real world, the remote control only mutes the ongoing news of trans people – especially children – being treated as less than themselves, less than human. This show alerts us that instead we need to turn the volume up on true respect and equality. The engine of society needs the mettle of every human alloy.
Presented by Theatre Unchained and IndyFringe for DivaFest 2023, performances of “Divine Alchemists” are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, May 4-6, at the IndyFringe Indy Eleven Theatre, 719 E. St. Clair St. (near Mass Ave.), Indianapolis. Tickets and info at indyfringe.org.