Theatre Rhinoceros’s “Alligator Mouth, Tadpole Ass” is relentless queer emotional exploration

Photo from the play, "Alligator Mouth"
Theatre Rhinoceros/Courtesy

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Like many Theatre Rhinoceros productions, “Alligator Mouth, Tadpole Ass” is relentlessly queer in nature, focused first and foremost on depicting the uniqueness of the queer experience in interpersonal relationships, especially during a time when queerness wasn’t as widely accepted.

The story follows Evander (Jake Reitz), a gay man living in Greenwich Village in 1986 whose clairvoyance allows him to see into the past, including the lives of his parents. The memory play reflects on the past in order for Evander to make sense of what he’s feeling in the present, especially in the context of his queer identity after growing up in North Carolina. His intrusive thoughts often guide his perceptions, giving him insight into the behavior of others, most notably that of Hank (Armando Rey), with whom he slowly develops a relationship despite Hank’s initial reluctance.

Reitz and Rey have an excellent rapport, flirtatiously playing off of one another with ease as their relationship progresses. Hank’s initial panicked nervousness and Evander’s cunning nature work wonderfully together, and their dialogue is undoubtedly well-rehearsed. Reitz spends a good portion of his time as Evander twirling a sucker in his mouth, which weirdly adds to his charm. Hank’s denial of his identity and Evander’s sheer eager openness are a somewhat unexpected but outstanding match for theatrical purposes. It creates rather poignant moments that reflect on the nature of queerness, as queerness was a shameful admission for many in the ‘80s. Their work as a duality — the juxtaposition of openness and denial as two states of a gay man’s life during this period — is especially notable and ends up being the show’s core strength.

“Alligator Mouth, Tadpole Ass” is nothing if not bold. Firstly, performing completely live over Zoom every night is a feat in itself. With no technical issues with this entirely new platform for theatrics, it’s clear that Theatre Rhinoceros has adapted to a virtual theater environment well, not letting it impede the connection between actors and audience members. The subject matter and actors’ skills easily shine through, despite the actors themselves being miles apart.

Additionally, the production heavily relies on a presentation of raw emotion as audiences follow Evander on his emotional journey. In depicting queerness, the show doesn’t try to stray from taboos; it does not shy away from expressing the intricacies of daddy issues in connection to the expression of sexuality within queer spaces, particularly within gay male spaces. The more innately sexual moments, while somewhat audacious, don’t feel at all gratuitous, but rather, an emotional means to discovering more of Evander’s identity. In this way, the actors really make use of the production’s Zoom format, taking advantage of camera angles and creative blocking to masterfully appear as if they are in the same space when in reality, they’re not even in the same time zone.

“Alligator Mouth, Tadpole Ass” is a commendation of original artistry, an exploration of identity and an appraisal of queerness seen in a relationship between two men. Though the show leaves audiences entirely in self-reflection of its content, the production’s poignancy cannot be diminished, even in its multiple interpretations. Its goal remains to prompt discussion of what was previously unexplored.