Testo Junkie

Testo Junkie
Director: Christine Eder
Writer: Paul B. Preciado, tranlsated by Stephan Geene
Based on: Preciado’s autofictional and theoretical book
Cast: Bettina Schwarz, Birgit Stöger, Christoph Rothenbuchner, Thomas Frank, Lara Sienczak
Seen on: 13.10.2022

Paul B. Preciado (Bettina Schwarz, Birgit Stöger, Christoph Rothenbuchner, Thomas Frank) is starting an experiment that is also a journey of self-discovery: what will taking testosterone (without medical supervision) do to him, how will it change his body that was perceived as female for most of his life, what will it do to his gender? And what can we discover about the pharmapornographic complex that rules society?

I have read large chunks of Testo Junkie, so I was curious to see how they would put this book – massive, dense and difficult to categorize – on stage. My deepest respect for even trying to do that. Not everything about this attempt works, but it’s definitely interesting.

One of the Preciados (Birgit Stöger) in a close-up.

The book can be separated into two parts that are told in alternating chapters. One part is mostly autofictional, chronicling Preciado’s experiments, the death of one of his close friends and his relationship with Virginie Despentes during that time. The other part is more theoretical, though not a classical academic text and engages with the intersection of pharma and porn industry from a post-structural perspective. Both parts work together thematically, of course, with one feeding the other. So you can probably understand why I was really surprised that anybody would think of putting it on stage.

To do so, the play focuses on the autofictional parts where four actors of different genders portray Preciado. I thought that way of casting was a really smart choice as we got one character in very different physicalities – and yet, it was clear, that he was only one person in each bodies. (It would have been great if at least one of the actors had been trans themselves, but I don’t think that’s the case.)

The four Preciados of the play (Thomas Frank, Christoph Rothenbuchner, Birgit Stöger, Bettina Schwarz) in front of a computer monitor.

Those four actors basically narrate the text pretty much word for word (albeit shortened). This was one of the more difficult parts of the production for me. Instead of narrating, they could have made more of a story of it – especially the autofictional parts would have been rather easily turned into a story. In addition to the foursome, we get a fifth actor (Lara Sienczak) who only appears on screen and gives us a very boiled down version of the theoretical chapters. This way of delivering the text is very true to the form of the book that is written in a fast-firing stream of consciousness, but it’s also incredibly hard to take in when you’re in the audience and I felt my attention drifting more than I wanted to.

The play had its premiere last year and they only showed it for a couple of dates as an encore. Unfortunately that meant that the actors weren’t all that text-sure. That is incredibly understandable given the nature of the text, but it doesn’t leave a very professional impression. Still, it doesn’t change that this is an engaging text with many interesting points that was well brought to life by the play.

The four Preciados (Bettina Schwarz, Birgit Stöger, Christoph Rothenbuchner, Thomas Frank) in the middle of a costume change.

Summarizing: worth seeing, at least if you’re interested in gender and its deconstruction.

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