All-Trans Cast Live Reading of 'Brokeback Mountain' Streaming Sunday

by Kevin Schattenkirk

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Sunday October 18, 2020

A staged live reading of "Brokeback Mountain" with an all-transgender cast will stream online on Sunday October 18, NBC News reports.

The film, which was based on a short story by Annie Prouix, starred Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger as two rural men who had a relationship for twenty years while contending with the heteronormative expectations of society — getting married, raising a family, and keeping their affair secret. As NBC notes, neither of the leads identified as gay in the story — which reflected the greater context of the time and space in which these characters lived.

The virtual staged reading on Sunday is an attempt to update the story with, as NBC states, the "authentic representation" that currently "is a great part of the cultural conversation." The cast will include Brian Michael Smith as Jack Twist (originally Gyllenhaal's role), Leo Sheng as Ennis Del Mar (which Ledger played in the film), Alexandra Grey are Lureen Newsome (Jack's wife), and Jen Richards as Alma Beers (Ennis' wife).

Gaby Dunn, who is co-producing the reading with Karl Saint Lucy, said "'Brokeback' to me is so much about masculinity. I thought the only way we could do it is to make it specifically trans. These characters are so trapped by their gender roles."

A Los Angeles-based writer, actor and comedian, Dunn also sees this as an opportunity to give greater visibility to trans actors: "I get frustrated when people say, 'Oh, we can't find a trans actor to cast.' Here they are — here's an entire screen full of them. They can be in these big, Oscar-bait movies, too. Or in genre movies — or comedies. Where is my trans 'The Hangover,' my trans 'Gravity'? There's so much missed opportunity." Dunn has already conducted several of these types of readings.

Richards — a trans writer, actress and producer who has participated in previous Dunn readings — said that "ninety-nine percent of everything that comes my way is about being trans. But it's thrilling to play characters that nothing to do with it." Of "Brokeback Mountain," in particular, Richards says, "it's all about masculinity and the trap it was for Ennis and Jack. When you see it performed by trans men, the gender performance is so obvious. It's definitely implied in the film, but we're kind of bringing that element out more into the light."

The reading on Sunday October 18 is free with a suggested donation. Proceeds will benefit The NewFest Future Fund and NYC Anti-Violence Project, the latter of which is celebrating its 40th anniversary. More information on the "Brokeback Mountain" reading can be found here.

Kevin Schattenkirk is an ethnomusicologist and pop music aficionado.