Edinburgh Fringe 2023
Em is going through a scientific procedure to recover memories of an ex, memories they previously had destroyed. While going through their mind looking for Lino, they sees moments in their life that are seemingly disjointed, but eventually reveal themselves to be very connected in unexpected ways.
It is easy to refer to Lino as a Gen Z version of ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’, but that would be all too reductive. The heart of this feels very different, and goes beyond the conceit of scientifically removing one’s memories to get rid of uncomfortable feelings. Here, we also touch on how memories shape and shift our identities, just as much as meeting someone significant can. Not only do Em’s memories focus on finding the deleted Lino, but more importantly on their identity as a trans man. Some of the funniest and most truthful moments come when Em is quietly nodding as others around them are insisting they know their body better when it comes to surgery. “I just learned this information about you,” Rachel from undergrad pronounces confidently, “Therefor I’m going to assume you made this decision RIGHT before talking to me, leading me to believe you are taking this WAY TOO FAST.” Em’s measured response suggests this is not the first time they have had to endure this intrusive and overfamiliar sort of conversation. We also witness moments before Em’s transition, when they insist to their writing partner that they are very much “a girl lesbian”. In between, Em has moments of dance and interpretive movement that feel raw and compelling, but also uncomfortable and confusing, encapsulating their lived experience as best as we on the outside can understand. It is refreshing to see a trans-led piece about the trans experience that allows space for joy, contradiction in love, and the complexities of relationships without the forced trauma or tragedy that is so prevalent in trans pieces that are not trans-led.
Lino is one of those shows that seems immediately accessible and then suddenly challenging, but in all the best ways. That is down to Mace Cowart, who plays Em (and, fittingly for the show’s topic, everyone else). Cowart’s presence is warm and a bit mischievous. He seems at once the missing member of the ‘80s Brat Pack (perhaps wedged between Judd Nelson and Emilio Estevez), but with the character talent and timing of a significantly less problematic Chris Lilley. His writing is also compelling and crisp, with genuine humor and wit. He is natural with dialogue, and even when the script calls for absurdity, it is still grounded in obvious craft. Bailey Hacker’s direction is seamless, bringing the needed clarity and focus to make sure the audience is able to follow each twist and turn through Em’s mind.
I suspect that there is another draft of Lino that will give us more time to get to know these delightful characters and have more space to enjoy the thesis of the show. That being said, Mace Cowart is a talent to watch as both an actor and a writer, and you would do well to see him while you can.