In Indonesia they have Wayang, an intricate storytelling mechanism using puppets to mask real identities — what is real, and, what is not. In Japan, elaborate stage plays are the tradition known Kabuki theatre, with extensive make-up and stylized performances … again, what is real, and, what is not.
Real life is a form of Wayang or Kabuki for both Cinnamon (Laverne Cox — as Sophia in the cable series, Orange is the New Black) and Carla (Joslyn DeFreece in her screen debt) in writer/director Eli Hershko’s Carl(a), which will be making its DVD debut on June 28 courtesy of Ariztical Entertainment.
They are transgender women, living in New York, who struggle with identity, family turmoil, career issues … it’s a long list. Carla has had to deal with it all. She’s a woman trapped in a man’s body — “who am I?” — and that has meant rejection and ridicule from her family, plus it puts her in a very lonely place.
Cinnamon is her friend, more streetwise, someone who she can talk to, but for the both of them the day to day is more about survival than living a real life (again the theme of Wayang and Kabuki). She also serves as something of a Greek Chorus, providing both comedy relief and tragedy.
When Carla meets Sam (Gregg Bello — G.I. Jane, The Thomas Crown Affair, The Breakup Artist, etc.), she has finally, or so she thinks, met someone outside of her lonely circle who can love her for who she is. And, indeed there is a genuine affection between them … he’s a bit of a nebbish; does that make him gay?
As Hershko develops the story it is clear that Sam loves Carla — he is not all that effective as protecting her from the real world sometimes — and she feels that this is someone in her life that she needs to help make her transition. But he does love her and seemingly accepts her as she is, which is something of an island of safety; security for her.
The conflict erupts when Carla finally reaches her financial goal and can proceed with her transition. Perhaps Sam is as lonely as she is; perhaps he’s insecure or selfish, but he doesn’t want her to proceed any further. Does she remain as someone she is not in order to maintain the relationship, or does she become “herself” and possibly lose him?
Carl(a) is an intimate, very personal story about ordinary people — if you passed Sam and Carla walking hand in hand on the street you wouldn’t give them a second thought — living extraordinary lives. Living the lives of Wayang and Kabuki just to survive.