The Posture Queen is a post-modern morality tale inspired by the life of Tommy "Issan" Dorsey, a sailor, drag queen, junkie, commune leader and Zen Buddhist master who took the excesses of the flesh and the wonders of the spirit to the farthest either could go. Never a real devil even when at his most debauched, never a true angel when at his most spiritual, the life of Issan Dorsey defies typical moral judgments and dances between the boundaries of sexuality, death, love, and euphoria. Memories from his life play out over the course of one day in the zen monastery. This play uses movement, dance, songs and ritual chanting , sound and video to capture Issan's wild lust for life and kindness of spirit.

Director: Jonathan Walters

Writer: Jack Gibson

Choreographers: Mark Hayes (2001) & Tobias Lawrence, Heather Pearl (2003)

Original Sound Composition: Seth Nehil & Michael Northam

Video Designer: Michael Mateyko

Set Designer: Sara Thompson

Costume Designers: Sara Mapelli & Merry Enriquez

Prop Designers: Ted Holdt & Bill Holznagel

Stage Manager: Liz Sunde

2001 Performers: Aryn Bartley, Faith Helma, Micah Sunshower Klatt, Michelle Milne, Ina Strauss & Marc Weaver

2003 Performers: Ricardo Delgado, Jodi Eichelberger, Faith Helma, Bill Holznagel, Erin Leddy & Dylan Paschke

"Hand2Mouth's restaging of its piece on the life and times of Zen master Issan Dorsey has changed much from its premiere last year. Director Jonathan Walters has tightened the script and edited out much that seemed extraneous.... there is much here that deserves attention. Walters' use of chant, music and dance is exceptional, and he's found a good cast to enact the rites of the former-drag-queen-turned-saint's life."

- Steffen Silvis, Willamette Week, January 2003

"In The Posture Queen, a new production by Hand2Mouth Theatre protagonist Tommy 'Issan' Dorsey, a real life figure, sums up his life by saying, 'I'm the worst nightmare a mother could possibly imagine, and yet here I am.' In flashbacks that make effective use of music, video montage and gender-blind casting, The Posture Queen dramatizes Dorsey's forbidden homosexual longings aboard a Navy ship, his sultry nightclub routines in San Francisco and his downward spiral into drug addiction....The intricate, nonchronological narrative comes together like a jigsaw puzzle with no missing pieces. The ensemble cast... provides solid, versatile support for lead actor Marc Weaver... [whose] sharp features, graceful movements and piercing melancholy expressions make him fascinating to behold."

- Stephen Blair, Portland Tribune, August 2001

"Posture Queen tells the story of Issan Dorsey.... It's structured around a single day at the commune, and uses the various rituals that Dorsey and his followers engage in to trigger flashbacks that reveal the various stages of the man's life.   The transitions into the past involve some very subtle and effective changes in sound and light, and a lot of strong acting from the play's chorus, whose members each seem to play at least 10 different characters before all is said and done. Marc Weaver, as Dorsey, imbues the character with a high-cheek-boned charisma that makes it easy to see how he could lead a commune despite his checkered past."

- Justin Sanders, Portland Mercury, August 2001

"The audience enters the theater space to find four Buddhist monks meditating before altars that are odd assemblages of hats, shoes, shirts and coats. The action begins as Issan, the master, approaches the meditators, who then rise and join him for a lesson. But with just a few changes in costume, the scene shifts right before our eyes and the monastic room becomes a sleazy bar, in which Issan, now Tommy Dee, an elegant drag queen, vamps to the song 'Hard Hearted Hannah.' ... No wig, no makeup, no glitter. But it works, thanks in no small part to actor Marc Weaver's skill in matching his posture and his movements to his characters's changing roles. Similarly, the monks become sailors just by draping themselves in middy collars and wearing navy hats. And, of course, by adding some swagger to their steps. A hospital gurney is an omnipresent prop. It becomes a bar, a kitchen table, an altar, even a four-passenger car, without ever ceasing to be a gurney. Given we know Dorsey died of AIDS, the gurney haunts every scene with the foreshadowing that it eventually will return to its hospital function and become a deathbed. The aural environment that envelops the production makes a significant contribution to the play's success. It is the work of soundscape artists Michael Northam and Seth Nehil.... Nonmelodic music creates a meditative sound space for the monastery scenes, while other unrecognizable noises create tension and heighten the drama at pivotal moments. Moving images are projected on a winglike screen. At one point the real-action choreography interacts with the video images, to stunning effect.... The production features fine acting all around, a stimulating sound and light environment and even a little Zen wisdom. It doesn't answer all the questions it raises, but it's a great play to see with a friend--you'll have a lot to talk about on the way home."

- Andy Simon, Just Out Magazine, August 2001

"A new company in town, Hand2Mouth Theatre, offers the curious story of Tommy 'Issan' Dorsey in the play The Posture Queen. From sailor in the U.S. Navy to drag queen to junkie to commune leader and, finally, Zen Buddhist master, the story of Dorsey unfolds with dramatic twists and turns.... New to Portland, the company has done theater work with youths in Poland, Romania and Macedonia. The group incorporates movement, imagery and sound into its performances."

- Holly Johnson, The Oregonian, August 2001

"Portland's summer theater scene never lacks for intriguing experimental efforts. Hand2Mouth Theatre's production of The Posture Queen, conceived and directed by artistic director Jonathan Walters, certainly fits this description.... In tracing Dorsey's life, Walters' intent is not a straightforward biography.   He hopes to convey what it was really like 'on the inside for Issan.' Set in 1979, well after Issan embraced Buddhism, the play moves freely across time.... Led by Marc Weaver, who plays Dorsey with intensity and humor, the cast of five works very well together.  

"Director Walters and choreographer Mark Hayes ably block their movements, imaginatively using Sara Thompson's set, Ted Holdt's props and the open Rose City Ballroom floor to create numerous vivid stage pictures. Walters also masterfully mixes Michael Mateyko's video images into the live action. While the production occasionally slips into lugubriousness, there is much evidence of skill and vision here. Certainly, The Posture Queen will please adventurous play-goers who are interested in the life of this drag queen turned Zen master."

- Richard Wattenberg, The Oregonian, August 2001

The Posture Queen is currently unavailable for touring.

Performance Dates        

  • May 2002 (indoor version)
  • September 2003 (outdoor version)