A co-production between Queensland Theatre and Sydney Theatre Company, Glace Chase’s Triple X was in preview performances when COVID-19 necessitated the closure of Australian theatres in March 2020. Now, almost a full year later, this raunchy romantic comedy has finally opened to the roar of a standing ovation in the Bille Brown Theatre.

Wall Street banker Scotty has a picture-perfect fiancée, a multi-million-dollar loft apartment, a new job lined up… and he is miserable. Triple X charts Scotty’s chance meeting and subsequent 10-month affair with trans performance artist Dexie, culminating in the discovery of their relationship by Scotty’s friends and family, who are all in New York to attend his wedding. As secrets begin to spill and lies begin to unravel, Scotty must make a choice between the familiar, comfortable life he hates, and the possibility of a future he has never imagined.

Josh McConville and Glace Chase in Triple X. Photograph © Brett Boardman

Directed by Paige Rattray, who was also integral in initiating the writing of the play, Triple X explores toxic masculinity in structures of power and privilege, especially as they operate within a patriarchal culture built on heteronormativity and cisgenderism. Playwright Glace Chase wrote in her program note that she was initially resistant to writing the play, which is based on true events in her own life, but felt the story needed to be told and that she should be the one to tell it. Chase doesn’t sugar-coat the difficulties that Dexie faces as a trans woman in life, love, work, and more, and she digs into her characters’ fears and hypocrisies as well as the imposition of shame from those around them. The work includes transphobic language and slurs, and acts of violence including malicious misgendering and physical assault, which may be triggering for trans and gender diverse people.

Chase’s writing is incisive and clever, obfuscating the truth just enough to keep the tension simmering away. Time skips are often used in plays to show the passing of time or to tell a long story more quickly, but Chase manipulates time in this work to slowly, deliciously, unravel the secrets and lies of her characters in heart-pounding and hilarious ways. Triple X is expertly crafted and perfectly paced, and the subversion of well-worn storytelling tropes brought the audience to the edge of their seats, only to alleviate the tension again with a joke or a song. In addition to gender and identity politics, Triple X deals with issues including gun violence, suicide and domestic violence. The play walks a fine line between darkness and light, holding comedy and tragedy in a beautiful balance.

The postponement of the initial season led to some changes in casting, but Triple X’s all-star creative team has remained the same. Design by Renée Mulder, in tandem with lighting design by Ben Hughes and composition and sound design by Kelly Ryall, transported audiences to the polished concrete and wood panelling of Scotty’s loft apartment and the colourful, many-textured heights of Dexie’s performance art, including pop song covers and extravagant costumes. Intimacy and fight direction by Nigel Poulton resulted in some of the most memorable scenes in the work, including brilliant physical comedy, heartbreaking aggression, and the raciest, funniest sex scene I have ever witnessed on a stage.

Elijah Williams, Josh McConville and Contessa Treffone in Triple X. Photograph © Brett Boardman

Playwright and leading lady Glace Chase was dynamic as Dexie, and her onstage chemistry with co-star Josh McConville (Scotty) was electric. McConville was riveting in his role, with a dark undercurrent of energy running under the surface of his performance. He showed his versatility in moments that were playful, morbid, furious and vulnerable. Christen O’Leary was perfectly detestable as Scotty’s skittish, overbearing mother Deborah, Contessa Treffone brought a tough, earnest energy to the role of Scotty’s well-meaning lesbian sister Claire, and Elijah Williams was relaxed and self-assured as Scotty’s friend and housemate Jase. The American accents of the cast remained consistent throughout, with voice and text coaching by Charmian Gradwell, and a few minor line slips were managed smoothly.

Billed as both a modern American romance and the first trans love story on the Australian mainstage, Triple X is a romantic comedy with teeth, tackling big ideas, themes, and power structures without preaching or becoming cluttered; the emotional journey of Dexie and Scotty’s affair is always the central axis around which the work revolves. At its heart, Triple X is a complex work about the choices we all make in life and love, the hypocrisies we try to justify, and the secrets and lies we tell to ourselves and to each other.

Triple X plays at the Bille Brown Theatre, Brisbane, until 1 April, 2021.

UPDATE: The Sydney Theatre Company season of Triple X is playing at the Wharf 1 Theatre, 8 January – 26 February, 2022.