Several religions and belief systems trust that rebirth sprouts from death. The spirit can remain immortal long after the body decomposes. As the essence of our truest self illuminates, the brittle bones, organs, and tangible material falls away. “Indigo Dai: Immortal Men,” produced by Incubator Arts Project (New York City) and directed by Molly Murphy; narrates the death and rebirth of the bewitching drag queen Indigo Dai (Marlon Meikle) in a collage of dance, burial ritual, and cabaret drag performance. Her death is paralleled to the mummification process of Buddhist monks in Japan in the late 1800s. These particular monks, named Sokushinbutsu, were deemed with the highest respects as they starved themselves for 3,000 days before eventually settling into a tomb while still alive. This self-mummification ritual would lead to the ultimate transcendence into a Buddha, a god without mortal flaws.
However, transcendence doesn’t come free—it requires work. We carry the weight of knowing that Indigo Dai will d-i-e from the onset, or “d-a-i” as she specifies. She cryptically suggests, “this isn’t about murder, it’s about suicide.” This confirmation landed heavy on my heart; perhaps out of relevancy. With homophobic and anti-trans-gender hate crimes escalating throughout the country, I couldn’t help but be cautious and fearful of Indigo Dai’s future. “This life of mine, which has been like a disease” reminded me of the countless long nights and even earlier mornings I’ve had with my closest companions who struggle with the same type of pain and hostility on a daily basis. It’s the pulsing need to escape from a body that doesn’t seem to fit—a burdensome body in more ways than one. With the talk of suicide, I thought Indigo Dai’s outcome would translate into my worst nightmare in reality—luckily, I was surprised.
Freedom from the body’s limitations is what defines the Sokushinbutsu’s enlightenment. Interspersed between music and skillfully-executed choreography with grace and strength, the spoken text throughout the piece was beautifully poetic and affective. Indigo Dai proclaims, “I know longer do, I now only am. Everything I know is a sham … Death is the only sincerity.” This definition of death evokes new beginnings and requires courage. It is in fact the death of fear and self-loathing—the bravery to be yourself apart from the visible. It is the becoming into a greater entity. And for her, it is the freedom of being in drag–although I am reluctant to use “drag” as a descriptive when in actuality her performance in drag is more of a coming clean, or a purification, than a masking.
With a short running time of about 40 minutes, I don’t think I was the only one who was left begging for more Indigo Dai. Murphy’s direction paired with Meikle’s genius brainchild and Gus Deardoff’s clean earthy set, meant for a stimulating evening of performance art. I left the theater feeling awoken and empowered. More than anything, this piece instilled a hopefulness within me. Indigo Dai’s final words have stuck with me:
“He starves his body … I starve my fear … He fights to prevent maggots from consuming him, and I fight to prevent doubt from consuming me. He died and became a God. I dai and am a Queen.”