Up, Up and Away

Qya Cristál Shines As The Ebonic Woman

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by Steve Desroches

For generations now Provincetown has repeatedly been witness to artistic supernovas, that moment when a star suddenly increases in brightness after a brilliant explosion of energy. Throughout the town’s history it’s happened so often there’s a whole galaxy that orbits Provincetown. There are those that arrive on our shores with a shimmer, and through a confluence of creative fusion, burst into glittering constellations. It’s a thrill to watch, not just because you get to see the birth of a star, but also because it means that Provincetown still is home to those rare elements that allow this phenomenon to repeat into an ever-growing universe of imagination. And it’s happening again.

From the moment Qya Cristál arrived in town it was clear she was someone who was going to leave her mark on Provincetown. With an irresistible charisma and crackling smarts, when Cristál hit the stage as an ensemble member of the Gold Dust Orphans production of Snow White and the Seven Bottoms, all eyes went to her. Then a couple of years later she took to the microphone and stunned the crowd into silence and then cheers when she tore into  “The Acid Queen” at a summer Space Pussy concert. And now she’s reached superstar status as the superhero star in the latest Orphans offering The Ebonic Woman, showing that she has the comedic chops to lead the show.

As Cristál walks past a patch of tiger lilies in full bloom on Pearl Street on a hazy July day, she gives a bright smile and glittery wave as several of her fingernails are bedazzled with silver stones. With an aquamarine head wrap and a slender black ensemble she lets out a contented sigh. She’s busy, but happy. It only takes a few moments for her voice to quicken as she speeds through her schedule and then on to what she has planned for the future: see the world, sing at big venues, keep on pushing herself to see what she can accomplishment next.

Yes, in part, the enthusiasm in her voice is the exuberance of youth, but it’s also the excitement of someone who has not only abundant opportunities, but the support of a community that seeks to elevate and the keen self-awareness to not only appreciate it, but seize it.

“Provincetown, it’s given me a freedom that I never in a million years thought I’d be able to have,” says Cristál. “It’s a bunch of little things, just little things. Things that maybe people take for granted. That I can walk down the street in a caftan as a boy or I can wear long, sparkly fingernails. I can be as free as I want to be. Back in Boston I still hesitate, but not here.  It’s a freedom that thank God this place has.”

Hailing from the Mississippi River town of Cape Girardeau, Missouri, Cristál first wowed audiences as a small child singing in her church’s gospel choir. She arrived in Boston to attend Berklee College of Music, graduating in 2015. It was in Boston that she met Sapphira Cristál, a great talent in her own right, who became her drag mother prior to her catching the eye of Ryan Landry after fellow drag standout Liza Lott introduced them. It was during last year’s production of Brokelahomo when Landry approached Cristál about starring as Hennessy Brown, the mild mannered, altruistic scientist working on a serum to end racism who, in the process, becomes the superhero this country needs as she dons a gold lamé cape and takes to the skies as the Ebonic Woman.

The process of writing the script and creating the characters was an especially collaborative one, says Cristál. While the Orphans are known for their take-no-prisoners savage satires, a white man writing a comedic play about racism would indeed require significant input so that the humor lands in such a way that the heartfelt message within is not lost. Cristál’s favorite line in the play is, “There are people who don’t want to change, and they will hate you for making them try.” As the Ebonic Woman fights the bigoted, evil villain Bald Eagle, this superhero mash-up drills straight to the molten core of our current national nightmare. But it does so with a humorous release valve. It doesn’t minimize or mock, but rather illuminates and opens the mind through laughter, which can be a most effective kryptonite to our society’s ills. It’s a risk, but one that the Orphans succeed in with both mission and craft, though it has attracted a small digital mob eager to label it #problematic.

“There’s these ‘micro wars’ online,” says Cristál. “People need to stop being so easily offended and learn to laugh. Ryan has always tried to write shows that make people laugh and think…I think people get caught up in being politically correct and think ‘I shouldn’t be laughing at this as a white person.’ Just because you laugh at a joke doesn’t mean you hate anybody. It’s just funny. We need the laughter because it heals…plus we base our timing on the laughter. People who take it too seriously; you’re doing yourself a disservice.”

It’s abundantly clear that just like her character, Cristál will continue to soar to new heights both here in Provincetown and beyond. She is focused and ready to do the work. The buzz surrounding her talents zips up and down Commercial Street. And this past Fourth of July, while just wandering out and about with friends, she drifted into The Club, Lea DeLaria’s new jazz hotspot and sang Etta James’ “At Last” with the house band to thunderous applause. It led to an invitation to come back, which she did, singing for DeLaria herself, who in turn invited Cristál to work on a late night show of her own, due to premiere in mid-August. Cristál smiles and covers her mouth with both hands in joyous disbelief. The moment is now, and she knows it.

“We all have the power within us to make changes in the world,” says Cristál . “It’s just whether or not we’re going to accept that power.”

The Ebonic Woman is performed at Fishermen Hall, 12 Winslow St., Sunday at 7:30 p.m. through September 1. Tickets ($49.99/$59.99/$100) are available at the door and online at fishermenhall.com.