'Trying to bring some joy': jkjk's new musical rom-com 'Desperately Seeking Comfortable Shoes'
The new musical rom-com Desperately Seeking Comfortable Shoes is set to premier at Trinity Street Playhouse this month. It was created by jkjk, the artistic moniker of real-life married couple khattieQ and Jenny Larson-Quiñones – khattie is the musical director, Larson-Quiñones wrote the script and directs, and they both wrote the music (with help from composer Anton Berrios).
Desperately Seeking Comfortable Shoes had its origins in a recent time when Larson-Quiñones and khattie and were looking for a little more joy in their lives. “Well, it was actually in the middle of a very hard time for everyone in the whole planet,” Larson-Quiñones says. “It was in, you know, 2020. And it actually came from this desire in both of us to see stories that reflected relationships like ours, but that didn't center trauma. When we got to that point in our day where we were sitting down to watch TV, or just relax, we would flip through whatever streaming networks and everything that reflected people that looked like us – couples like [us] – it was really hard material, and [so] we were like, oh, let’s do something silly.”
“Yes!” khattie agrees. “When we were creating Desperately Seeking Comfortable Shoes, we were trying to bring some joy into queer storytelling. We wanted people to laugh. We were tired of sad stories – even though a lot of us, our stories have trauma in them. We wanted to… you know, if we're coming back to the theater, we want to invite people with joy and laughter this time around.”
And after a few years and some hard work, jkjk have created what khattie calls “a queer Viking love story with songs and terrible jokes.” Terrible jokes, they add, are “[their] favorite!”
The storyline for Desperately Seeking Comfortable Shoes is fictional, of course – it involves a little magic, some supernatural elements, and some giants – but elements of the plot were inspired by the creators’ real life. “There were many different sparks for the actual story itself,” Larson-Quiñones says. “And one of them is our own falling in love. And one of them is that during our first production together, there was a robbery. And that's a little bit of a spark. Both our falling in love and the robbery are little sparks, but they're very, very fictionalized in what you see [in the play].”
The Viking part of this “queer Viking love story” came from Larson-Quiñones’ research into her Nowegian ancestry, she says. “There's all this research that I personally went down a rabbit hole of, researching queer Norwegians, queer Vikings and also weaving in old Norse cultures and its meaning. I am the first openly queer person in my family. And I knew that that just couldn't be the truth – there are obviously lots of queer people born every day. And I knew that there were probably queer ancestors back there somewhere. I don't know anyone in my own family in my past, but I did find a bunch of… queer Norwegians and queer Vikings in particular. And it was really eye opening. I think most people are familiar with Loki being a bisexual character in Old Norse mythology, but Odin is as well. And the Viking culture in general actually was much more accepting. Although it's complicated – like this idea of acceptance, but the idea of sexuality and desire, it was all just very different and more fluid and more exciting than we imagine or than most of us understand.”
Perhaps to keep the conversation from getting too serious, khattie pops in to add with a laugh, “Plus there are songs!”
“And lots of dumb jokes!” says Larson-Quiñones. “Lots of silly, bad jokes!”
Music, comedy, Norse mythology, queer love stories – it sounds like a lot of disparate elements to work into one play. Was is difficult to make all the pieces fit together, I wondered?
“Actually, no!” jkjk exclaim together.
“Yeah, because… really the format and the structure is rom-com,” Larson-Quiñones explains. “And so basically, it's like a meet cute story that's queer that has some Viking magic thrown in. And there are two couples that you follow on the journey. And one couple, they're learning how to hold grief and how to accept their true identities and to trust love again and trust themselves. And then the other couple is… I mean, I guess they're also learning how to trust love again, but they're the immortals.”
In addition to a human cast including Kate Taylor, Rosalind Faires, Christine Hoang, and khattieQ, Desperately Seeking Comfortable Shoes also has a special non-human co-star. At the risk of enduring some ‘nepo baby’ accusations, jkjk has cast their own bulldog, David Bowie, to play Judy Garland the bulldog in the show. When it comes to the theatrical world, though, David Bowie isn’t a complete novice. “You know, they do love going to the theater,” Larson-Quiñones says.
“They do love the theater,” kattie agrees.
“They do love running across the stage,” Larson-Quiñones continues. “And it's going to be a very controlled and treat-filled moment. Our daughter is also going to be the dog wrangler. She should be giving them lots of treats and lots of love backstage until their grand entrance. We're hoping for the best. No bulldogs were harmed in the making of the show.”