Cory (Jordan Ho) and Smin (Jamie Lowenstein) are on the precipice of breaking up. The far away romance in Billy McEntee’s Cory and Smin’s Love Conquers the Earth, which had a brief run in director Charles Quittner’s Williamsburg backyard the weekend of October 16th, as ephemeral as it is intimate, is reaching the limit of its realistic sustainability. Not for lack of trying. New Jersey based Cory’s gestures towards solidifying their dynamic are met with reticence. A purchased plane ticket for Cali-bae Smin to spend the holidays with Cory hovers in the air; ready to drop to the pit of Cory’s stomach and weightless, maybe unimportant for Smin. Their online chats, pushing Cory past their curfew, are what they have to hold onto, this intangibility smarting of sharp irony, given their mutual dedication to environmental activism; the very importance of their exchanges with one another nonetheless burrowed into both of their hearts.
Their desire for one another has become vine-like, wrapping itself around Cory’s sincere heart and, perhaps, Smin’s neck, maybe their sense of autonomy, too. I mean, these are high schoolers, still figuring out who they are, what they want to be, how they want to walk around in the world as themselves. Pretty precocious, too, their ambition for how to change the world and make it a better place, to ensure its continued existence, outsized from their adolescent access to resources. “I’ve been thinking about the ecological impact of our love,” begins Smin.
Environmental activism, once something that brought them together (as well as the musicals of Pasek and Paul), becomes shield and weapon; the plane ticket triggers doubts, and they bubble up in Smin’s mind, while Cory simmers across the country. Quittner has them never facing one another, staring out into a void, soundboards as keys to compensate. Smin, once fiery, in control, and curious (as seen in their scenes with Lime Rickey, played by Daphne Always with stunning humanity), stumbles, the prospect of confronting the reality of internet abetted affections destabilizing. Smin wields their environmental justice acumen waveringly. Excuses are made. The inequity of their affections is revealed. And then something breaks.
“You just broke the tropopause,” Cory says, matter of factly. Cory’s optimism about their situation mutates, resigned not to what they once hope it was going to be like, draped in the anticipation and idealism of queer youth, seeped in the endless potential of whatever the internet and queerness in concert could hold, but in an immediacy of imagination that feels not like fiction but a kind of drag.
You just broke the tropopause. A nice little nod to Harper, but without the solace. Cory’s once coquettish invitations become more forthright, a role-play of Smin on the plane en route to Jersey, but tinged with surreal eroticism. Cory authors a fantasy, presiding in an alluring and uncomfortable liminal space between potentially damaging the planet, to use their parlance, and possibly saving themselves, or maybe self-immolating.
You just broke the tropopause. A broken-hearted brew of the world as it is, as it’s coming to be, and who Cory and Smin are, and who they could be. Cory narrates a could-be ending, Smin on the plane, Smin ordering water, Smin landing. Cory narrates the atmosphere around them, its fate paradoxically intertwined with and independent of the trajectory of their relationship. There’s a fragility to this fantasy: wrapped up in speculation of a future queer self, or a queer future period, but McEntee illustrates an unbecoming at the expense of becoming:
“ozone gasping for air, no souls are flying no limbs akimbo no restoring of the cheesecloth it’s just dying molecules coughing and retching and it’s reverberating throughout the atmosphere and only you can see them and your plane is rattling”
It’s not the specificity of this scenario, wondrous and horrible, that arouses Smin necessarily. It’s the fact that Cory can see what Smin does. This dialogue hinges on disorientation and displacement, reorientation and replacement, that their connection to one another recontextualizes the very atmosphere’s topography. Even if it hasn’t happened, even if they’ve never been with one another in person, there is an undeniable insight into the way that Smin engages with the world around them that Cory understands intimately. However different the dynamic might be in person, Cory unearths the rawness and the core truth of both Smin’s longing and fear. And Cory, speaking feverishly, worries not about the projection or performance or artifice in this relationship, but loses themself in the telling, in the writing, in the fantasizing.
When Smin climaxes, random articles of clothing fall from the air, recalling Xavier Dolan’s Laurence Anyways; gorgeous and soiled, luxury and detritus. Internet romances and perhaps queerness itself thrive in contradiction and ambiguity, in making artifice authentic again. If the world were to go down in flames from a flight for love, wouldn’t that be suiting? A death drive trying to make the intangible tactile, the performed material. Up in the air, together and apart, they’re far away, so close.
How horrible that is. How lovely that is. They broke the tropopause.