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How State of the Union's Nonbinary Barista Challenges an Older Couple 

How State of the Union's Nonbinary Barista Challenges an Older Couple 

State of the Union
Sundance TV

The bite-size series that stars Esco Jouley, Patricia Clarkson, and Brendan Gleeson is rolling out on SundanceTV now. 

A nonbinary barista played by Esco Jouley challenges the perceptions of a 60-something WASPy married couple on the brink of divorce in SundanceTV's second season of the short-form drama State of the Union. The 10-episode (10 minutes each) series stars LGBTQ+ icon Patricia Clarkson (High Art, Far From Heaven) as Ellen and Brendan Gleeson (The Tragedy of Macbeth) as Scott -- a Connecticut couple coming apart in large part over social issues. They interact regularly with Jouley's character Jay at the coffee shop ahead of their couples counseling sessions. Directed by Stephen Frears (Philomena, Dangerous Liaisons, My Beautiful Laundrette) and written by Nick Hornby (About a Boy), the series explores the implacability of some folks to accept that life as they knew it is changing.

With each cup of coffee Jay serves to Scott, he's forced to grapple with their being nonbinary as well as, often, environmental issues, ethical coffee production, the impending obsolescence of cow's milk in hot beverages, etc., that come up in conversation. Meanwhile, Clarkson's Ellen, who begins as the more progressive half of the couple, eventually makes assumptions about Jay -- that they must be vegan, and more.

With roles on High Maintenance, Blindspotting, and Inventing Anna, nonbinary actor Jouley's character acts as a bit of a pedagogue to Ellen and Scott, who both make assumptions about their gender and sexual identity. A singer, dancer, movement artist, and clown, Jouley is known for creating the character One, who is akin to Charlie Chaplin and Harpo Marx in that they communicate via movement and expression without voice.

"It was an honor and a special moment in time to work with Patricia and Brendan, and we created characters that reflect real human experiences. I was a part of a team where we all knew these characters had different perspectives and we ultimately felt like everyone wanted to tell the most honest story," Jouley tells The Advocate. "With Nick Hornby, it's all about the words. One of my favorite lines from the show is that 'people are driven demented by ambiguity.' It's such a great line because it offers a very interesting view on the way it affects people to stand outside of what might be considered 'normal.'"

State of the Union season 2 kicked off on Valentine's Day with the first episode and is rolling out another episode each day until all 10 have aired.

Watch State of the Union on SundanceTV now.

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Tracy E. Gilchrist