Writer: Anna Ziegler
Director: Linsay Firman
Reviewer: Jamie Rosler
Dramatising real-life events can be a challenge. As worthwhile or engaging as a story might seem, it can rarely be presented without alteration and still considered a quality artistic product. This, and the responsibility of honestly presenting characters based on real, living people, is the challenge faced by the cast and crew of Boy, the first original production from Keen Company in over a decade (in collaboration with the Ensemble Studio Theatre). Their effort is laudable, but their success is debatable.
Anna Ziegler’s script is heartfelt but rocky, and Linsay Firman’s direction feels incomplete, as though the actors are still in rehearsal. The cast lay their hearts on the stage for this production, but they are, almost without exception, miscast in the roles as written.
Boy is based on the true story of an eight-month-old twin boy in the 1960s who was the victim of a botched circumcision and an ensuing gender reassignment surgery, who then returns to his male identity as a teenager, self-selecting for a gender confirmation surgery as a young adult. The names and major institutions have all been changed, but the story’s foundation, and the exploration of nature versus nurture in the field of sex and gender identity, is pulled directly from reality.
Ziegler’s script is underpinned by a love story between the main character, Adam Turner, played somewhat awkwardly by Bobby Steggert, and a single mother, Jenny Lafferty, portrayed by Rebecca Rittenhouse. Their present-tense courtship in the late 1980s/early 1990s is paralleled with flashbacks to when Adam was being raised as Samantha in the 1960s and 1970s, and having ongoing meetings with Dr. Wendell Barnes (Paul Niebanck), a man whose motives are ultimately questionable to everyone except himself. The device of time travel is a fascinating choice, but is played to remove any dramatic reveal in moving the plot forward. Combined with the lack of believability when Steggert steps into the role of Samantha, we’re left with good creative intentions fallen somewhat flat.
The production lacks movement. Several scenes are little more than two people sitting or standing in the same positions, occasionally in a presumed but nonspecific location. When there is movement, it is sometimes uncomfortable, coming from external direction to do so rather than the internal motivation of the character in the situation.
A strength of the production is the story itself, and the message of hope and love that Ziegler intends to express. The human story and the emotional journeys of the characters are what have the potential to truly draw the audience in and drive the hopeful message home. Though it could have been executed better, it is a strong starting point, and goes a great way to holding up an otherwise lackluster production.
Runs until 9 April 2016
Boy, Theatre Row, Clurman Theatre, New York City, New York, Anna Ziegler, Linsay Firman, Keen Company, Ensemble Studio Theatre, Rebecca Rittenhouse, Paul Niebanck