Theatrical Outfit is presenting Anna Ziegler’s play “Boy,” directed by Melissa Foulger, running through Oct. 15.
The play premiered Off-Broadway early in 2016; it did not have a long run, but not because it isn’t a powerful, provocative work, because it is. Maybe audiences were uncomfortable with this story, based on a real person named David Peter Reimer; a book appeared in 2001 called “As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl.”
Reimer’s genitalia were mutilated in a botched medical circumcision when he was a baby. His parents consulted a specialist in gender identity who decided it would be better for David to be raised as a girl. The specialist believed that gender was determined more by nurture than nature.
The boy in question in “Boy” is called Adam Turner (Clifton Guterman); he is not told as a child what happened to him. His well-meaning parents take the advice of the well-meaning psychologist Dr. Barnes (Tom Key) and dress the little boy as a girl. But “she” soon feels that something is wrong with her.
We first see Adam as a young man in his 20’s conversing with a young woman named Jenny (Annie York). There is sexual chemistry between them, but also profound bewilderment because neither can satisfy the other. I’m not going to give you the details; however, you may picture awkwardness, turned quickly into confusion and frustration for Jenny; to these add anguish for Adam.
There are flashbacks into Dr. Barnes’ office as he counsels a very young “Samantha” – an amazing transition as Mr. Guterman, without any makeup or special costume, instantly plays a little girl, a questioning, unhappy one.
Then there are Adam’s parents, Trudy and Doug (Daryl Lisa Fabio and Matt Lewis), who are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, as my grandmother used to say. Even though they know the truth of Adam’s childhood operation, they seem strangely in denial and desperately want to believe Dr. Barnes’ course of action is the best one.
One would like to believe the good doctor’s motivations are totally earnest, sincere, and professional. Yet there creeps into mind the notion that a bit of Dr. Frankenstein is in him; and it’s hard for this viewer not to believe that Dr. Barnes’ ego is certainly at play here. It’s a very subtle thing, but Mr. Key, fine actor that he is, is aware of that possibility and knows how to imply complex, unconscious intentions.
You may get the impression that there’s not a lot of joy in this house, to paraphrase Big Mama in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” You’d be right. The play runs a mere 95 minutes with no intermission; perhaps playwright Ziegler tries to get in too much in that short period. But she fluidly places us back and forth from the doctor’s office to the Turner home to Jenny’s place. In this she is aided by a fine set by Barrett Doyle and Joel Coady.
Earlier I mentioned that “Samantha” felt that something was wrong with her. Think of what that means to a child; to ponder the possibility that you are a cosmic mistake and perhaps shouldn’t be here at all. What anguish to visit upon anyone, especially a child. And you know we live in a world where even the words “gender identity” confuse many people and make them uncomfortable.
With those thoughts in mind, please know that Clifton Guterman is giving a remarkable performance as Adam: intelligent, emotional, heartbreaking. His range is astonishing; in addition, he is equipped with a clear, strong, flexible voice that seems made for the stage. His duties as a theatre administrator have kept him off the boards for too long; but like Dolly Levi, he’s back where he belongs. All by himself he is reason enough to see “Boy.”
His fellow actors are excellent as well, as is Melissa Foulger’s sensitive direction. Put all of these factors together and know that “Boy” is quite an unforgettable experience.
For tickets and information, visit theatricaloutfit.org.