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Friday, 19 January 2018 22:54

Review: Boy at Timeline Theatre

Long before Jeffrey Eugenide’s novel 2003 ‘Middlesex’ brought intersexuality to the mainstream lexicon, there was David Reimer. ‘BOY’ by Anna Zeigler is a new play inspired by the real life story of a boy raised as a girl after a botched circumcision. Reimer was known only as the “John/Joan” case throughout the medical community until 1997, when he decided to make his story public. He has since committed suicide.

‘BOY’ makes its area premiere at TimeLine Theatre Company under the direction of Damon Kiely. In their intimate space, this small cast tells Zeigler’s version of the John/Joan case. The structure of the play is one its strongest assets. We first meet Adam (Theo Germaine), a shy young man trying to flirt with a girl named Jenny (Emily Marso). Starting here establishes the present tense, or in this case, the early 90s. In alternating scenes, we then meet Adam’s parents Doug and Trudy (Stef Tovar and Mechelle Moe) in the mid-60s. They’re new parents desperate for a way to make normal the life of their infant son whose penis is mutilated in a medical accident. They’re introduced to Dr. Wendell Barnes (David Parkes), the founder of the first American institute on gender. The two stories gradually meet in the middle when Adam must confront his past in order to move into his future.

The brisk pace tells a complete story, if only a little brief. A story as unique as this probably garners more questions than answers. The ensemble works well together to demystify this case study. The courtship between Theo Germaine’s Adam and Emily Morso’s Jenny is endearing. Morso perfectly embodies the dialogue of a tough-girl with a warm side. Whereas Theo Germaine gives one of their best performances yet. Theo swings from child to grown up in the blink of an eye throughout the play and yet, it’s through those swings we can see that Adam never really grows up. Stef Tovar and Mechelle Moe as the stereotypical Iowan family dealing with this surreal reality are impeccable. Moe has the mannerisms down. While Tovar’s character is pretty quiet throughout the play, his final moments on stage with Adam are some of the play’s most touching.

‘BOY’ will surprise many. As the National Geographic pointed out last year, we’re in the midst of a gender revolution. What is the most surprising is how accessible this play is. Unlike Taylor Mac’s comic masterpiece ‘HIR’ – there’s no tone of condescension here. The play is simply a well-structured, fictionalized account of the John/Joan case. It’s as juicy as an episode of the Phil Donahue show but there’s also a lot of heart here, and it begs the bigger question, what would you do? Zeigler’s version of the real life Dr. Money (who wrote about David Reimer extensively) – Wendell Barnes, is written in a way that will make some debate whether or not he genuinely cared for his patient or proving his extreme gender theory. Though, it’s through this (unfortunately) failed experiment that we know so much more about sexual science today.

Through March 18 at TimeLine Theatre Company. 615 W Wellington Ave. 773-281-8463

Published in Theatre in Review

Sarah Ruhl’s ‘In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play’ returns to Chicago at Timeline Theatre. Directed by Mechelle Moe, this drawing room comedy about the advent of electricity is sure to tickle audiences. Ruhl’s works have often been produced around the city as she’s an Evanston native. She may reside in Brooklyn now, but we’ll still claim her as our own.

‘In the Next Room’ was shortlisted for the 2009 Pulitzer after a successful Broadway run. It was also nominated for the 2009 Tony Award for Best Play. ‘In the Next Room’ might just be Ruhl’s most fully realized play. It’s a whimsical, if not loose, history of the invention of the vibrator. While it may sound like a cheeky sex comedy, ‘In the Next Room’ is a feminist anthem.

Dr Givings (Anish Jethmalani) is a country doctor who specializes in hysteria, a very real condition that afflicted women during a much less sexual period in history. His wife Catherine (Rochelle Therrien) does not suffer as her husband’s patients do, but instead yearns for romantic love. In some ways, this play is like Sarah Ruhl’s own version of ‘A Doll’s House.’ A wife searching for her purpose in a world dominated by men. Catherine says at one point “I do not know what kind of person I am” and feels like a failure when her child will not nurse. Through various entrances and exits, we’re shown how sexless life was between man and wife during the Victorian era. As an audience with hindsight, we understand that this miracle cure for hysteria is nothing more than a medically induced orgasm.

The ensemble is well cast. Rochelle Therrien makes Ruhl’s fanciful dialogue endearing and innocent. Her fresh-faced and child-like performance is so charming you can’t believe her husband’s indifference. Though quiet and understated, Dana Tretta plays Annie, the physician’s midwife. A sort of “Igor” sidekick type, but Ruhl doesn’t overlook the character. Her arch of a life without love is perhaps the most touching of all.

Not only is this play a feminist anthem, but a play about orgasms. The very idea that women did not discuss anything related to sex is absurd in a world where you can watch re-runs of ‘Sex and the City’ at any given time. Even nursing a child was considered distasteful to discuss. Rarely if ever have so many simulated orgasms happened in one theatrical performance. Though, like the era, they’re so unsexualized that you can’t help but giggle at the characters discovering themselves. In one full-length play Sarah Ruhl bursts nearly every female taboo of the time out of the closet. Never have Women’s Rights been a more hot button issue and ‘In the Next Room’ comes at just the right time.

Through December 16 at Timeline Theatre Company. Stage 773, 1225 W Belmont Ave. 773-327-5252

 

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