Identity crisis powers ‘Boy’ at Theatrical Outfit


Anna Ziegler’s drama “Boy” is based on the real life of David Reimer, a young Canadian man who was raised from infancy as a girl, after a horrific surgical accident during a circumcision procedure. The play renames the character Samuel (or Samantha) Turner and relocates the story to Davenport, Iowa, where he/she grows up, and Boston, where a renowned psychologist periodically counsels him/her over the span of some 20 years.

Jumping back and forth in time, the action takes place between 1968 and 1990 – long before gender identity issues became more commonplace, and before even the most well-meaning parents or doctors knew better than to follow the course of “treatment” they do in this case. For all of their misguided attempts to “nurture” her, Sam is aware of his true “nature” from an early age. But he/she is sadly unable to fully express it or to assume much control of the situation, lacking what’s described in the play as the “power to shape one’s own reality.”

Although Dr. Barnes advises the parents to avoid subjecting the child to any of the usual “boy stuff,” Sam gradually begins to exhibit “classic tomboy” tendencies nonetheless. He has Sam read “Jane Eyre,” hoping to encourage a certain identification with the heroine of the novel. And later, after Sam sees the movie “Star Wars,” Barnes tries to discourage the kid from relating quite so strongly with Luke Skywalker.

Under the direction of Melissa Foulger, Theatrical Outfit’s “Boy” co-stars associate artistic director Clifton Guterman in the title role, opposite artistic director Tom Key as the doctor.

Guterman clearly has the showier part. The play runs 90-odd minutes with no intermission. Given Ziegler’s zigzagging structure, from one instant to the next, Guterman transitions from an adolescent “girl” to a 20-ish man awkwardly embarking on a courtship with a young single mother (played by Annie York). He’ll take off his jacket, wrap it around his waist as a skirt of sorts, and suddenly step back into the past for another therapy session with the doctor.

His performance is very evenly matched by Key, who’s most often prone to portraying singularly virtuous and upstanding characters, as opposed to deeply flawed ones. While the doctor is largely sympathetic and hardly a “bad guy,” Key brings a sufficient shading to the role to substantiate later assertions in the play about his motives and intentions.

The supporting cast is somewhat weaker. York is OK as the love interest, but the climactic revelations of the last scene don’t adequately register with her. Likewise, Matt Lewis and Daryl Lisa Fazio are effective enough as the long-suffering parents, but more accomplished actors could have achieved a lot more.

The production values are respectable: The detailed set is designed by Barrett Doyle and Joel Coady, the subtle lighting by Lauren Robinson.

At one point, the doctor talks to Sam about the ability of high art to move and inspire. At the very least, that “Boy” may fall short of that level doesn’t make its sensitive subject matter any less interesting.

THEATER REVIEW

“Boy”

Through Oct. 15. 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays. $20.50-$49. Balzer Theater at Herren’s, 84 Luckie St. NW, Atlanta. 678-528-1500. www.theatricaloutfit.org.

Bottom line: Well-meaning.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Living

‘Take Every Wave’ looks at life, work ethic of surfing star
‘Take Every Wave’ looks at life, work ethic of surfing star

It takes a lot of work to be a surf bum. “Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton,” the latest documentary from Rory Kennedy (“Last Days in Vietnam”), is partly the life story of Hamilton, widely considered the world’s best big-wave surfer, and partly a study in obsession. Kennedy bounces back and forth between times...
Biopic remains superficial tearjerker
Biopic remains superficial tearjerker

“Breathe” is meant, no doubt, as a sincere homage to the late disability advocate Robin Cavendish, who died, after living with polio for 36 years, in 1994. Commissioned by his son, producer Jonathan Cavendish — who plays a minor role in the film — and directed by Jonathan Cavendish’s business partner, actor Andy Serkis...
‘Only the Brave’ is gripping story of firefighting heroes
‘Only the Brave’ is gripping story of firefighting heroes

Wildland firefighting is a mysterious art: a delicate dance with a raging, unpredictable force. It’s bested only with a unique mastery of weather, fuel and wind to extinguish fire with fire itself. If our image of firefighting is a big red truck and a hose, “Only the Brave,” directed by Joseph Kosinski, tweaks that image, introducing...
Canada heartbroken: Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie dead at 53 of brain cancer 
Canada heartbroken: Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie dead at 53 of brain cancer 

The lead singer of the Canadian alt-rock band the Tragically Hip, Gord Downie, died Wednesday night after a battle with terminal brain cancer. Downie, 53, passed away surrounded by his children and family, according to a family statement on Twitter. "Gord knew this day was coming – his response was to spend this precious time as he always...
Fox Business host Neil Cavuto celebrates a career milestone, personal growth

Fox Business News host Neil Cavuto beat Stage 4 cancer and was dealing with a multiple sclerosis diagnosis when he got some more great news from his doctors: he needed open-heart surgery.  With hospitals finally in the rear-view mirror after his return a little over a year ago, Cavuto, who...
More Stories