TimeLine Theatre’s Chicago premiere of Anna Ziegler’s Boy (where the play was also workshopped in 2014) is inspired by the true story of a Canadian male child born physically male but reassigned and raised as a female after a botched circumcision, following medical advice and intervention.
As a 23-year-old male, Adam (Theo Germaine) is wooing Jenny (Emily Marso), while flashing back to his therapy sessions with Dr. Wendell Barnes (David Parkes), who’s gung-ho to have this “damaged” twin wear dresses and undergo female gender reassignment surgery.
Adam’s somewhat supportive working-class Iowan parents are alternately confused (mom Trudy, played by Mechelle Moe) and frustrated (angry dad Doug played by Stef Tovar) as they navigate gender non-conformity issues between 1968 and 1990 (scored by a fabulous period soundtrack, including Cheap Trick’s “The Flame” and Young MC’s “Bust A Move,” designed by Karli Blalock).
The “basketball court” set, where the action in various living spaces occurs in the middle flanked by audience rows, was designed by Arnel Sancianco. The sides consist of two tall towers, looming bookshelves filled with boxes of childhood and family ephemera. The statement is compartmentalization, how memories are static snapshots belying the fluid turmoil of their owners, how gender is historically balkanized as binary and only entirely female or male, despite the estimated 1.4 million transgendered people in the US alone.
Adam meets Jenny at Halloween wearing green makeup. She’s asks if he’s Frankenstein; he replies, “I’m just the monster,” a theme carried into his voracious reading habit, also identifying with the beasts in Where The Wild Things Are. His parents wonder if he’s a hermaphrodite, and the play, under Damon Kiely’s tight and thoughtful direction, muses about whether everyone is actually “a blank slate at birth.”
Dad comes closest to articulating his child’s uniqueness: “You came out of your mother as who you are – a kind, gentle boy.” And the play echoes the visceral, topical and political themes of today, having Adam insist that the others “say my name” to affirm the maleness he reaffirms as a teen, to underscore his new name choice from the biblical first man. X as a non-binary gender marker, for people who identify as neither male or female, marks this new spot in history.
Boy is part of the 21st season at TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington, and runs through March 18. Shows are Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 4 and 8pm, and Sundays at 2pm, plus an added show on Tuesday, March 13 (with some exceptions – check the website). Tickets are $40-54, with $25 tickets for US military, veterans, first responders, and their spouses and families, and are available at 773.281.8463 x6.