Friday, March 4, 2016

Boy *

I had high hopes for Anna Ziegler’s new play, now in previews at Keen Company in a co-production with Ensemble Studio Theatre and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Ziegler’s recent play “A Delicate Ship” was intriguing, the topic of nature vs. nurture in the context of gender reassignment surgery sounded promising, and the star was Bobby Steggert, an actor whose work I have always admired. The play is based on an actual case. When Sam, one of their twin boys is accidentally mutilated in a botched circumcision, his parents turn to a famous physician who persuades them to remove the boy’s remaining genitals and raise him as a girl. Eventually, nature trumps nurture and the adolescent Samantha decides to live in accordance with genetic makeup. Most of the action takes place when the protagonist, now known as Adam, is 22, but there are flashbacks to the birth year and the years in between. Trudy and Doug, the parents faced with the terrible decision of how to raise their damaged child, are well-played by Heidi Armbruster and Ted Koch. Jenny (Rebecca Rittenhouse) is effective as the woman Adam takes a shine to. Paul Niebanck as Dr. Wendell Barnes, the doctor who treated Samantha for a dozen years and is blinded by the desire to prove his theories, comes across as stiff. Steggert’s character seems too childlike as an adult and too grown up as a child, a fault I blame on the playwright and, to a lesser extent, on director Linsay Firman. The dialog is extremely clunky at times and the situation’s inherent potential for drama is largely unrealized. The scenic design by Sandra Goldmark featuring a second set of furnishings upside down and in reverse above the main set behind a scrim seemed like a clumsy metaphor. Unfortunately, my high expectations led to deep disappointment. Running time: 85  minutes; no intermission.

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