Sunday, March 13, 2016

Southern Comfort ***

Kate Davis’s 2001 documentary of the same title is an extremely moving film about Robert Eads, a female-to-male transgender person dying, ironically, of ovarian cancer in rural Georgia, surrounded by his mostly transgender friends. Robert Dusold and Thomas Caruso have conceived the work for the stage, with music by Julianne Wick Davis and book and lyrics by Dan Collins. During his final year of life Eads (Annette O’Toole) finds true love with Lola Cola, (Jeff McCarthy) a tall transexual who has not yet committed to hormones or surgery. Jackson (Jeff Kuhn) is a younger F-to-M who has been friends with Robert for 10 years and regards him as his spiritual father. Sam (Donnie Cianciotto), another F-to-M transexual, and Melanie (Robin Skye), a biological woman, are a devoted couple who are also friends of Robert’s. Carly (Aneesh Sheth) is a sexy M-to-F transexual who is currently seeing Jackson. Four of the five musicians (David M. Lutken, Lizzie Hagstedt, Joel Waggoner and Elizabeth Ward Land) also sing and step into the action to play secondary characters such as Robert’s parents and Jackson’s father.  (David Morse, the pianist, does not.) Southern Comfort is the name of the annual transgender event in Atlanta that Robert and his friends regularly attend. While the book is mostlly faithful to the essentials of the film, it makes things a bit more schematic. As I am not a fan of country/bluegrass music, I did not really enjoy the score. To my ears, much of the music seemed monotonous and repetitive. The present Public Theater production features the same cast as the 2011 CAP 21 version except for Cianciotto and Sheth who are transgendered. The song list is almost identical too. The rustic set by James J. Fenton is dominated by a large tree filled with boxes of tchotchkes a la Joseph Cornell. Patricia Doherty’s costumes are spot-on. Thomas Caruso’s direction is seamless. The entire cast, especially O’Toole and McCarthy, are excellent. Although, for me, the music did not really enhance the story, it is still a moving and timely tale that I am glad will be seen by new audiences. I highly recommend renting the film too. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes including intermission.

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