If you think you have problems meet Adam (an amazing Bobby Steggert) as he meets Jenny (Rebecca Rittenhouse) at a Halloween party in 1989 in this frightening, intriguing but ultimately unsatisfying play by Anna Ziegler based on a true story co-produced by Keen Company and the Ensemble Studio Theatre and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation running at The Clurman – Theatre Row through April 9th.
The double upside down symbolic but distracting set (Sandra Goldmark) does function well for the various locations with the projection of the various years that the play covers in this back and forth saga of a boy and his penis or lack thereof.
Twin brothers – Sam and Steve were circumcised. Steve’s was successful. Sam’s was not. His penis was all but rendered useless. We never meet Steve. The parents – Trudy (an in denial Heidi Armbruster) and Doug Turner (a distant Ted Koch) don’t sue the doctor (Why?) but turn to a famous psychologist/ therapist they have seen on 60 Minutes – Dr. Wendell Barnes (Paul Niebanck) whom I shall refer to as “The Happy Dr.”
He advises them to raise Sam as a female who will henceforth be named Samantha and in time will have the necessary surgery to make her a true female. And that they should never reveal her/his true biological gender. Thus the debate “Nature vs. Nurture” begins. The Happy Dr. begins his consultations with an unhappy Samantha.
Mr. Steggert gives a believable and honest portrayal of both genders without changing clothes but with gesture and voice alone. It’s a solid performance. Moving and emotional as he grapples with his masculine feelings as he falls deeply in love with Jenny – a single mom with a young boy of her own.
But there are many unanswered questions to this story in a show without an intermission where the dialogue is double edged with symbolic meaning as the past and the present clash.
Is the Happy Dr. helping Samantha or is he using her as an experiment? Are we shaped by society or biology? How do we become who we are?
It’s an agonizing situation with no easy answers. The performances are first rate. The direction by Linsay Firman – adequate. The play’s message – To thine own self be true. Through April 9th.
Photos: Carol Rosegg
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