Boy Puts the “Queer Community” in Queer Community Theatre
By: Caitlin R. Weiner
Dr. Wendell Barnes had good intentions. Trudy and Doug Turner, the parents of Adam Turner, also had good intentions. But intentions without honesty, direction, and sometimes making the hard choices, can often be misplaced and wreak irreversible consequences.
Boy, the 2016 play by Anna Ziegler, is inspired by the unfortunately true story of David Peter Reimer who, after a botched circumcision resulting in the mutilation of his genitalia, was raised as a girl, per the recommendation of a now-infamous gender identity specialist. In Boy, Adam Turner endures nearly identical circumstances: assigned male at birth, he is subject to a failed medical procedure that results in the loss of his penis. A renowned gender identity professional, Dr. Wendell Barnes, recommends to Adam’s parents, Trudy and Doug, that they raise the child as a girl, Samantha. In the misdirected hope of giving their child a less confusing and complex life, and with the inability to consult their then-infant on the subject, the Turners agree. Flashing back and forth between early childhood and present day, Adam is now exploring his complicated journey and re-learning what his own gender identity and expression look and feel like as he explores romance as a young adult.
Directed by Rena Gavigan and starring Josh Lococo (pictured right), Erin Hebert, Michael Britt, Alex Petrova, and Frank McGinnis, this production of Boy is dripping with intention. That intention started with the initial choice to produce this specific play in the first place. “I was originally drawn to Boy because I thought it was an interesting and original story,” said Gavigan. “I think so much of the queer representation that we have is really rooted in trauma, be that a hate crime or the AIDS epidemic, and has a tragic ending. And don't get me wrong, those stories are incredibly important and hold vital space in the canon, but the LGBTQ+ community also deserves stories where they see themselves represented through characters who experience happiness, love, and hope on a journey of self-discovery and make it out the other side to continue living life as their authentic self.”
After running with the importance of telling this story, Gavigan didn’t stop there. In the effort to include representation from queer actors and voices in the production of Boy, she set forth on a fierce community outreach endeavor, placing rehearsal advertisements in local queer spaces, arranging audition and rehearsal space at the Dutchess Pride Center, and including queer representation throughout every step of the process. “I feel very passionately that queer roles should be played by queer actors,” said Gavigan. “So giving queer actors the opportunity to be a part of this show process where we get to live in this world for a few months felt like a priority to me. I reached out to several local LGBTQ+ organizations and groups to partner to hold auditions and possibly have a performance at their space. I'm very grateful for the start of what I hope will be a continued partnership to involve the queer community in queer theatre.”
Part of that representation manifests itself in Josh Lococo (pictured right with Michael Britt). “I can't even begin to describe the personal importance this role/story has to me,” said Lococo. “Even though Adam is not a queer person, there are so many aspects of him and his story that are shared with the queer experience. He spends his whole life telling people who he knows he authentically is, but repeatedly has a version of himself forced on him that he doesn't feel comfortable in for the sake of others. For those who identify with the queer experience, it's validating representation.”
Himself a queer person, Lococo brings his own experiences to the role of Adam. “That unquestioning trust we have in adults as children means that we believe whatever they tell us we are. I have never fit the traditional expectations of masculinity that were set on me from a young age, and until I accepted my sexuality and gender identity, it felt like I was simply failing to be what was expected of me,” Lococo reflected. “Seeing Adam so unapologetically and confidently express who he has always known he is showed me that it isn't my responsibility to only be a version of myself that makes other people comfortable.”
There is a palpable intention throughout the entire rehearsal process, as Gavigan and the cast ensure that every look, every choice, and every inflection lands. Sitting in on a rehearsal, I watched in awe as Gavigan reworked the blocking of one seemingly insignificant moment so that every movement was a choice that mattered. I observed as Gavigan and Michael Britt, playing Dr. Wendell Barnes, discussed the importance of instructing Adam (at this moment, Samantha) to cross her legs in a more traditionally feminine position. I listened as every actor spoke pointedly through masks to hear and be heard by one another.
The group has needed to hold rehearsals at several locations throughout Dutchess County, from LaGrange to Poughkeepsie to Rhinecliff, and even the occasional virtual rehearsal. Gavigan said, “The frequently changing rehearsal locations has helped our entire team practice flexibility as we've had to refocus and readjust to a new space.” Lococo expressed similar notions, saying, “It has forced us to never become complacent with our performances. We have to stay constantly in-tune with one another within shifting circumstances and locations.” To say this cast and crew is determined would be a gross understatement.
Dr. Wendell Barnes had good intentions. Adam Turner’s parents also had good intentions. But, as we’ve established, intention alone is not always enough when it is misplaced. Ziegler’s script, Gavigan’s direction, and the storytelling of this cast and crew do not make that mistake. With the purpose and drive to tell an important story and the knowledge and resources to tell it right, Boy doesn’t miss.
Boy is a part of the Rhinebeck Theatre Society’s New Director Series, a three-part series which also includes Books, written by Stuart Kaminsky and directed by Dan Chester, and She Kills Monsters, written by Qui Nguyen and directed by Lisa Delia. In Books, Brian takes refuge in a quiet used book store after robbing a savings and loan, but things don’t stay quiet for long. She Kills Monsters follows Agnes Evans along a journey of discovery and action-packed adventure in the imaginary world that belonged to her teenage sister, Tilly.
You can see performances of all three plays at the Morton Memorial Library from February 3 - 20, 2022. Catch Boy on Thursday, February 3 at 7:00 pm, Saturday, February 5 at 7:00 pm, and Sunday, February 6 at 3:00 pm, with a special performance Friday, February 4 at 7:00 pm at the Dutchess Pride Center. All proceeds of this special performance will go to the Dutchess Pride Center.
Performances for Books will be held on Thursday, February 10 at 7:00 pm, Saturday, February 12 at 7:00 pm, and Sunday, February 13 at 3:00 pm.
Performances for She Kills Monsters will take place on Thursday, February 17 at 7:00 pm, Saturday, February 19 at 7:00 pm, and Sunday, February 20 at 3:00 pm.
Tickets are available for $15 each or $30 for a 3-in-1 ticket package at rhinebecktheatresociety.com.
Books and She Kills Monsters are presented by arrangement with Concord Theatricals on behalf of Samuel French, Inc. Boy is presented by special arrangement with Dramatists Play Service, Inc.
This production of Boy contains adult content. Children will not be allowed in to see the performance. Click here to read our content transparency message. Possible spoilers ahead.