By William Wolf

BOY  Send This Review to a Friend

The subject of Anna Ziegler's play "Boy," a joint presentation by Keen Company, Ensemble Studio Theatre and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, is perfectly timed to current discussion of sexual identity and sex change, even though it takes place between 1968 and 1990. The ever-fine actor Bobby Steggert gives an intricately moving performance as a troubled, conflicted victim of an accident that has altered his life. When he was circumcised, his penis was lopped off, which destroyed the possibility of physical manhood.

Well-intentioned, the parents proceeded to raise Adam as a girl named Samantha on the advice of a doctor and researcher doing studies on how to cope with sexual identity problems. (The play is inspired by a real-life story.) Good actor that he is, Steggert, without changing clothes into a dress, sits discussing his life with Dr. Wendall Barnes (Paul Niebanck), and convinces us that he is a child in a series of sessions. We see him in various situations (the play flits back and forth in time), including when he has grown into a young man, dressed accordingly, asserting the identity he really feels as Adam and having established a relationship with a young woman.

When his female friend Jenny (Rebecca Rittenhouse) moves to touch him, he recoils, and she cannot find what is troubling him and is exasperated to the point of feeling she can't take the lack of real physical contact any longer. He assures her he is not gay, and that makes the situation even more confounding. Rittenhouse plays her role extremely well, exuding feelings of love and tenderness but also of the inevitable frustration.

The one part of the writing that kept annoying me was that, given all the time that Adam and Jenny have been spending together in a pressure-cooker atmosphere, it seems that he would have been able to tell her what happened to him much sooner than he finally does. But then, I suppose, there would have been no play.

The roles of Adam’s father and mother, Trudy and Doug Turner, are portrayed convincingly by Heidi Armbruster and Ted Koch and the same can be said of Niebanck as the doctor, who sincerely believes that the tactic he has taken is right, even though it has a devastating result. Today there is more medical and psychological knowledge, and one might more readily be able to undergo a penis transplant. But at the time the doctor is depicted as recommending surgery to physically change Adam into a woman, an idea that he bravely resists.

"Boy” is an earnest exploration of an emotionally-charged subject snd Bobby Steggert is just the actor who can convincingly depict the character and the situation in which he is locked. Lindsay Firman has directed effectively, which, combined with the quality acting and writing, keeps the play steadily involving. At the Clurman, 410 West 42nd Street (Theater Row). Reviewed March 11. 2016


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