Playwright: Anna Ziegler
At: TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington Ave. Tickets: 773-281-8463 or TimeLineTheatre.com; $40-$54. Runs through: March 18
Hindsight is painfully agonizing in Boy, Anna Ziegler's 2016 off-Broadway drama now receiving a solid Chicago premiere courtesy of director Damon Kiely for TimeLine Theatre. Boy serves up many interpretations to its fictionalized ( and more hopeful ) take on a real-life gender experiment that ended in tragedy.
Ziegler's inspiration for Boy was drawn from the late Canadian David Reimer. As an infant in the 1960s, Reimer's male genitals were destroyed in a circumcision accident. Reimer's parents were then encouraged to surgically alter and raise their child and as a girl based upon Dr. John Money's shaky theories that gender was malleable in infancy. ( After a very troubled childhood, Reimer transitioned to male as a teenager. )
In Boy, the life circumstances of Ziegler's main protagonist mirror those of Reimer. But instead of a chronological progression, Ziegler shifts Boy back and forth in time ( and to an American setting ).
Hence there are 1980s scenes of Adam Turner ( Theo Germaine ) as a bookish young man courting his former classmate, the single mother Jenny Lafferty ( Emily Marso ). Spliced in between are childhood moments of young Samantha Turner ( also Germaine ) and her conflicted interactions with the charismatic and controlling Dr. Wendell Barnes ( David Parkes, who looks period-perfect in outfits reminiscent of TV personalities Dick Cavett and Fred Rogers by costumer Samantha C. Jones ).
With Boy, Ziegler is able to show Adam's struggles alternately to embody a gender role that feels alien, while also being full of self-doubt as someone who stresses over when to come out with the details of a traumatic childhood. All this time-shifting proves to be a great dramatic workout for Germaine, a nuanced trans performer previously interviewed by the Windy City Times in 2016.
More than matching Germaine's intensity onstage are Parkes as Dr. Barnes, who gets to the heart and frustration of a man whose professional reputation is tied to a child's emotional fluctuations. Marso is also great as a young woman confused by Adam's tentative courtship.
Mechelle Moe and Stef Tovar as parents Trudy and Doug Turner are not as prominently featured as characters in the drama. Yet their guilt, shame and pain are all very palpable in their brief moments of confrontation and acceptance with Adam.
Another marvel of Boy is how brilliantly it functions on both literal and symbolic levels. Audiences can take Boy's plot mechanics at face value. Or they can liken Adam's struggles to those of trans folk who are forced into gender roles that stifle their true sense of being. Either way, Boy is a welcome drama to spur conversation and emotionally stir audiences.