For a theater company that rarely stages LGBT fare, Theatrical Outfit has two plays dealing with gay issues and gender identity in its new season. Besides Topher Payne’s “Perfect Arrangement” next spring, the company just opened the new drama “Boy.”
Anna Ziegler’s play is based on the story of David Peter Reimer, whose genitals were mutilated during a circumcision just after he was born. A doctor convinces the parents to raise their male son as a girl – and years later it has serious repercussions on the young man in question.
Clifton Guterman, who is gay and works as Theatrical Outfit’s associate artistic director, plays the titular character, with the openly gay Melissa Foulger directing it. Tom Key, the company’s artistic director, stars as the doctor.
Guterman had been following the play’s off-Broadway debut, and when he got hold of the script. he knew it would be a great fit somewhere in Atlanta. After a local reading of the play, his company jumped on it.
“I was so happy and surprised that Tom loved it so much in the reading that he put it in the season,” Guterman said.
It’s the first professional staging outside of New York.
The main character was born Sam, but was then named Samantha. Later, when he learns the truth, he changes his name to Adam Turner. Guterman plays Adam as well as Samantha ages 6 – 12.
The character’s gender change happened in the late 1960s, well-removed from today’s society with more awareness of transgender people.
“It was a different time in terms of how we do research and how we trust the medical community,” Guterman said. “This family had a terrible thing happen. They had a huge choice to make. They were told the child would have a better life is he were raised as a girl.”
Guterman dove deep into his research getting ready for the role. “I read the biography of the boy it is based on. Our play is set in America, not Canada, and has a different ending, but it is heavily based on his case. There is also a BBC documentary on him. I think it’s a great play for right now – all about gender identity”
He is quick to add that this isn’t the Caitlyn Jenner story or a play about transitioning.
“It’s about a child who has a choice made for him, and that choice continued to be made for 15 years. His parents never told him. He suspected something was different about him all along. Now he has made the choice to return to his original gender as a boy. In his 20s, he is trying to date a woman for the first time. He’s also trying to make amends with his parents,” Guterman said.
The decision to do two plays dealing with gender issues in one season was never planned. Rather, it evolved. Since taking over as associate artistic director, Guterman and Key have had conversations about plays Guterman loves.
“At the same time we had decided to do Topher’s play, we thought, if we are ever going to be able to do work like this and open that door wider, it would be the time,” Guterman said.
Foulger was fascinated by the story.
“There has been so much about gender lately,” she said. “I though it needed some representation in theater and in our culture. With this, I want people to understand and think about the choices we make for others and that people need to live their authentic self.”
Through Oct. 15
The Balzer Theatre at Herren’s, Atlanta, GA 30303