Metro Weekly

DC Theater Review: ‘Boy’ at Keegan Theatre

Inspired by a true story, "Boy" takes a serious look at a singular struggle for self-acceptance

Boy — Photo: Cameron Whitman

Depicting two remarkably different periods in one young man’s life, Anna Ziegler’s Boy (★★★☆☆) pieces together a revelatory whole from a deeply fractured journey. Adam Turner (John Jones) began his life as a healthy baby, one of two male twins born in 1968 to married couple Doug (Mike Kozemchak) and Trudy (Karen Novack). But, as Trudy tearfully explains, a severe accident during Adam’s circumcision led to the decision to raise the injured infant as a girl they named Samantha. Concerned that Samantha may never have a so-called normal life, they enlist the aid of Boston-based therapist Dr. Wendell Barnes (Vishwas) to guide their child on the complicated path towards wellness and self-acceptance.

Dr. Barnes, though kind and comforting, is himself guided by rigid, narrow-minded concepts of gender that only make the going rougher for Sam as puberty hits. Keegan Theatre’s production, staged with smarts and sensitivity by Susan Marie Rhea, makes an effective case that gender identity can’t be coerced by a doctor’s good intentions, nor the patience and understanding of loving parents. Reclaiming his male name, Adam won’t be defined by the choices Trudy, Doug, and the doctor made, but by his innate sense of self that says he’s a boy.

Portraying Adam at 21, and Samantha in sessions with Dr. Barnes between the ages of 7 and 12, John Jones powerfully captures the frustration of a person forced to sort through mixed signals and misinformation in order to find himself. The performance rides that tension believably, although perhaps too insistently. Even as Adam kindles a romance with sweet-natured retail clerk Jenny (Lida Maria Benson), Jones plays the heavier scenes with a sober intensity that tends to overshadow the play’s lighter moments. Ziegler injects humor and lightness into the script to ease the tension, but Rhea’s direction opts more for a consistently serious mood that occasionally feels overdramatic.

Boy — Photo: Cameron Whitman

At least Benson’s natural, engaging portrayal of Jenny picks up on the character’s cautious optimism and snarky humor. She provides an easy lightness and stability that Adam needs along his tumultuous journey, and that benefits the emotional ebbs and flows of the play. Benefiting the structural flow of the play, Vishwas invests the gentle but misguided Dr. Barnes with a sense of purpose that helps drive the action as it bounces between years, and sessions in the doctor’s office, to scenes from Adam and Jenny’s adult romance. Through it all, Matthew J. Keenan’s beautifully evocative set remains mostly the same, with shards of a broken reflection hovering over an open doorway that might lead to Adam’s true self.

Boy runs through March 7 at The Keegan Theatre, 1742 Church St. NW. Tickets are $36 to $46. Call 202-265-3767, or visit www.KeeganTheatre.com.

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André Hereford covers arts and entertainment for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at ahereford@metroweekly.com. Follow him on Twitter at @here4andre.

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