Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Down versus Pound

It was really too beautiful to spend the evening indoors - 77 degrees in mid-October - unless love was involved.

As it turned out, it was, but I didn't know that. I thought I was getting dinner and a play.

Given the bodacious weather, I was hardly surprised when I arrived at Magpie to find only one couple in attendance. I took a seat at the bar to await my friend's arrival and discuss my theater plans with the bartender.

Although he'd never been to Richmond Triangle Players, he used to work with their bartender, a woman I've bought wine from on many an occasion. Funny how there's never more than three degrees of separation from anyone in this town.

Right on time, my friend arrived (amuse bouche: easter egg radish slice with golden raisin chutney and carrot top) and we lost no time ordering so we could discuss theater without our mouths being full.

My only regret was that he invited me to go with him to see "Book of Mormon," a show I could never afford, and I'll be out of town that weekend. Drat the luck.

Once dinner came, we focused on that.

Not that anyone needs to eat their sweetbreads chicken-fried, but as long as they were offering, why not? These came with turnip hash, pickled relish and house hot sauce and I also shared a side of roasted brussels sprouts with my friend as he ate his huntsman's stew, which smelled divine.

Unfortunately, we had so little time left that dessert wasn't an option so we left for the theater to see 5th Wall Theater's staged reading of John Anastasi's new play, "Transition," without my sweet tooth being satisfied.

Instead, I sublimated it when the reading began with a sex scene between two women, one of whom came noisily moments after the action began. Unfortunately, her partner hadn't come (or enjoyed the strap-on she'd been using), causing her to lament, "I'd rather you went downtown instead of taking me to Pound Town."

Hmm, "Pound Town." That's a new one on me.

"Transition" was the story of a man born in a woman's body who takes 28 years to decide he needs to transition to the male he's always been. The problem is that his partner, the love of his life, is a lesbian who wants a female, not male, partner.

When he tells his mother about his planned hormone treatments and surgery, she's forced to come to terms with what she always knew but never acknowledged: her daughter is her son. "You haven't even started the male hormones and already you're acting just like your father!" Jacqueline Jones as the mother said to a big laugh.

Ditto the laughs when the subject of genital reconstruction surgery came up. "That glorious organ with the head but no brain." Ah, yes, we know the one.

But the most unexpectedly funny moment came when Melissa Johnston Price (as the doctor planning to do the surgery) explained all that was involved, right down to creation of the brain-less head. "So that's it in the nutshell," she said before turning to look at the audience with a classic WTF? look on her face. "I never saw that coming."

The audience laughed long and hard at her reaction to the line in the script.

Danya/Daniel, the woman transitioning, was played superbly by Eva DeVirgilis, who tries to convince her true love Addison (played by Sara Heifetz) that even if she has the surgery, they'll still love each other just the same, pulling out Shakespeare's "A rose by another name would smell as sweet" to prove her point.

Addison is having none of it. "Male hormones do not smell good," she retorts, miserable at the idea of having a male partner when she's madly in love with a woman.

But the bigger issue wasn't about smell or hormones or any of that. The play asks us why do we love the person we do? Is it their heart, their soul, their personality, their body?

The play was terribly poignant in parts, especially in a scene that takes place five years after surgery and the couple's split, when Daniel runs into the doctor who tries to assure him he'll get over the loss of his true love. He corrects her.

"Those who've had a real loss know that it never gets better. You just get better at living with it." I'd like to see someone put that in a fortune cookie.

The play ended ambiguously, leaving the outcome to the viewer's imagination. Some saw a happy ending and others didn't. Sort of like life.

But the biggest question remained. Could you still have real love if one of the people changes?

During the talkback with the playwright, director Carol Piersol and cast, the audience had a lot of questions and a lot of opinions on what needed to be changed and not changed in the script.

That's a major reason I look forward to this kind of reading. Part of its purpose is to provide feedback to the author and another part is to gauge audience reaction to the idea of seeing the play fully produced.

As an opinionated woman and a theater lover, I find it immensely satisfying to have a chance to provide that kind of input.

Playwright Anastasi told us he'd spent a great deal of time talking to a doctor who does this kind of surgery in order to get the finer points right. "I still take a lot of criticism as a heterosexual writing about the trans experience. But, Stephen King, did he kill all those people?"

I think not. Clearly, the man had a sense of humor.

What he did make clear was that what he had written was, more than anything else, a love story. By the end, Daniel has fully transitioned and has finally gotten what he's wanted his whole life. But in the process, he's lost the only person he ever needed. He's alone but acknowledges that that's his choice.

"He chooses not to have someone else if he can't have the love of his life, "Anastasi told us to wrap things up.

And that, if you ask me, makes it a hell of a love story.

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