BWW Review: triangle productions! Delves into LGBTQ History in THE MADNESS OF LADY BRIGHT and TRANS-FORMATION
One of the things triangle productions! is known for (and one of the things they do best) is intimate plays about fascinating historical figures. Recent seasons have included profiles of Dr. Ruth, Golda Meir, Diana Vreeland, and Tallulah Bankhead. Another thing they're known for is presenting work about the LGBTQ experience. The current show, which consists of two one-acts, THE MADNESS OF LADY BRIGHT and TRANS-FORMATION, is a combination of both.
THE MADNESS OF LADY BRIGHT, a 1964 play by Lanford Wilson, was one of the first to portray a gay character as a real person, rather than just a caricature. It's essentially a monologue (with some recorded voices) in which Leslie Bright, an aging drag queen, reflects on his past and his relationships. Over the course of the 35-minute one-act, Bright descends into madness born out of loneliness. Gary Norman, who as an actor has broken my heart on more than on occasion, plays Lady Bright to perfection. It's devastating.
TRANS-FORMATION is a new play written by triangle founder Don Horn. It tells the story of Christine Jorgensen (born George Jorgensen), who was the first widely recognized transgender person in the United States. The story spans a few years (with flashbacks) between when Jorgensen was discharged from the army and traveled to Denmark for sex reassignment surgery to when she returned home as Christine.
It's a remarkable story and one that needs to be told, especially now as we seem to be taking more steps back than forward when it comes to transgender rights.
The best parts of TRANS-FORMATION are the story itself and the real historical footage Horn incorporates, such as when Jorgensen addresses the press corps waiting for her upon her return from Denmark. Otherwise, the script gives us a fairly clinical treatment of the subject, in two ways. First, there's too much emphasis on the medical aspect (a good chunk of the play consists of conversations between Jorgensen and her doctor) that overshadows the human parts of the story. Second, those human parts don't reach very far into the emotional. The result is that we learn Jorgensen's story, but not much about her personal experience of it -- more like a biography than an autobiography.
If you keep up on local theatre news, you'll also know that Horn's casting of Matthew Sunderland as Jorgensen caused a controversy because Sunderland isn't transgender. While I don't think actors should be limited to roles that match their own gender identity or sexual orientation, I had a difficult time bonding with Sunderland in this role. He excels in the beginning, when Jorgensen is still George, telling the story of his growing up and time in the army. But a true transformation requires more than just donning women's clothes, and that moment never really comes.
THE MADNESS OF LADY BRIGHT and TRANS-FORMATION run through February 24. More details and tickets here.
Photo credit: David Kinder/Kinderpics