BWW Review: BOY from Fantastic.Z Falls Flat from Little Connection
Anna Ziegler's play "Boy" gives an unflinching look at gender identity. I was fortunate enough to see it's Off-Broadway premiere back in 2016 and found it quite moving and engaging. But it's a tough one to get into and requires some top-notch performances to grab the audience as it's all talk. I say this because that's exactly what we do not have with the current production from Fantastic.Z Theatre. What we have here is a series of flat and at times strange line readings from an ensemble that are each in their own play and not connecting with the others with whom they share the stage.
The story itself is fascinating especially in that it's based on a true story. Trudy and Doug Turner (Jane Martin Lynch and Matthew Middleton), a middle-class couple in the 1960's, have two twin boys. One of them, Samuel, is the victim of a tragic accident as a baby and his genitals are mutilated. The distraught couple seek the aid of a renowned doctor, Dr. Wendell Barnes (Jamey Cheek) who persuades the couple to raise Samuel as a girl, to save the child some trauma, and they begin to raise her as Samantha (Drew David Combs). But over time her true nature emerges and he begins to live his life as "Adam".
The play jumps back and forth within Adam/Samantha's timeline so it can be difficult to grasp but Ziegler does a fine job keeping things straight. Director Emily Marie Harvey also assists in this task by using an on-stage chalk board to indicate which time period we're in. So, the issue with the play is not confusion, but connection. Harvey fails to create a cohesive show with none of the actors sounding like they're listening to each other, simply waiting for their next line. With pauses within and between lines you could drive a truck through, the pace slogs along with no engagement. And the delivery of the actors sounds almost like this is the first time they've read these lines with flat, static inflections, or readings that completely miss the mark of the moment.
Harvey should take much of the blame here as she should have seen all this, but more experienced actors could have dragged themselves out of the situation. Combs manages to keep his personas between his male and female lives clear but fails to internalize any of the emotion. Lynch and Middleton are probably the best in the show, occasionally showing moments of life but are dragged down by the static tone. Anuhea Brown as Adam's girlfriend Jenny falls victim to the lack of connection as well and gave one of the oddest line reads I think I've ever heard. And Cheek gives such a flat, one-note performance, I often forgot he was there.
This is a definite miss for Fantastic.Z, a company I know can do better. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give Fantastic.Z Theatre's production of "Boy" an "even 90 minutes was too long" NAH. I've said it before and I'll say it again, pick up your cues and listen to each other. When you connect with others on stage and the words you are saying, the audience connects with you.
"Boy" from Fantastic.Z Theatre performs at Theatre Off Jackson through June 22nd. For tickets or information visit them online at www.fantasticz.org.