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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, April 20, 2024

‘Becoming a Man’ spotlights the trans experience at the ART

The new play discusses what it means to be human and to move through life with the people we love.

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Stacey Raymond (Polly) and Petey Gibson (Carl) in the ART world premiere of “Becoming a Man.”

“Becoming a Man,” now playing in its world premiere at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, is a deeply personal coming-out story written by P. Carl, based on his 2020 memoir of the same name. Chronicling Carl’s experience embracing his identity as a transgender man, “Becoming a Man” asks the question: “When we change, can the people we love come with us?” The play’s non-linear narrative gives audiences a glimpse into Carl’s life both pre- and post-transition, as he struggles to preserve his relationship with his wife, Lynette, and find his place in the world.

Petey Gibson, who plays Carl, serves as the play’s narrator and protagonist, sharing his inner thoughts through monologues that explore the joys and challenges of coming out. While Gibson is a reliable solo performer, he’s at his best in scenes with Elena Hurst, who plays Lynette. Hurst’s performance is refreshingly honest and heartfelt, and it’s hard not to sympathize with her challenges navigating Carl’s transition. As Carl opens up about feeling like a man, Lynette begins to question her own identity as a lesbian and wonders whether the relationship is truly right for her. Carl also interacts with Polly, his former self pre-transition played by Stacey Raymond, in touching scenes that represent Carl moving into his new identity while looking back on his past. In some scenes, Polly and Carl’s movements synchronize on stage, representing the powerful connection that remains between Carl’s past and present self.

In flashback scenes, we see Lynette and Polly’s relationship blossoming at its early stages, but these moments are undercut by a lack of chemistry between Hurst and Raymond. The most impressive performer in the supporting cast is Susan Rome, who plays three characters: Carl’s mother, his therapist, and Lynette’s best friend. Rome transforms effortlessly into each role, and her stellar performance as Carl’s mother highlights their complex parent-child relationship. Cody Sloan also stands out as Nathan, Carl’s best friend who offers him words of wisdom from his own transition. As one audience member said in a talkback after the show, it’s powerful to see a conversation between two trans people onstage.

Co-directed by Carl and ART Artistic Director Diane Paulus, “Becoming a Man” utilizes a minimalistic set and minimalistic costumes, allowing the audience to focus their attention on the story. Carl’s script is poignant and personal, with moving vignettes that help audiences understand his experiences. However, some of the conversations feel stilted, as if the dialogue has been pulled directly from his memoir. The writing is at its best in fight scenes between Carl and Lynette, where the play reaches its emotional climax, but the deeply personal nature of Carl’s experiences might make it hard for some audiences to relate to his story. While the play has many moments that queer and trans individuals can relate to, “Becoming a Man” is just one person’s experience.

Although the script has its flaws, the final message of the show is profound. At the end of the day, “Becoming a Man” is a story about the transitions we all go through in life. Carl’s story highlights the beauty and ugliness of life and the willingness we must have to keep going. Carl and Lynette’s struggles are not downplayed or glorified — their arguments are real, as we watch them try, and fail, to listen to one another.

As Carl moves through his own transition, Lynette must also grapple with her own identity. As she explains in a conversation with her friend, she feels like her lesbian identity was ripped away from her when Carl transitioned. This scene poses an interesting question: “How do the identities of the people who love us shape our own identities?” Lynette’s identity struggle is a compelling part of the story: her love for Carl is deep, but it’s heartbreaking to watch her struggle to grow and change with him.

“Becoming a Man” also grapples with discussions of what it means to have the freedom to live comfortably in your own body. Throughout the play, Carl talks about what swimming means to him as a trans man — he never felt comfortable swimming until he was able to wear the right swimsuit. In the final moments of the play, after Lynette finally acknowledges his pain and calls him by his chosen name, Carl bravely begins to swim. The ending is compelling, leaving viewers with feelings of hope and resilience.

However, the production continues after the final scene with “Act II,” a 20-minute audience conversation held at the end of every show. Adeptly moderated by Associate Director Lyam B. Gabel on opening night, “Act II” is a moment for the audience to give their own feedback and reflect on what the show means to them. Gabel asked the audience “Which moments from the show resonated with you the most?” which led to many honest, powerful responses from audience members. The audience’s insights into the show make the story’s message feel even more relevant and remind us of the power of theater as a shared experience.

“Becoming a Man” is running now until March 10 at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge.

Summary The ART’s “Becoming a Man” showcases a poignant and deeply personal narrative of the trans experience.
3 Stars