|Dean (Meili Monk) lashes out at Josh (Ari Wilk) in the Acme Theatre
production of "Pronoun," on stage through this weekend.
Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo
We rarely think about pronouns as we speak to each other or about each other, but in “Pronouns” — the new play produced by Acme Theatre Company and directed by Emily Henderson — we are forced to think about the great meaning such simple words have.
This play, by Evan Placey, was commissioned as part of the 2014 National Theatre Connections Festival and premiered by youth theaters across the United Kingdom. It was written especially for young actors.
It tells the story of Dean (Meili Monk), a female-to-male transgendered teen in the middle of transition, trying to work through all the trials and tribulations, to say nothing of the hormonal effects of this change. While the issues that transgendered people, especially young people, encounter are many, this play focuses primarily on the interpersonal relations and how his transition affects not only Dean, but also his intimate circle of family and friends — his parents (Benton Harshaw, Sarah Thompson), his sister (A.J. Zaragoza-Smith), and his friends, especially Josh (Ari Wilk), his former boyfriend, who is still in love with the girl he dated for so long.
Dean’s idol is James Dean (Grey Turner), who appears in Dean’s fantasy life and gives him pointers on how to move and behave as a man.
While this is a serious work, comic relief is offered by Josh’s best friend Kyle (an exceptional performance by Ryan Johnson) and his girlfriend Amy (Cassidy Smith), who are planning the most ill-advised wedding you can imagine, arranged by Amy’s best friend Laura (McKella vanBoxtel).
There is also a comic touch added by the ensemble (Cory McCutcheon, Gracelyn Watkins and Megan Abbanat), who become school board members, doctors and any other group that Dean is likely to encounter.
Monk gives a wonderfully nuanced performance as Dean. The actress’ hair is a bit of a difficulty in portraying the transgendered young man, but by the second act, we have become accustomed to it and she is more believable as a he. His impassioned speech to the school board on the subject of tolerance vs. acceptance is powerful and embodies the whole point of the play.
It is a little confusing trying to figure out why the playwright put a man in the role of Dean’s mother and a woman in the role of his father, but Harshaw and Thompson do well as the estranged couple, tolerant of their daughter’s transition but confused by using the male pronoun to refer to him. Their own transition, switching costumes on stage to revert to the proper genders, is one of the most impressive scenes in the play, thanks in great part to Wilk’s lighting design.
As I say in almost every Acme production, this company always has projection problems, even in a theater as small as the Pamela Trokanski Performing Arts Center, so some crucial dialog may be swallowed. If all of them projected as well as Johnson and McCutcheon do, it would be a much more successful production.
But projection issues aside, this is an important production discussing an issue that rarely gets such a sensitive and understanding treatment. It’s the kind of show that Acme does best.
There will be a talk-back after each performance, with director Henderson and a panel of four or five members of the cast, as they explain how they prepared for the show and answer questions from the audience.
(And as an aside, anyone confused by the growing label LGBTQAI, it stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, asexual and intersex, which should cover every possibility!)