Review: Tanghalang Ateneo’s Boy
Tanghalang Ateneo opens its 38th season with the first international staging of the play entitled “Boy.” Written by American playwright Anna Ziegler and translated in Filpino by Guelan Varela-Luarca, this piece was inspired by a landmark case in the United States during the ‘60s which was about an experimental study done by a renowned sexologist to a pair of male twins. In Ziegler’s story, the main character is Adam Turner, born male, who, after a botched circumcision, was raised by his parents as a girl named Samantha upon the persuasion of the psychologist Dr. Wendell Barnes. To prepare the kid for a series of medical operations (the last one to be done during adolescence), Dr. Barnes’ master plan includes one-on-one counseling sessions with him (as Samantha) and regular monitoring of his assigned tasks at home (with the support of his parents).
(READ: Tanghalang Ateneo Stages Anna Ziegler’s Boy this October)
The play depicts nine specifically chosen years in Adam’s life – from the day his parents came to Dr. Barnes for help (he was 1 year old) until when he was 23 years old. Ed Lacson Jr.’s set design incorporated subtle yet sensible artistic choices in this play. First is by deliberately showing a timeline above the stage, which helps the audience keep track of the chronological order of events. Second is the use of very angular and stark set pieces that echoes the main character’s intrinsic conflict. Since Lacson also serves as the play’s director, he has managed to complement the physical and emotional atmosphere of the show in order to come up with a cohesive and, oftentimes, compelling narrative. This triumph is of course also due to the collective efforts of Barbie Tan-Tiongco (lighting design) and Teresa Barrozo (sound design and original music).
Cholo Ledesma, who plays both Adam and Samantha, takes on the gargantuan role with laudable dedication and conviction. Ledesma also has good chemistry with Camille Abaya, who plays Jenny, the girl who Adam falls in love with.
As Adam’s parents, Juliene Mendoza (Doug) and Mayen Estañero (Trudy) gave consistent portrayals. I am however more impressed by Estañero who, in some scenes, was able to display her share of the pain and suffering of having to raise his boy as a girl.
Perhaps the most unassailable performance was Teroy Guzman’s insightful depiction of psychologist Dr. Wendell Barnes. Guzman dug deep into the heart of his character and deliberately refused to play him as the villain in the story. He insists that even though the doctor orchestrated this entire experiment, his actions were always grounded on his friendship and fondness for his patient.
An element that needs a bit getting used to in the audience’s standpoint is Luarca’s direct translation (and not an adaptation) of the original text; thus retaining the setting and profile of its characters. Another possible burden of this production (which runs for more than 90 minutes without intermission) is sustaining the interest of its audience from start to finish. Because the material implores its audience to invest emotionally in Adam’s journey of self-discovery, there were a few moments in the show which could have utilized a bit more energy.
In spite of these, Boy is a timely reminder that we must not continue living our lives with uncertainty for it is only with the truth that we shall be truly free.
The show runs until November 10 at the Ateneo de Manila’s Black Box Theater.