Sunday, October 11, 2009

Looking for Normal by Jane Anderson

There comes a time in all families where an event shakes a family to its core. An event that is so painful everyone in that family goes into survival mode. This is a drama about the heart of ordinary people tested to do extra-ordinary things in order to survive first as individuals then as a family. “Looking For Normal” written by Jane Anderson, directed by Diane Carroll and produced by the Malibu Stage Company is that kind of play.

In a chapel, somewhere in Ohio, composed of everyday folks that live and work in a John Deere factory town, Irma (Nancy Little) drags her husband Roy (Will Carney) to see the Reverend Muncie (Jimmy Hall) to talk about the problems they are having in their 25-year marriage.

Roy, very uncomfortable, has his wife leave the room and tells the Reverend that he is a woman in a man’s body. His desire is to become a woman to relieve his emotional and physical agony. It is a very uncomfortable moment that requires the Reverend to desperately search for the perfect scriptures. When that is not successful they bring in Irma and drop the bombshell.

From this moment on the strains of their relationship are visible, the non-eye contact, the proverbial iceberg between them and self-loathing. Irma doesn’t want Roy to touch him. She tells him to sleep on the couch and later to get out of the house. Add to this Irma is menopausal and their daughter Patty Ann (Hailey Hoffman) is reaching puberty and with all that going on you’ve got a heck of a time in this family.
Roy’s dilemma is to break the news to each member of the family including his son Wayne (J. Walter Holland), his mother Em (Margott Rifenbark) and his father Roy Senior (Howard Ferguson-Woitzman). He does this by writing letters rather than a face-to-face meeting.

Roy’s motives are clear for his happiness but he also wants life to return to normal. He doesn’t want to leave his wife and kids. He doesn’t want to leave his job and he knows this is a cross that others will bear as well. But he has crossed a threshold from which things can never be normal.

In the blink of an eye, and at the moment of Roy’s executed thought of expression, his relationships are forever altered. Irma is no longer a traditional wife. The daughter gains a new girlfriend. The son loses his drinking companion and Roy’s father loses him mind.

There is an interesting element about this play. The play sidesteps into various informative monologues about the female body and male body using graphs, charts, a plastic model and a banana with two tangerines (you get the picture). It is a note about shared physical tangibles we all have. If we are looking for normal there is where we will find it. Beyond that nothing is normal.

I can’t say enough about the actors in this production. This ensemble was terrific. Special kudos goes to Howard Ferguson-Woitzman as Roy Senior who gave an amazing awe-inspiring performance.

Brian Pietro was exceptional as Frank, Roy’s lonely boss. And now that Roy has gone transgender Frank tries to muscle in on Irma but hasn’t got the gravitas or chemistry to make that happen.

Also, Roy’s grandmother Ruth wonderfully played by Nathalie Blossom dressed in male garb comes back to tell us why she was the way she was and why she did what she did giving the audience an idea of her responsibility for all of this mess.

The uneasiness felt throughout the play was the result of Diane Carroll’s grasp of the complexities of this event, complexities in the relationships, and structuring it to its final conclusion.
There were a few opening night jitters but overall the play was successful on many fronts.

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