Plan-B’s ERIC(A) Questions Gender Identity

Are masculine or feminine characteristics determined by biology, culture, or environment?
And what or who defines masculine versus feminine traits?

I didn’t know what to think when I walked into the theater: an original work making its world premiere, a one-woman show, and exploring transgender identity. Now this could go a lot of ways, and more often then not I find myself bored with one person shows and original works tend to need a lot of working and revisions in their debut stage. Additionally I wondered if I could really relate to a story about a transgender character. I imagine many people might have this same question, including many people reading this review, and debate on whether ERIC(A) is a show to attend. Well the answer is a resounding Yes! And I am no easy critic. Push your skepticism and reservations to the side and go see this show. You will be surprised how engaged you will become with the story, and how much you will relate to Eric and realize that he is experiencing the same things that we all do—struggling to fit in and be accepted at times, hurt, pain, loss, fear, anxiety, love, heart break, excitement, nervousness, obsession, freedom, and the list goes on and on. And as Eric says, “I don’t think I’m one person, are any of us?”

If you were coming to see the show only to see the breath taking performance by Teresa Sanderson you would not be disappointed. I felt that I was in an acting class learning how to fully commit to a character and live in the moment, make discoveries and experience the story along side the audience as if for the first time. She is truly a master at her craft and had my full attention every moment she was on stage.

ERIC(A), starts off in a classroom type setting where the audience is attending a town hall presentation entitled “Learn About Living Trans”. Eric shows up as one of several speakers and hands out an outline to the audience that he regularly references throughout the play. This format worked very well and made the audience feel part of the show. Throughout the show, ERIC(A) not only answers questions about transgender, but reveals his inner fears and shares the story of his life up to this point. He discusses everything from his early childhood, his time as a Mormon missionary, his first love and marriage, his children, his coming out and the woman that he so deeply loves in the present time. This woman, Linda that he has been dating creates the central conflict because he did not until recently reveal that he was trans to her and she took the news to be a shock. Eric invited Linda to attend the Trans meeting he was speaking at, and he consistently watches throughout the show to see whether or not she will arrive.

The playwright Matthew Ivan Bennett is an expert writer and created a deep, dimensional, yet relatable character in Eric. His writing style was quite unique in how it transitioned between time and place and the setting that the story was shared in. Not only is it compassionate and educational, but it also contains humor and reveals the story piece-by-piece and layer-by-layer, keeping the audience connected and engaged in the work. With creative writing and great one liners such as “You have to have a shlong to be belong” or nuggets of truth and wisdom like “I don’t blame my mom, what would that do?” or I love who I love, I’ve never restricted that feeling”, these universal themes ring through loud and clear and challenge the audience to think and ask questions of themselves. It was fascinating to hear him speak about the work and the 2 ½ year process in creating the play, as well as what inspired him to write on this topic, being that Matt is a straight man that previously had little to no direct friendship or connection to a transgender person. He stated that in his exploration and interviewing of transgender people, as was part of his quest in telling an authentic story, the question that he would ask is “how do you know you’re a man inside” to which the question was reversed back to him to answer. And he could not come up with one distinguishable trait that would satisfy this question anymore than they could give him. Through this process, he knew that the play had to be about “a person that happens to be trans,” not about a trans person. Matt was successful in this approach and created a character and story that audience members from a diverse background, age and experience can relate to and understand. The actress playing Eric, Teresa Sanderson, stated that Eric was the character that she could relate to more so than any character she had played in her career, attesting to Matt’s goals in the creation of the work.

The directing greatly enhanced the production. Jerry Rapier’s choice of set was very successful, yet simple. A small platform with a stand and then a single chair in front of the platform on the floor level created the entire setting. The lines delivered at the stand revealed those lines that Eric was comfortable sharing and part of his prepared speech, following the prepared outline. When Eric transitioned to the chair in front of the platform, his vulnerable and unprepared thoughts and feeling were revealed. The choice of music and lighting also helped in telling the story, establishing the different moods and creating flashbacks as Eric reveals events from his past. This convention was reminiscent of what one would expect in a film score and aided in the raw delivery of Eric’s story. I also liked Jerry’s decision to have Eric in the audience as the house opens as if waiting for his time to speak, this added a great energy and start to the piece.

The final message in ERIC(A) is one of positive affirmation. As Eric states in one of his final lines, “Living trans is having the courage to rise up and be yourself or see a coward in the mirror every day.” Each of us have obstacles or challenges that hold us back from being who we want to be or are destined to become. This zeal of courage to follow through with our convictions, despite the repercussions, our fears, or the challenges that may arise in our quest, is a resounding message that we can all learn from Eric.

I strongly encourage theater goers to attend the world premiere of ERIC(A). Plan-B delivers an incredible and educational production that you will come away with asking yourself questions and enlightened.

ERIC(A) plays through March 10, 2013 at the Rose Wagner Studio Theatre and runs 70 minutes with no intermission. Tickets are available online at Arttix.org or by calling 355-ARTS

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