Julie Jensen’s She Was My Brother is the story of two 19th century American anthropologists’ encounter with a Zuni man who dressed, worked, and behaved as a woman. Based on real events and people, it presents an alternative viewpoint of transgendered people and relationships; revealing to us perhaps the most enlightened viewpoint by a people the white civilization considered at the time as heathen and backward. I felt privileged to see this amazing story brought to life on stage, and thank Ms. Jensen and Director Jerry Rapier for their efforts in creating it.
The play features three powerful characters: Lamana (played by Joe Debevc), Tullis (played by April Fossen) and Wilson (played by Jay Perry). At rise, we find Tullis is leaving the Zuni Pueblo they had only just arrived at in order to take her ailing husband back to St Louis for treatment. We learn Wilson is afraid to stay, having never been truly alone and on his own before. He worries he will fail, rather he thrives once he meets Lamana, a man he at first mistakes for a Zuni woman. Lamana explains through gestures that there is man, there is woman, and in the middle there is Lamana. Wilson reveals that he too feels he is between man and woman as well. Lamana takes Wilson as his brother to teach him the Zuni way of life. It’s the first time an anthropologist would actually live as one of the tribe they were studying, rather than observing only from the outside.
Tullis’ return throws a wrench into Wilson’s perfect world, at first rejecting his approach to anthropology, then his relationship with Lamana. However, Tullis seems to fall for Lamana the way Wilson has, and offers to take her back to Washington DC as a Zuni ambassador.
The performances are outstanding across the board, with Joe Debevc standing out as Lamana. Though he is never truly intimate in his contact with Perry or Fossen, you can see so much behind his eyes and in his mannerisms. He lets Lamana fall in love with these two strange white people, and gives a heart breaking performance. Equally so does Perry, who’s confidence rises and falls as he interacts with the other two. Confident with Lamana, but becoming more of a boy when Tullis is around. April Fossen gives so much on stage as an actress, it made me long to do a scene with her just to experience that. Her sharp exchanges with Perry, softening when she was alone with Debevc, truly showed the emotional depth of her character.
Perhaps the best compliment I can give on the performances came from my friend who went with me to the preview. He said, “I’ve been to theatrical productions all year, and this is the first time I actually believed everyone on stage.” I couldn’t agree more. In the case of April Fossen, I’ve been friends with her for a long time, and indeed, she has always been a large contributor to this site as well as its predecessor, Players Anonymous. Yet watching her as Tullis, I forgot the actress I know, and became captivated by the character.
Randy Rasmussen’s set stands out as a character all its own. At first seeming foreboding and awkward, it quickly becomes a helpful accessory to the story, with many options and opportunities for the actors in its design. Jesse Portillo’s lighting design includes a large globe that hangs behind the set. During the scenes it’s lit orange, representing the sun, while during blackouts it’s lit blue, representing the moon. This gave us a wonderful visual representation of the passage of time, and was a brilliant addition for this reason. Hat’s off to Cheryl Ann Cluff’s sound design, filled with traditional music and sound effects, which greatly enhanced the story and never distracted or took us out of it.
This is one you need to see, no matter who you are. I encourage everyone reading this to see this amazing and beautiful story! And with only a two week run, you don’t have the luxury of waiting to decide. Buy your tickets now, before they sell out.
She Was My Brother, Plan-B Theatre Company. Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center (138 West 300 South, Salt Lake City). Nightly curtain at 8:00 PM Oct 28 – Nov 7; matinees on Oct 30 & Nov 6. For tickets call (801) 355-ARTS or visit www.arttix.org.