THEATER REVIEW: “Boy” @ None Too Fragile by Roy Berko

Through Sat 2/17

Truth can often be stranger and more compelling than fiction. Such is the case of David (Bruce) Reimer and his identical twin brother Brian, of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

In 1966 the boys were analyzed with a minor medical problem involving their urination. A urologist decided that the best way to fix the issue of the eight-month boys would be circumcision. He worked on David first. The doctor botched the operation, accidentally cutting off virtually all of the boy’s penis.

Dr. John Money of Johns’ Hopkins University, a psychologist, sexologist and one of the world’s most recognized authors on sexual identity and biology of gender “believed a person’s gender identity was determined by an interaction between biological factors and upbringing. That represented a break from past thinking, in which gender identity was largely believed to be caused only by biological factors.”

Money proposed to the Reimer family that they “bring David up a girl as, at that time, constructing a penis was almost impossible, but surgically, and with the aid of hormones and psychological treatment, Bruce as ‘Brenda,’ would live a “normal” life.” It was planned that “Brenda” would never be told he had been biologically been born a male. Money would work with the family, cover financial costs, and would be given rights to publish his findings.

Bruce underwent an operation to surgically remove his testicles, and it was planned that later the “girl” would go through a procedure to create an artificial vagina. Money wrote a number of professional papers on how well the process was going. However, David’s case came to international attention in 1997 when an academic sexologist started to probe into what appeared to be some questionable conclusions. Later research by others in the field brought even more questions about the “validity” of Money’s claims.

In addition, reports of questionable ethical practices including Money’s encouraging “sexual rehearsal play” between Brenda and Brian emerged.

The “John/Joan case,” as the situation would eventually be known, questioning sex reassignment and surgical reconstruction and Money’s methods and reported results, emerged. It was determined that “Money was lying. He knew Brenda was never happy as a girl.” Academic sexologist, Milton Diamond, later reported that Bruce/Brenda’s realization he was not a girl crystallized between the ages of 9 and 11, and he transitioned to living as a male at age 15.

On July 1, 2002, Brian was found dead from an overdose of antidepressants. On May 4, 2004, David committed suicide by shooting himself. “The boy’s parents stated that Money’s methodology was responsible for the deaths of both of their sons.”

Sounds like a tale which would make for a compelling play? A production of Boy by Anna Ziegler, a fictionalized version of the tale, with names and some of the details altered, is now in production at none too fragile.

Ziegler’s play stays close to the surface. The motivations of “Dr. Wendell Barnes” [paralleling Dr. John Money] are not well developed and give an impression that the man may have been a pedophile, which is not reality. In addition, the parents seem to be so easily led by Barnes that they are almost unreal. In spite of this the story holds interest.

Director Sean Derry has selected an excellent cast and keeps the action moving quickly along. Young David Lenahan (Adam/Samantha) masterfully develops the dual role, switching nicely between the male and female enactments, as well as the age progression. It’s worth seeing the play just to see the emergence of this fine young actor.

Natalie Green is believable as Jenny, who eventually turns out to be adult Adam’s girlfriend. Marc Moritz nicely textures Dr. Barnes within the parameters of the author’s writing. Pamela Harwood and Andrew Narten, again restricted by the script, do a good job of portraying the parents.

Personal disclosure: While living in Baltimore in the early 1990s I was a counselor at a center whose mission was the evaluation, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of mental, emotional and behavioral health issues, specifically those dealing with “evaluation and treatment of sexual and gender identity concerns in children, adolescents and adults.” “Research and theory on the nature of human sexuality, love maps, sexual orientations and gender identities,” were a major part of the practice. Some of the staff had worked with Dr. Money, were his former students, and he served as their mentor. His influence hung heavy on the center.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: The script is not as gripping as it might be. In spite of that, the topic and the production are compelling. For many, unaware of the true “Joan/John case,” the play probably seems like unreal fiction, but in reality, the story on which Ziegler’s script was based is real — very real! This is a production well worth seeing.

For tickets for Boy, which runs through Sat 2/17, call 330-671-4563 or go to nonetoofragile.com.

[Written by Roy Berko, member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle]

 

 

 

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