Written by Patrick Chavis
When writing a story –whether it be a play, poem, or film –the motivations for writing it are as important as the writing itself. In my opinion, which has been formed over the meager 29 years I’ve lived on this earth, I would say the best stories are the ones weaving those motivations for writing the story so deeply into the fabric of the plot that the audience becomes entangled within it and has to look further inwards. It takes more work, but overall, things we struggle for usually have more meaning and takes a more skillful hand to write. A Singular They at the Blank Theatre doesn’t do any of what I mentioned above. Its intentions are smack dab in front of you: acceptance, acceptance, and accept people for who they are. For those not already convinced, the text probably will not move you, but the actors on stage will.
A Singular They is the story of two friends in high school learning to deal with the different issues they are experiencing. Now high school is already hard for the “average” kid, how do the “non-average” kids cope? Take Christine for an example. Christine has formally decided to become Burbank, who is not male or female, though the name definitely seems more masculine. Nothing drastic actually happens. She cuts her hair short and wears what I would call gender neutral clothes, but that’s the extent of her transformation. The real difference is how she perceives herself and everyone around her. She has parents that don’t understand and want her to choose a gender. She also has developed personal issues and worries that no one will ever love her. Meanwhile the supporting storyline follows Dierdre, Burbank’s best friend who is pregnant and dealing with the issue of letting go of her baby.
It’s hard to deny how comparable the play is to the movie Superbad. Similar to Superbad, the story is about two friends and their relationship, but the story is more about one of the characters than the other. In this case the story is way more focused on Burbank’s plight then Dierdre’s pregnancy. Both Superbad and A Singular They have characters on a journey to solve the main character’s issue. In Superbad, it was incredibly simple. It was about finding liquor to impress a girl. In A Singular They, it’s about finding someone to have sex with Burbank. While both follow the same formula, from a storytelling perspective Superbad is much more effective. Why is Superbad more effective? It keeps a stronger focus on the message while not being too heavy handed. The story of Super Bad is the story of a friendship and all that it entails. A Singular They is a story about friendship, identity issues, morality, discrimination, statutory rape, and the list goes on and on. There’s no pretext in this play. We hear about the parents and how they feel, but we do not get to see them. We hear Burbank was previously Christine, but we don’t see that either. Dierdre’s pregnancy looms in the background during the entire show, but I don’t have strong feelings about it one way or another.
There are so many messages and interesting things to unpack when watching this show. It’s enjoyable on the merits of the dialogue –which is actually very funny –and the casting of these characters. Lily Nicksay (Burbank) is a delight to watch on stage and possibly the best straight performance I’ve seen all year. Some of the best scenes in the show are the monologues she recites to the audience explaining what she feels at the moment or how she felt in the past. Hannah Prichard (Dierdre) and Nick Ballard (Mr. Mazer) are good supporting characters, and they fittingly progress the story.
A storyline that could have easily fallen into the realm of severe soap opera melodrama is made into something more because of the direction and talented performers.
March 26- May 1st 2016
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