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Ken AshfordPersonal, TheatreLeave a Comment

Can't complain at all:

Play is about love, marriage and gender change

Published: January 08, 2011

Ideas about love, marriage and gender mutability combusted on the Theatre Alliance stage Friday night in the hands of an outstanding cast and capable directing by Artistic Director Jamie Lawson.

"Looking for Normal" by Jane Anderson tells the story of Roy, played by Ken Ashford, his family and friends as they navigate the uncharted terrain of his decision to have transgender surgery in order to become the woman that he believes he has always been. In the process, conventional ideas about the meaning of love and marriage are exploded in provocative scenes, and economical — often humorous — dialogue.

The play opens as Roy and his wife, Irma (Gesh Metz), are seeking pastoral counseling. But Roy simply cannot get to the point, so Irma volunteers to wait outside. After much dithering and hand-fiddling, Roy tells the Rev. Muncie (Neil Shepherd) that he has been seeing a psychiatrist and has made a decision to change his body. In a moment of perfect balance between pathos and humor, Roy bursts into tears, and Muncie rolls his eyes.

The preacher desperately tries to frame Roy's experience in a context that he can work with and correct, but Roy's description of a spiritual experience in which God has blessed his desire to correct nature's mistake flummoxes Muncie.

The two agree to tell Irma together, and they do in a priceless moment of subtle scripting.

The entire cast is terrific, and the standouts are Ashford with his burly-man body and sweet face, and Shannon Haas as Patty Ann, the pre-teen daughter who is having her own gender concerns.

Ashford is completely believable in both male and female aspects, and neither is ever a burlesque — except when it is intended to be.

Haas plays Patty Ann with maddening, eye-rolling accuracy. Patty Ann asks her dad all the great, obvious questions: Will he shave his legs? Will he wear dress? (She hates wearing dresses.)

Grandmother Ruth (April Linscott) — Roy's grandmother who abandoned Roy's father when he was just a baby — sums up the gist of what the play is against: "People would rather be shocked than enlightened."

But what the play is "for" is love.