Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls — and the rest of us

publicity photo for Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls

Rae Takei, Valeria Ascolese, and Matheus Severo in costumes by Christopher David Gauthier
(Photo by Sarah Race)

I have no doubt that Dave Deveau’s Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls is a force for good in the world — and by that I mean a force for love. And the resolutions of this story about a trans boy, his friend, and family moved me to tears. My fuller response is more complicated.

Intriguingly, Deveau’s script isn’t particularly event driven; it’s more of a reverie about Fin’s first few days in grade four. Fin, who was assigned female at birth, remembers coming to the realization that he’s male. He recalls reveling, for instance, in the gender-liminal presentations of circus performers. The bearded lady! The female “ringleader”! These descriptions are dreamily evocative. But watching Mom and Dad doing research on Google is less so. More problematically, their discussions, in which Dad is accepting and Mom is well-meaning but resistant, become circular.

Surprisingly, the script also indulges in reactionary gender stereotyping. Fin’s sister Holly is presented as ultra-feminine — and, here, that means stupid and superficial. She’s obsessed with appearances and status, and in Fin’s words, “She’s three years older, but I don’t think she’s three years smarter.” Yes, the story is being told from Fin’s point of view, but that’s a bit of a fine point when your target audience of nine- to twelve-year-olds will contain all sorts of femmes of different varieties. We’re not the enemy.

That brings me to a point about the performance style set by director Jennica Grienke. It’s so big you could see it in Halifax. Although she’s more human as Mom, when she’s playing Holly and Fin’s teacher, Valeria Ascolese screeches. In the early going, when he’s playing Dad, Matheus Severo can’t deliver a line without adding a bit of comic business. This cartoonish style of performing for kids has always struck me as condescending; the most resonant moments in this production are also its quietest. That said, my eight-year-old pal Ella laughed when Fin’s teacher turned into a witch and pumped up the volume even further. So there’s that to consider.

Designed by Shizuka Kai, the set is gorgeous: covered with clouds, sky-blue panels fall from way up in the Waterfront’s gallery and collide with an explosion of pink on the stage — including a gigantic swirl of candy floss. The actors reconfigure Kai’s brightly coloured curved modular pieces in elegant shapes. And Christopher David Gauthier’s costumes playfully meet the show’s broad performance style. Dad’s pants are almost chest-high, for instance, and his distinguishing accessory is a pair of square white glasses.

I never once doubted that this show’s heart is in the right place. Rae Takei, who’s playing Fin, is diligently emotionally present. And Severo, whose portrait of Dad is broad off the top, pulls off a transformation. Not only does Dad settle into touching thoughtfulness, but Severo’s second character, Felix, emerges — and Felix is a delight. He’s a sweet kid who’s new to the school and has his own reasons for feeling jumpy about gender.

In his total innocence, Severo’s Felix is a clown — but he’s not an aggressive, gag-pulling, superficial clown; he’s subtly emotionally present. If all of the characterizations had this combo of comedy and nuance, I would have found Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls more inviting from the get-go.

And, as I’ve said, even with my complaints, I ultimately found this piece deeply moving. It speaks to the importance of friendship and family — for trans kids, and for every kid who’s trying to live authentically.

LADIES AND GENTLEMENT, BOYS AND GIRLS By Dave Deveau. Directed by Jennica Grienke. A Carousel Theatre for Young People production at the Waterfront Theatre on Friday, April 1.  Continues until April 23. There will be an ASL-interpreted performance on April 19 at 3:00 p.m. Tickets

 

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About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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