Imagine being forced to live a life that wasn’t your own. You have no say in what happens to you. Instead, all you can do is follow what other people tell you to do. In Tanghalang Ateneo’s Boy, this is the dilemma that the principal character is faced with. After a botched circumcision that leaves Adam’s testicles permanently disfigured, his parents consult esteemed psychologist Dr. Wendell Barnes and they ultimately decide to raise him as a girl named Samantha. Refusing to be put in a box, Samantha chooses to live life as a man named Adam.
The play, originally written by American playwright Anna Ziegler, was translated into Filipino by Guelan Varela-Luarca. Varela-Luarca’s translation was one of the strongest points of the production. It was a brave effort as it brought the issue of gender identity (which is often a taboo subject) closer to the spotlight. “Adam ang pangalan ko. Ako ang pumili n’on. Kahit kailan, hindi ako naging si Samantha. Walang Samantha, kathang-isip lang siya (My name is Adam. I chose that name for myself. I never was Samantha. There is no Samantha, she is imaginary).” When Adam pronounces this, he comes off as more certain of himself because of the depth and aptness of the Filipino translation. Translating the story into Filipino gave it a more riveting and emotional effect because it hits closer to home. Hearing the characters speak in our native tongue made them seem more reachable–that their stories could exist in our own society. Despite this, not all of the lines seamlessly translated into Filipino, and the audience was sometimes left scrambling at awkward moments trying to figure out what was lost in translation. Nonetheless, credit must be given to Luarca for his compelling translation that audiences will be able to follow given the complex storyline.
The set was simple enough: floral wallpaper, three chairs that are moved around the stage, and lots of open space. Director and set designer Ed Lacson Jr. was able to transform the stage into a cage-like setting by creating rooms separated by black metal bars. The minimalistic design was able to draw attention to each scene. A key piece of this was a timeline that hung just above the stage—it would light up to show the specific year when something significant happened. Because of the nonlinear narrative of the play, it served as a perfect guide for the audience in showing the transitory moments in Adam’s life.
In specific parts of the stage, vintage-style circular hanging lamps would only light up when something was happening near them. Stage lights would subtly fade out to transition to the next scene and would burn bright at the next as if to shed some light on the troublesome truths dispersed throughout the play. This kind of lighting designed by Barbie Tan-Tiongco was another strong point that reflected the pensive mood of the story.
Costume Designer Carlo Pagunaling was accurate with his designs as it featured winter clothing—tying up with the play’s setting of a chilly American town. The attention to detail was another asset of this play as seen in the props that the production staff picked out. Audience members will be pleasantly surprised to see a real ice-cold can of Coors beer straight out of a cooler as well as an authentic copy of Good Housekeeping from the 80’s. Each magazine, novel, and can of beer seemed like it was picked right out of the era it was from.
Every cast member delivered powerful performances. You could feel the sincere emotion in Cholo Ledesma’s (Adam) voice as he struggled with his identity. This struggle leads him to the headstrong single mother Jenny (Camille Abaya). The two share a drunken conversation at a Halloween party and an instant bond is formed between them. Soon after, Adam volunteers to take care of Jenny’s son. Their friendship grows into something more when Adam realizes that he is falling in love with Jenny. Ledesma and Abaya were able to establish a palpable chemistry between their two characters. Their strong individual performances harmoniously came together when Ledesma’s character, wrought with tension because of his predicament, must make a life-changing decision.
Teroy Guzman (Dr. Wendell Barnes) was one of the standout performances all thanks to his ability of balancing the intense yet vulnerable nature of his character. Guzman plays a psychologist who is caught in between his fatherly feelings towards Adam and his drive to prove the success of his study. Juliene Mendoza and Mayen Estañero offered a moving portrayal as Adam’s parents Doug and Trudy Turner. Their ability to fight their own frustrations to give the emotional support that Adam needed brought the audience to tears.
Tanghalang Ateneo powered through with this great play about gender identity and left nothing hanging. The strong performances, powered by the gripping translation, will leave a heavy impression on everyone and anyone who watches. The simple set design gives the audience a clear headspace, a place to think about the imperfections that the characters have to face. Here, we are also invited to think of our own lives and how much of it we decide for ourselves. At the heart of Boy is the theme of control: that in the end, what or who we become is ultimately in our hands.