For the first time in 20 years, a Diana Son play will be seen on stage when Colorado State University Theatre premieres the latest draft of her important gender role comedy, Boy.
Written as a parable about a society that values boys over girls, in this workshop-style production of Diana Son’s Boy, directed by CSU Theatre Professor Walt Jones, an “everyman” couple that wishes to gain the respect of its community conspires at the birth of their fourth daughter to announce that they finally have a son. In raising the baby as a boy, they even name her “Boy” and no one, not even Boy herself, knows her true gender…until she falls in love with the girl next door…
Son, an important Korean-American playwright, is the author of Stop Kiss, Fishes, R.A.W. (Cause I’m a Woman), and Satellites, two of which starred Sandra Oh. Although primarily known as a playwright, Son is also a television producer and writer, working on such shows as “Law and Order: Criminal Intent,” “American Crime” and “Blue Bloods.”
Originally written in 1996, Boy has been workshopped in the past, but remained unfinished until last year. After five years of pursuing Son through agents and representatives, Jones finally met with the author in New York last March and was given permission for CSU Theatre to produce the most recent draft of her play, complete with an agreed-upon reworking of the tricky ending.
Son writes with a striking, storybook tone, which runs like a backbone through the play. On its surface, Boy appears to be an R-rated “Father Knows Best,” produced in the playful, broad comic style of a fable; the newest version is funny and touching, and it explores gender — and its role in our society — like it has never been explored before.
‘Boy’ launches Richards’ CSU Theater experience
Performing the part of Boy, sophomore Kelsey Richards was discovered in Professor Jones’ Intro to Acting class last fall, and he encouraged the Cultural Anthropology and Spanish double major to audition. Richards, who has a background in theatre, voice and dance, spent high school at the Austin School for the Performing and Visual Arts and took the class to fill a void that had started to develop.
“I am utterly grateful that taking his [Jones] class allowed me exposure to CSU’s theater opportunities and [led] to my awareness of this performance opportunity,” said Richards.
While this important production about identity does contain sensitive content, including nudity, the delicate scenes are essential to Boy’s self-discovery process (students under 17 will not be admitted without a parent or guardian).
Although new to the college stage, preparing for a nude scene (where Boy confronts her mother about her true gender), is not causing Richards anxiety.
“I appreciate the natural quality of nudity and I am glad that it is being utilized … to make a statement, while actually pertaining to the story,” Richards said. “I think that nudity is regarded as taboo in our society because it is typically linked to sexual circumstances, yet nudity is more natural than most things we regard with less judgement.”
Jones, who has directed CSU Theatre productions containing nudity in the past, has a gentle and methodical rehearsal process for it.
“We’ll wait until final technical rehearsals, with stage lighting in place, to rehearse it in earnest,” he explained. “We’ll increase the light little by little until the actress gradually gets used to it or just wants to get on with it — it’s more for the rest of the cast and crew.”
Richards, who one day intends to belong to a nudist community, has a neutrality toward nudity that gives her an advantage in bringing it to the stage.
“I think it is important that the audience knows that I do not hold any reserves about showing my body,” she said. “A body is just a body — everybody has some variety of what I have.”
Identifying with the character
For Richards, bringing personal depth and a unique, realistic quality to her portrayal of Boy is the critical part of the experience. Using empathy as a tool has typically allowed the actress to connect with a character’s subtle or abstract qualities, but in this case, she found more similarity with Boy’s personality than usual.
“I grew up very influenced by my older brother, I was always doing what he was doing,” she recalled. “I’ve kept a good portion of that tomboy spirit with me as I’ve grown up. [and] I would say that a big factor in coming to find out about Boy came from reconnecting with that younger, wide-eyed innocence I once had and applying that to my essentially unchanged tomboy style.”
As Boy strives to find her place, the play shows that uncovering your own, unprescribed identity brings true freedom. Through portraying the heroine, Richards has reconnected with her younger self, placing a higher value on suppressed traits and experiences.
“I truly am grateful to have reignited some of that borderline naïve passion, ambition and spirit that I feel Boy so beautifully values,” she said.
Although not for everyone, students may especially benefit from attending a production about this topic. Jones, who is a father of three daughters, has this to say about the workshop version done by Rent director Jonathan Larson in 1996: “My daughters attended the workshop with me when they were 13 and 18. I would encourage high school students to see the play, as the characters are their age, and the issues of identity it explores are constantly on the minds of every teenager.”
Richards plans on sticking around, integrating theater into undergraduate life.
“I would just like to mention how happy I am to have been given the opportunity to work with such beautiful and unique individuals, both on and off stage,” said Richards. “I have met so many wonderfully talented and passionate people, and they have all affected my college experience in the best way.”
With its workshop style, patrons will feel like they’re in on the heroine’s search, supporting Boy all along the way!
The play runs Feb. 5 to Feb. 14, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. in the Studio Theatre at the University Center for the Arts. A director’s talk-back will be offered after the Friday night shows.
Tickets are available at CSUArtsTickets.com. No charge/CSU students; $18/public. Not appropriate for audiences under 17.