Stacey Raymond (Polly) and Petey Gibson (Carl) in the A.R.T. world premiere of "Becoming a Man." Credit: Nile Scott Studios and Maggie Hall.

In the ART's 'Becoming a Man,' Nonbinary Actor Stacey Raymond Asks the Hard Questions

Kilian Melloy READ TIME: 8 MIN.

Memoirist and playwright P. Carl had worked with American Repertory Theater Artistic Director Diane Paulus, so it was Paulus he approached about adapting his memoir of gender transition, "Becoming a Man," into a play. After reading the memoir, Paulus was quick to indicate her interest. A few years later, the result – the world premiere of "Becoming a Man," playing at the A.R.T. in Harvard Square through March 10 – is drawing appreciative audiences and critical acclaim.

The play follows multiple timelines: In the recent past, Polly (Stacey Raymond) struggles to explain to her wife, Lynette (Elena Hurst), that she needs to transition in order to be at home in her – or rather, his – own body and life. Lynette, feeling blindsided, has a hard time with seeing her spouse prepare to transition from Polly to Carl.

In the present, Carl adapts to life as a man – a change that's absolutely liberating, to say nothing of lifesaving, and yet which comes with unforeseen side effects such as an unthinking tendency toward toxic masculinity.

Stacey Raymond (Polly) and Susan Rome (as Carl's Mother) in the A.R.T. world premiere of "Becoming a Man." Credit: Nile Scott Studios and Maggie Hall.

His attitude, and some of his proclamations, summon Polly – a memory of the person Carl once was – into his consciousness. As Stacey Raymond (whose acting credits range from Off-Broadway to the Willamstown Theatre Festival, to roles on TV shows like "Bull," "Law & Order: SVU," and "Mr. Robot") tells EDGE, Polly's repeated message to Carl is, "Come on, let's become a good man, not an asshole." It's a tough balance to strike, as is his life in general; Lynette feels marginalized, protesting that Carl's transition should have been something they decided together. "It wasn't a joint decision," Carl tells her. "It wasn't a decision. It was life or death. My life or my death."

The play brims with such exchanges, and with moments that precisely summarize various points in the ongoing (and, these days, far too malignant) conversations around issues of gender and gender identity. Unquestionably personal, yet inherently political, "Becoming a Man" asks hard questions, and offers answers that might not feel entirely complete but are well-formulated. More than that, the play presents irreducible truths that are far more essential than claims about "God-given" or "binary" gender. At one point Carl ponders, "Does anyone ever know what to do with their past selves?" At another, thinking back to years in and out of psychiatric facilities, he wonders, "Why didn't one person ever ask me if I felt comfortable in my body? Why didn't one person say, 'maybe some of the depression has to do with your gender?'"

But the play's most heartbreaking line – and its most directly relevant to today's storm of legislative hostility targeting transgender and gender-nonconforming people – might be Carl's simple observation that, "I told everyone my entire life that I didn't like to swim. Turned out in the right bathing suit, in this body, I love it."

EDGE enjoyed an illuminating conversation with Stacey Raymond, a nonbinary actor whose pronouns are They/Any, about the play's many facets, complexities, and the simple message upon which it's built: That individuals know who they are more surely and more truly than anyone else does, and that such knowledge goes to the heart of what it means for a person to be healthy and happy.

by Kilian Melloy , EDGE Staff Reporter

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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