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Entertainment & Arts

Review: An intersex teen is at the center of Blank Theatre’s ‘A Singular They’

Blank Theatre’s ‘A Singular They’
Lily Nicksay, left, plays a character with an ambiguous genitalia situation, and Hannah Prichard plays the pregnant best friend in “A Singular They” at the Blank Theatre.
(Anne McGrath)

“When you talk about me to other people, could you call me ‘they’?” That comment carries the central point of “A Singular They,” which ended its Blank Theatre run last weekend   — and will linger in the minds of many who saw it.

Aliza Goldstein’s arresting serio-comic study of an intersex teen in Allentown, Penn., is about as timely as a play can be in an era when bullying and bathroom ordinances are so much a part of our conversations. It’s a remarkable piece of writing to boot.

Focusing on three characters within a taut 80-minute running time, playwright Goldstein dives right in. In a biology class make-up period overseen by empathetic teacher Mr. Mazer (Nick Ballard), unwed mother-to-be Dierdre (Hannah Prichard) trades jovially sardonic repartee with best friend Burbank (Lily Nicksay), born with an “ambiguous genitalia situation.”

Dierdre, who cannot  wait to deliver the baby she’s intending to give up for adoption, is both curious about and tacitly disturbed by Burbank’s ongoing medical dilemma, which involves gender reassignment that the person formerly known as Christine remains uncertain about.

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In turn, Dierdre’s condition fascinates Burbank, for whom childbirth will never be an option. Burbank is still a virgin and has no frame of reference or role model for self-discovery. Unless you count Mr. Mazer, who accepts Burbank on the acutely sensitive, uncommonly bright student’s own terms.

What transpires next is by turns hilarious, unsettling and moving.

At the performance I saw, “A Singular They” unfolded like a refracting prism — thoughtful here, raw there and convincing under Christopher J. Raymond’s smooth direction. The designs kept the characters and their shifting stakes in perspective around Aaron Lyons’ multilevel set, and all three actors were exceptional.

Nicksay, hovering somewhere between Ellen Page and a young Barbara Barrie, avoided potential pitfalls and was particularly astonishing in vocal timbre and posture. Prichard melded ace comic timing with an undercurrent of pathos, and Ballard, in the play’s trickiest role, walked a tightrope between honestly sympathetic and ambiguously inappropriate.

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Which brings us back to Goldstein, who in “A Singular They” has written a singular play, poetic, necessary and important. Its ongoing future seems as inevitable as it is heartening to contemplate.

Follow The Times’ arts team @culturemonster.


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