Far from normal

After 25 years of marriage, a man reveals he wants to be a woman to his wife.

How well can you really know a person? Their inner thoughts, their unarticulated desires, their wants, their needs? What if, after 25 years of marriage, your spouse, the one you’ve dedicated your life to, reveals that for most of his or her life, they’ve wanted to be another sex? What would you do then? Would you stay or would you leave?

“Looking for Normal”

WHEN: Through Feb. 3, Thursdays through Saturdays, 7:30 p.m., Sundays, 3 p.m.
WHERE: The Theatre Garage, 711 West Franklin Ave., Minneapolis
TICKETS: Adults, $18, Students/Seniors, $15, Call (612) 788-3639

Such is the premise for the ARTisphere theatre company’s first show, “Looking for Normal,” produced in conjunction with Torch Theatre.

Real life husband and wife Fred Wagner and Sally Ann Wright play Roy and Irma, a couple from, as the show program says, someplace in Ohio, with one grown son, Wayne, and an adolescent daughter, Patty Ann. Roy works at the John Deere plant and Irma stays at home. They go to church every week and worry about their grown son, who’s working as a roadie for a rock band. Their daughter, in the throes of puberty and an all-out tomboy, struggles with gender roles herself.

In the midst of this ordinary, familiar, normal life, Roy announces to his priest at a marriage counseling session that for as long as he can remember, he has wanted to be a woman. After more than two decades of marriage, this pronouncement comes as quite a shock to Irma.

The rest of the two-and-half hour play shows the family’s attempts to grapple with something that is so not normal in a town somewhere in Ohio.

Reactions abound from Roy’s parents, an old farming family, and Roy’s pastor, who at first accuses Irma of doing something to “enable” Roy in this venture. Roy’s children attempt to deal with this change, though his adolescent daughter, struggling with her own gender issues, seems to understand Roy more so than the rest of his family.

Even Roy’s grandmother is long dead but she provides insight on her grandson’s identity. She is played by University of Minnesota student Mo Perry.

Playwright Jane Anderson expertly juxtaposes the hormonal changes in Patty Ann as she goes through puberty, Irma, as she goes through menopause, and Roy, as he begins his hormone therapy to become a woman, as well as the gender identity issues of Ray, his grandmother, and his daughter.

Debra Davis, the Executive Director of the Gender Education Center, was brought in as a consultant for the play and as an actor. In 1998, Davis came out as a transgendered woman at Southwest High School in Minneapolis, and in her current career, she helps with the transitioning of transgenders in their workplaces and consults on policies with employers on issues that affect the transgendered population. She has a bit part in the play, in the role of surgeon taking Roy to his final operation and final step into becoming a woman.

Successful in its discussions of love, family, normalcy and gender, this play is the start of discussion for a society which is still uncomfortable when gender is not so easily and readily defined.

The play is sometimes funny, sometimes awkward and sometimes heartbreaking as each member of the family struggles with the abstract concept that is ever so important: Normal.