Yesterday I went with a friend into New York City to see the new musical "Southern Comfort," based on the award-winning documentary by Kate Davis.
The documentary, which I have not had an opportunity to see in full, documented the life and death of Robert Eads, who died of ovarian cancer, complicated by the refusal of Georgia doctors and hospitals to treat a transsexual man.
The musical is being presented by Cap 21 Theater Company, 18 West 18th Street, NYC, until October 29, with book and lyrics by Dan Collins and music by Julianne Wick Davis.
The first thing one notices upon entering the theater is that is a beautiful new space, and the set, with its worn porch, swing and chairs, created an evocative rural space that spoke of both homey comfort and potential tragedy in equal parts. Some of the audience chairs were placed directly on the set, including ours, and I felt that I was a part of the action, as I had to move my feet from time to time to accommodate passing actors. A nice touch.
There was an orchestra on the stage as well, including cello, drums and piano, and some of the musicians also sang and acted in parts. There was an integration to the production that made it move along and gave a sense of taking down that fourth wall between the audience and the players. I was hoping for some bluegrass guitar, but the music, while incorporating some country roots, seemed more Broadway than Georgia to my ear. Nonetheless, it was beautiful music and nicely brought out the various emotions of home, family and despair that echoed throughout this production.
The play commenced by introducing Robert Eads, with black cowboy hat and convincing Georgia twang (at least to this Jersey-born cowgirl), and his band of friends, who included three other transsexual men and their girlfriends. The actors conveyed much of their friendship and their lives through song, and the transition from spoken word to song seemed natural. I enjoyed the book and the lyrics, and the music, for a while, but got to feeling that some of the music didn't contribute as much impact, partly because there was so much of it. The production itself took 2 hours and 30 minutes, and I thought that some of it could have been streamlined without losing the sense.
I was much affected at points, particularly by the scenes of family rejection, and had to worry about running mascara (though it was waterproof, so I needn't have worried). The actor who played Lola Cola, a transgender woman who became Robert's significant other, portrayed a person who was just beginning to come to terms with the need to transition. Although I understood that trans women sometime experience concerns about their voice, I was occasionally disconcerted by the beautifully deep, deep, deep baritone used to express the character in songs. My assumption is that the director wished to make the point, perhaps a bit heavy-handedly, that one does not need to conform to a particular stereotype in order to have and express one's gender identity. Yes, agreed, but going overboard tends to suggest the opposite point. Less is more in this case. The issue of voice and look and how these things do not always reflect internal identity was clearly brought up during the play itself, so there probably was not a need to embody that point again and again though a booming delivery.
Despite my quibbles, I enjoyed the play, and recommend that you stop by the Cap 21 Theater Company in NYC before October 29.