Eric Samuelsen is, along with Matthew Ivan Bennett, a resident playwright of Plan-B Theatre Company. He attended last night’s rehearsal of ERIC(A) – below are his thoughts. He also blogs at MormonIconoclast.com (where you can read an expanded version of this posting – warning: spoiler alert)!
Last night, I sat in the audience for a rehearsal of Plan-B Theatre Company’s ERIC(A), which opens February 28. It blew me away. Teresa Sanderson plays Eric, a 50-plus year-old transgender man, formerly Erica, an LDS mother of two.
Eric’s speaking at some event for transgender people; that’s the premise. Like: he has flyers, which he hands out. Teresa’s performance is extraordinary, utterly courageous, playing a character who does not consider himself a particularly courageous person. (He is, he’s far braver than he’s able to admit to himself).
Teresa’s a tremendous actress—I’ve always known that, and have seen her many times, and have always admired her talent, her humor, her focus and charisma. But this, this is something else again. She held me completely riveted, every single second of the play.
So a lot of it is Teresa. But Matt Bennett’s script, my goodness. That voice. That amazing, richly poetic voice. There’s no one else like him in American theatre today. I was talking to a friend afterwards, trying to figure out who else sounds like MIB. Tennessee Williams comes to mind, that gift for unforgettable lines, that gift for metaphor. But Williams always felt, I don’t, closeted to me—locked into his own psycho-sexual obsessions, for doomed and forceful Southern belles and the mean bastards they marry. For Matt, it just feels effortless. It’s not—the man works as hard as any writer I know. But there’s a richness of language in his work that enables him to dig deep into these remarkable characters, helps us know them better than they know themselves.
That’s Eric. He’s a man who excoriates himself for cowardice, but whose courage astounds us, a man in despair, who expresses it through a grim kind of irony. A man who considers himself neither intelligent nor eloquent, but who speaks like a poet and scientist.
So transgender studies is an academic thing and transgender rights is a political thing, and the plight of transgender people also becomes a moral thing, a religious thing. And of course, culturally, it seems to be okay to use words (privately) like ‘freak’ and ‘ick’ and ‘gross.’
Let me say this, though, as a committed and practicing Christian, I place compassion at the top of my list of virtues, and I have never felt more compassion for a fictional character than I did for Eric. I have never seen more humanity expressed than here, in Matthew Ivan Bennett’s script and Teresa Sanderson’s performance and Jerry Rapier’s direction and Cheryl Cluff’s sound design, the whole production. See this play. It will open your mind, and it will open your heart.
Matthew Ivan Bennett’s ERIC(A) receives its world premiere at Plan-B Theatre Company February 28-March 10, 2013. Performed by Teresa Sanderson and directed by Jerry Rapier. Click here for more information and tickets.