Lily Nicksay gives one of this year’s most unforgettable performances as intersex teen Burbank, né Christine, in Aliza Goldstein’s engaging, conversation-starting A Singular They, now World Premiering at The Blank on Hollywood’s Theatre Row.
The “singular ‘they’” in question is Burbank’s pronoun of choice, and not just because of their “ambiguous genitalia,” but because labels like “boy” or “girl” (or pronouns like “she” or “he”) simply don’t fit this gender-neutral seventeen-year-old.
Which doesn’t mean that Burbank doesn’t think about sex. They do, a lot, especially with bff Dierdre (Hannah Prichard) visibly pregnant and mentally gearing up to hand over her as yet unborn “he,” “she,” or “they” to “the kind of couple that hikes the Appalachian trail in matching flannel for fun.”
Complicating Burbank’s erotic fantasies is their conviction that only someone with “a fetish thing” would want to have sex with them, which is probably why Dierdre proposes that her bestie lose their virginity to the acne-cursed Tommy Poletti since he only dates flat-chested girls and is probably gay anyway.
Still, if there’s anyone likely to light Burbank’s fire, it’s the hunky fresh-out-of-grad-school biology teacher (Nick Ballard as Mr. Mazer) who monitors the after-school detention they’ve been attending as a result of several health-related absences.
Fanning Burbank’s flames even further is their feeling that Mr. Mazer is the only adult to understand how much they are struggling, how much they are flailing for answers.
If all this seems the recipe for TV-movie melodrama (think Murder in New Hampshire: The Pamela Wojas Smart Story or All-American Girl: The Mary Kay Letourneau Story), it’s to Goldstein’s credit that A Singular They avoids over-the-top pitfalls, particularly as directed with subtlety and sensitivity by Christopher J. Raymond.
Goldstein’s insightful play raises topics rarely discussed or even thought about in a society that automatically divides its members into “he’s” and “she’s,” and in so doing it asks us to think about the Burbanks among us, conflicted between feelings of “wearing a skin that doesn’t fit right” and simply “liking my body the way it is.”
Just a year younger than 26-year-old “Mr. Mazer,” Goldstein is a grown-up poster child for The Blank Theatre’s annual Young Playwrights Festival (she competed yearly from ages sixteen to nineteen) as well as the most recent success story of its Monday-night Living Room Series, A Singular They having moved swiftly from a November 2015 reading to a December workshop run to a March World Premiere.
Goldstein writes perceptively about an age group often given short shrift or broad strokes by Hollywood hacks, whether dealing with Burbank’s sexual identity issues, or Dierdre’s mixed feelings about pregnancy and adoption, or simply the twosome’s reaction to seeing their teacher at a mall … and on a date no less.
Goldstein’s monologs prove particularly powerful, allowing us inside Burbank’s head to discover their hopes, fears, and dreams, though a literally staged “dream sequence” would work better in monolog form.
Nicksay does deepling touching, revelatory work as Burbank, vanishing into the troubled but resilient teen’s boyish yet feminine skin, a performance made even more remarkable following the frilly 20something Kentucky bride Nicksay played just last month at the Rubicon in See Rock City.
Prichard provides crackerjack support as a best friend dealing with her own issues with surprising wisdom and pluck, and the always terrific Ballard plays Mr. Mazer with a just-right mix of sensitivity and sex appeal.
Scenic designer Aaron Lyons makes inventive two-story use of the Blank’s limited stage area, aided by Michael O’Hara’s multiple well-chosen props and Donny Jackson’s excellent lighting design. Allison Dillard’s costumes reflect each character’s age, occupation, and personality quirks to a T, with Rebecca Kessin’s topnotch sound design adding effective musical touches between scenes.
A Singular They is produced by Sarah Allyn Bauer, Daniel Henning, and Noah Wyle. Victoria Esquer, Jennifer Kim, and Isabel Smith are associate producers. Nic Dresell is stage manager. Casting is by Erica Silverman Bream and Cara Chute Rosenbaum. Montana Roesch, Erin Sullivan, and Andy Wagner make up the production’s alternate cast.
The Blank Theatre Company’s 2nd Stage Theatre, 6500 Santa Monica Boulevard, in Hollywood.
March 27, 2016
Photos: Anne McGrath