It’s not just about becoming a man; it’s about becoming a Good Man: “Becoming a Man”

“Becoming a Man” at the A.R.T. Photo by Nile Scott Studios and Maggie Hall.

Presented by the American Repertory Theater
Written by P. Carl
Directed by Diane Paulus and P. Carl
Music & Sound Design by Paul James Prendergast
Video Design by Brittany Bland
Fight Direction by Ted Hewlett
Intimacy Coordination by Kayleigh Kane
Dramaturgy by Ryan McKittrick

Feb. 16 – March 10, 2024
Loeb Drama Center
64 Brattle Street
Cambridge, MA 02138

The Digital Playbill

Run Time: 1 hour and 50 minutes with no intermission, including a 20-minute Act II discussion

Image by Mass Transgender Political Coalition

At this time of celebration for P. Carl, the LGBTQIA+ community mourns the murder of Nex Benedict. Benedict was a 16-year-old 2SLGBTQ+ child of Choctaw descent living on the Cherokee reservation in Oklahoma. A vigil for Nex Benedict will be held tonight, February 24 at 6 PM at the Boston Commons Gazebo in Boston, MA.

MORE INFO and info on volunteering for the vigil

Review by Kitty Drexel, queer ally followed by a review by Noelani Kamelamela, trans community member

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Becoming a Man by P. Carl runs at the American Repertory Theater through March 10 at the Loeb Drama Center in Harvard Square. It is based on the memoir of the same name also by P. Carl and can be purchased down the street from the Harvard Coop or your local independent bookseller. 

Becoming a Man is about P. Carl’s (Petey Gibson) transition into his full self and the impact it has on his entire world. Carl comes out to his parents (Christopher Liam Moore and Susan Rome) while caring for their aging bodies. He confides in his best friend Nathan (Cody Sloan) during necessary sanity breaks away from the city. Carl celebrates his gender euphoria with swimming lessons with Eddie (Justiin Davis). 

Transitioning with Carl is Polly (Stacey Raymond looking like adult Allison Bechdel in Fun Home). Polly is the physical representation of P. Carl’s pre-transition self (Noelani discusses this more below) that Carl has not reclaimed. Polly and Carl navigate the events of Carl’s life, together but separate persons. 

The changes aren’t Carl’s alone. Carl transitions his body, his career, and his marriage to Lynette (Elena Hurst). Marriage requires careful balance. Carl and Lynette’s relationship is unbalanced by the many changes that accompany Carl’s years-long discovery of self. Many relationships don’t survive (gender) transitioning. In Becoming a Man, Carl and Lynette renegotiate what it is to be a married couple as emerges from his transition as the person he says he’s always been who is also a person new to Lynette.  

Carl (and, to a small degree, Paulus) doesn’t hide from us the messy ups and downs of transitioning. As in his memoir, Carl shows us the friendships (and jobs) he lost when he came out as trans. He reveals dire familial relationships on the brink of implosion and malignant mental health crises. He shows us how addicting Patriarchy and toxic masculinity are and why it is so difficult for men to give up the comforts both institutions offer.    

Hollywood likes to paint a portrait of perfect, fashionably conscious, and trash-talking trans people who freely walk among the cis-heteros undetected. It hates to admit that trans people aren’t born fully formed like Dionysus out of Zeus’ thigh. 

Becoming a Man shows us how much more empathy we must muster for our trans and non-binary siblings in humanity. People are chaotic. It’s not enough to tolerate each other. Everyone deserves the right to pursue their happiness in our shared cultural and social spheres (within reason).  

Please note, this play is about P. Carl’s transition. It is not about all transitions. Transitioning is personal; it is individual. No transition is exactly alike. 

Since the last time we attended a performance at Loeb Drama Center, the management has updated the doors in its bathrooms. They lock now. This is great news! 

Unfortunately, building management updated the stalls with doors that do not maintain the privacy of the user like they used to before the update. Gaps are present between the stall door and its walls. Any nosy Nelly might gawk at an innocent user.

The A.R.T. can look to Central Square Theater, the Boston Center for the Arts, The Huntington,  and Arrow Street Arts for design solutions. These companies all offer different yet affirming gender-neutral restrooms that retain the privacy needs of their patrons.   

“Becoming a Man” at the A.R.T. Photo by Nile Scott Studios and Maggie Hall.

Review by Noelani Kamelamela

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — In 2020, I read P. Carl’s “Becoming A Man: The Story of a Transition” (Simon &Schuster). It is a deep dive into the singular experience of becoming a white trans man at a specific time in America. I felt cheated out of creating dialogue with folks about this groundbreaking book when the pandemic hit and the world shut down. 

One construction in the book intrigued me: the inclusion of Carl’s former queer, female identity Polly as a character who emerged and receded in internal discussions. I am accustomed to memoirs having some bandying back and forth between an author’s past and current selves in front of a reader. The staged version also separates Carl’s authorial voices into two different staged characters. It felt a bit dramatic, or, uh, theatrical. 

One thing I love about the stage adaptation is its sheer variety of in-person conversation onstage, within Carl’s self or without it. I have been starved of face-to-face contact for the past four years, and I celebrate the centering of one-on-one personal communication like this. Yes, there is dance, spoken word, projected elements, musical elements, and standard stagecraft; these create key transitions and set the rhythm of the play. 

While you may expect difficult conversations between Carl (Petey Gibson) and his wife Lynette (Elena Hurst), or his trans male friend Nathan (Cody Sloan), some of the harshest arguments are between Carl (Petey Gibson) and Polly (Stacey Raymond), his former female identity. He and she navigate his transition together. Carl’s breathlessness and happiness as his full self without confusion or interruption is like an arrival after a hard journey. His destination is his true self. 

This play also sports much-needed comic relief. Shout out to both Susan Rome (Carl’s Mother) and Christopher Liam Moore (Carl’s Father) for providing much of the lighter laughs and their cast of characters. Rome’s characterizations were drastic emotional pivots from scene to scene. 

I would caution people currently struggling with mental health issues such as anxiety, grief, and post-traumatic stress disorder to be gentle with themselves and to honor their needs–feel free to tell others about this show if you cannot bring yourself. 

One could find a lot of solidarity in the representation of people going through mental health crises and standard mental health care, but if you find any of that triggering, please know that these themes are integral to the story. While such scenes never veered towards creating audience trauma for trauma’s sake, these could still be disorienting or destabilizing for survivors.

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