Plan-B’s ‘Eric(a)’ highlights humanism behind transgender experience

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Some dramatic characters take on a life of their own and Eric is one of those characters.

Plan-B Theatre Company’s performances of Eric(a) will feature Teresa Sanderson as Eric, a transgender man who falls in love with a woman, as a man, for the first time.

The play is a one-actor performance that obliterates the fourth wall and audience members will feel as if they are at a transgender event. In place of other actors and sets, Eric simply shares his story of transitioning and living a fuller, more authentic life. He tells how he met and married his husband before he transitioned and the effect the transition had on his daughter and family life. But the central conflict revolves around meeting and dating his first female love, Addie.

As Eric wrestles with the decision about when to come out as transgender to Addie, he’s also excited about the prospect of passing with someone he finds very attractive, both physically and emotionally.

“The play isn’t a transgender play. It’s a play about someone who happens to be transgender,” said Plan-B Producing Director Jerry Rapier.

While many of the central conflicts and dramatic elements revolve around Eric’s gender identity, there is much more to the play than trans issues.

“We’ve all faced issues of honesty in relationships, especially new relationships,” Sanderson said. “I think that’s what makes Eric so relatable and a perfect allegory.”

While writing the play, Matthew Ivan Bennett went through multiple drafts and Eric was included in a three-part play and a draft where he was part of a quasi-parallel universe.  Through all the re-writes, readers and friends were most interested in Eric’s story and wanted to hear more, Bennett said. Eventually, the excess storylines were discarded and the result of more than a year’s work and research was Eric(a).

“I became fascinated with Eric and researching his story. I used internet chat rooms, discussions with trans people and read several books,” Bennett said. “I was always very accepting but I had never really faced the question head-on.”

Eric(a) is written for a broad audience and those who are familiar with the trans community and those who aren’t will find the play to be informative and poignant. While tackling subjects such as gender reassignment surgery and family rejection after coming out as transgender, the underlying themes are a basic, human story, Bennett said.

“I think that whether you’re a trans man or cisgender, there are always issues of what it means to be a man,” he said. “We have conceptions of masculinity but it’s not just trans men who wonder what it means to be a man.”

The character has some flaws, but ultimately is learning how to be live life authentically and what it means to be honest, Bennett said. He’s still new to his life as a man and he’s learning how to handle some of the difficult decisions.

In writing, Bennett took examples from friends and trans people to offer a more authentic picture. One of the more affecting stories was Eric’s recollection of purchasing pants secretly from the Salvation Army to avoid the dresses Erica’s mother purchased. The amount of research Bennett did shines through in small and large details. From language to personal experiences, the story rings true and fits perfectly into the design of the production.

The witty dialogue and literary devices help to engage the audience and give permission to laugh at a very serious subject. And as time passes, many transgender people are able to recall past events with humor, Bennett said.

While preparing for the role, Sanderson spoke with friends and become more acquainted with the transgender community. She asked all the tough and intimate questions and nothing was out of bounds, Sanderson said.

While she has played leading roles and worked with Bennett before, this is her first time in a single-actor play. However, Rapier assures that Sanderson is the best character actor in the region and is up for the challenge.

“This role was written for her and I think there will be people coming to the show just to see what she can do with this role,” Rapier said.

While the subject matter may seem progressive for Utah, both Bennett and Rapier said they aren’t nervous about people shying away. Instead, they are looking for the best stories to tell and the best people to tell them, Rapier said.

“If I could accomplish even just one thing, it would be to have people walking to P.F. Chang’s after the performance asking the important questions,” Bennett said. “What if I were trans? What would I do? I don’t want people to just talk about the play. I want them to ask those questions.”

The show runs Feb. 28-March 10. For tickets, go to planbtheatre.org.

Seth Bracken

Seth Bracken is the editor of QSaltLake

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