On-Target GPS for Transgender Dignity

A Sensitive New Drama Gets a Riveting World Premiere 

I Don’t Know Where We’re Going But I Promise We’re Lost.   Boston Teen Acting Troupe, Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, through August 16. (866) 811-4111 or http://www.bostonteenactingtroupe.com

Transgender youth often suffer verbal and emotional humiliation as well as intolerance. In many cases, the abusive bashers prove to be parents as often as peers. This is the tough back story of the sensitive new drama “I Don’t Know Where We’re Going But I Promise We’re Lost” by Boston-based playwright MJ Halberstadt.

Boston Teen Acting Troupe, a young company (founded in 2011) which disarmed savvy theatergoers last year with a very grown-up revival of “An Inspector Calls” at the Boston Center for the Arts, is giving the uncompromising play a riveting world premiere at Boston Playwrights’ Theatre and providing an urgent anti-bullying wake-up call.

Set in the back yard of a South End apartment, “I Don’t Know Where We’re Going But I Promise We’re Lost” focuses on the formidable on-going quest of 16-year-old transgender Josh Fleeter (an assigned female at birth, then called Annie) for physical and emotional safety.

jules-lostIf Josh feels lost and uncertain about his future, at least he is not alone. Together with younger brother Ty, 12, he shares a temporary haven with their older brother Devon, 19, – namely the apartment of the late great uncle of Devon’s girlfriend, who happens to be named Annie. Since the landlord has not been on the premises for quite a while, the three brothers are in effect safe squatters for the moment.

Josh’s quest for full validation goes hand-in-hand with evolving fraternal bonding. Devon has a bountiful smorgasbord of responsibility and relationship on his proverbial plate. Determined to mentor Josh and Ty, he means to balance a kind of surrogate parenting, work and real romance with his girlfriend. To that end, Devon exercises tough love with Ty about studying and making up school he has missed and with Josh about doing his fair share to cover groceries and other expenses. Along the way, Devon and Annie’s romantic ups and downs and the possibility of Ty having a relapse of lung cancer test Devon’s strengths and character, while Josh gains important insight about his own considerable maturity and integrity.

Halberstadt, an Emerson graduate, is talented enough as a playwright to keep the brothers’ as authentic as any tough-talking teenagers dealing with growing pains and their day-to day life as challenging as that of any children lacking parental guidance. He also details the back story abuse – where their parents refused to recognize Josh’s real gender – that led the brothers to leave home. While the brothers have unsurprising moments of serious disagreement, they all realize in their respective ways that freedom is always preferable to emotional enslavement.

Company co-artistic director Jack Serto makes the brothers’ urban odyssey and Josh’s individual rite of passage equally compelling and absorbing. Brian Ott captures Devon’s stoic demeanor as well as his vulnerability in the face of formidable demands. Alec Shiman displays all of Ty’s attitude as he avoids responsibility and his energy and enthusiasm planting fruits and vegetables in the earth that surrounds designer Michael Navarro’s properly spare but atmospheric backyard set. Aaron Piracini artfully captures Josh’s growth from a troubled soul to a confident young man eager to find his place and make his future in a complicated and often unfair universe. Emily White has all of Annie’s spirit and her pivotal encouragement for Josh.

Richly complementing Halberstadt’s incisive if slightly overlong play is the original live music of Covey, an indie folk project fronted by guitarist Tom Freedom – with fine accompaniment by Dillon Rovere on drums and Carson Cody on keyboard. Fans of Mumford and Sons will sense the influence of that distinctive group’s stylings on Covey’s work here, which smartly complements the brothers and Annie’s alternating moments of conflict and understanding. Also look for affecting passages that call to mind understated motifs in the soundtrack of “Brokeback Mountain.” (The talented group’s evocative CD is available after performances of the 100 minute-no intermission play).

“I Don’t Know Where We’re Going But I Promise We’re Lost” displays an impressive sense of theatrical direction pursuing empowerment for the trans community. Boston Teen Acting Troupe zeroes in on that objective with the precision of a state of the art GPS.

– By Jules Becker

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