Theatre Review: Always a Boy Is Never a Bore

Ground Floor Theatre production offers a tender trans portrayal

Laura Leo Kelly and Trace Turner in Always a Boy (photo by Steve Rogers Photography)

It’s going to be OK.

This is obvious from the opening moments of Always a Boy, where Joshua, an adult trans man, is embraced by his mother. Above them, Young Joshua and College Joshua form a Greek chorus of do’s and don’ts regarding trans family interactions. And the audience never worries. The trans kid makes it. His family is there. Everything is OK.

That intense warmth radiates through Always a Boy, softening even the most dramatic moments of conflict. If you’re looking for a hopeless indictment of the trans experience in America, well, don’t look here. There’s not an ounce of bleakness in this play. Rather, this production oozes comfort from its very core, displaying a sweet sensitivity beneath fear and doubt. Everything can be solved with communication. Just be honest with others and, importantly, with yourself.

Mother/son playwrights Jo and Jeremy Ivester tackle adapting Jo’s 2020 memoir into a script. The play follows their fictionalized family, opening in the present with adult Joshua (Jeremy Ivester, pulling double duty) and his mother Rachel (Molly Fonseca), using them to ground the play as it jumps through time.

Director Lisa Scheps juggles the looping time circles deftly, helped along by CB Feller’s set design. Feller cleverly divides the stage into three distinct sections. There’s an open central area flanked by cozy domestic nooks. It helps streamline the show, simplifying movement so the audience can focus on actor emotion instead of clunky scene transitions.

An intense warmth radiates through Always a Boy. There’s not an ounce of bleakness in this play.

Young Joshua (Kaden Ono) and College Joshua (Laura Leo Kelly) trade off vignettes. They illuminate family dynamics as Joshua grapples to understand who he is and why society is trying to pigeonhole him into a neat, gender-assigned box. There’s a lot of openly acknowledged “talking around” things, as characters try to hold Joshua’s well-being with their own hopes and understanding of the world. Rachel just wants her child to be all right, and feels lost when she can’t connect with what they need. Joshua’s father Richard (Nathan Jerkins, in a tenderly paternal state) gets to show a full range of acceptance that Joshua needs more, while mourning what that means for the family he’s known. Between scenes, adult Joshua and Rachel reflect on what’s been witnessed and introduce what’s coming. At times it’s repetitive, but it ultimately serves as yet another reminder that Joshua gets through these trials.

The younger Joshuas infuse this understandably talky script with lightness. Whenever the script starts to drag, mired in sentimental drama, a Joshua will interject with a comment or a quirk of phrase to spice things up. Ono plays Young Joshua with shocking maturity and understanding. It’s unbelievable this kid’s in middle school – I was convinced he was an adult playing younger.

But Laura Leo Kelly’s College Joshua shines. They’re sparkly, effervescent, and a thousand percent believable. Tasked with exhibiting the outwardly transitioning Joshua, a frustrated young adult trying to share truths with his family, Kelly plays angry and exploratory and loving with bracing sincerity. It’s mesmerizing. Whatever they portray – fighting with brother Seth, balking at girly outings with sister Rebecca, or taking part in emotionally-charged snowball fights with old friend Tucker – is real. Even their body seems to morph, subtle shifts in posture and presentation as Joshua gets closer to his real self. How does Kelly do it? Somehow, their ridiculously natural performance boosts the show into the stratosphere.

Jeremy Ivester as adult Joshua gets less emotional work to do, but it still works. The way he smiles throughout the role is exactly the kind of relieved joy that seeps through the bones of Always a Boy. There are multiple references to his family’s concerns that life will be more difficult as a trans man. Seeing Ivester’s dimpled grin banishes any worries. He’s so happy. He’s so himself. What could be better?

Even with Joshua, a best-case scenario of open family and acceptance, there’s anxiety and shame. Family members keep asking Joshua to be honest, that they would have known how to behave if he only told them, but how could he tell when he was still figuring it out? Society didn’t have a road map for him. So now, with Always a Boy, the Ivesters create one for others to come.

Always a Boy

Ground Floor Theatre

through March 2 (Streaming tickets available Feb. 29-March 1)

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Ground Floor Theatre, Always a Boy

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