J. Joseph Cox’s play, receiving its world premiere at the 16th Street Theater, is about a lot of things. It’s about a preteen who was born female and now identifies as a boy. It’s about a father, a conservative gulf war vet who can’t accept that his Natalie wants to be called Nate. It’s also about his anger issues and PTSD and his fear that he may lose shared custody of Nate. And it’s also about the return of his long-estranged younger brother who has never really grown up, and also, oddly enough, about a koala who escaped the zoo and now lives in a eucalyptus tree in the backyard. In other words, the play tries to be about too much and doesn’t give enough time to any of these hot topics to fully explore them.
Which is a shame because director Josh Sobel has an impressive ensemble to work with. Eddie Dzialo simply smolders as the vet dad. From the moment the play starts we can sense the pressure building; we know his anger will boil over eventually, and it does, on schedule, late in second act. And Leo Sharkey plays Nate with a winning grace that makes us fear for his character, trapped as he is in a family too dysfunctional to recognize his needs. Michele Di Maso and Michael Holding also turn in exemplary performances as Ray’s helpful neighbor and his Peter Pan-like sibling, respectively. But the story they find themselves in unfolds too slowly and gives the characters too little room to change and grow to keep the audience interested. v