Raised By Lesbians
nytheatre.com review by David DelGrosso
August 11, 2008
Leah Ryan's Raised by Lesbians is one of the 13 FringeHIGH productions of the festival, which means it has been identified as a boundary-stretching piece that will connect with teenage audiences. I agree that this play could do just that, and I hope it gets the chance to. The challenge, of course, is getting that audience to the play, and I was sorry to see very few, if any, teenagers at the performance I attended.
The drama of Raised by Lesbians is rooted in a situation that will be accessible to many audience members. 16-year-old Joe's parents have divorced, and he must choose whether to keep living with his mother, or to accept his father's offer to come live with him and his new wife. Complicating things for Joe, his mother is gay, a fact which is well-known by his classmates at school. Though he clearly loves her, Joe wonders if a more "normal"—or at least more anonymous—life could be had living with his father.
Joe's mother, Alice, is also faced with a big decision—whether or not to settle down with her girlfriend Rita, or to keep holding her off with their once-a-week routine. As Joe and Alice face these choices, their fears and anxieties play out in energetic dream sequences, including a series of metaphoric scenes set in a laboratory. In these, Joe's mom becomes the scientist Dr. Glenda, her girlfriend Rita becomes the cartoonish and vapid assistant Betty, and his father appears as The Masked Man, a sort of Zorro figure. In the world of the lab, Joe takes the form of the grunting, caged Feral Freak Boy, whom Dr. Glenda is trying to domesticate and The Masked Man is trying to free.
Director Dev Bondarin leads a spirited and versatile cast and the play flies through its 80-minute single act. It may be my age, or more likely just my personal taste, but I prefer the less busy scenes set in the real world to the dreams and the visits to the lab. For me the play is at its best in these quieter moments, when the artifice drops away and leaves the characters sincerely dealing with each other. Particularly good are any scenes between Joe, played by Matthew Giogowski, and his best friend Gracie, played by Kira Sternbach. Both actors give honest and engaging performances that help to ground the play, which at times runs the risk of losing the importance of the situation by getting too silly.
I think that Raised by Lesbians is a great choice for FringeHIGH. It is theatrical and likely edgier than anything that would be allowed to perform inside a high school. I just hope that, in the performances that remain, more of the target audience will take the opportunity to see it.