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Ivy Theatre Company Tells Untold Stories with 'Incongruence'

This new theater company explores Transgender Day of Remembrance through performance.



Ivy Theatre Company's Trellis Project is a page-to-stage partnership that puts playwrights in control and lets them tell the stories they wish to tell. Nowhere is that more evident than in Incongruence: A {trans} Gender Looking Glass by Carla Pridgen, a first-time playwright whose exploration of the struggles of transitioning as a transgender individual brings a story rarely allowed to be told to the stage. 


Incongruence takes the form of an extended monologue by Tammy (Dominique Brebnor) about her struggles with gender dysphoria, intercut with scenes from a half dozen other narratives of trans*, cross-dressing, intersex and other gender-nonconforming people searching for acceptance from their families and themselves. 


The ensemble of eight actors portray a large cast of characters from the various stories, allowing each individual to play roles of varying beliefs and gender identities and adding a sense of indeterminacy to each identity presented on stage. Each actor wears a costume of patchwork scrubs, a neutral palette that contrasts the way each person sees themselves with how society sees them; at the end, they discard the baggy uniforms to reveal the outfit that best represents that person. 


The framing narrative of the play, Tammy's direct address to the audience, covers childhood experimentation and fear, parental rejection, romantic troubles and more, and is an engaging story despite its simplicity. As for the rest of the scenes, while a few of them are standalone acts, most are recurring threads that appear across the play and often merge with one another to form a larger story--such as when the two transitioning young adults end up engaged at the end. Throughout, there is a tension between the brutal honesty and rejection of Tammy's story and the largely accepting families in the other scenes, as if to present a fantasy of how life may improve for gender "incongruent" people in the future.


At the same time, the play demonstrates how even a family accepting of a trans* person's behaviors still isn't enough, whether it is a father encouraging his daughter through baseball practices or two moms buying their son a Barbie for Christmas. The struggle goes beyond family feuds and into a fundamental search for identity and happiness, from anonymous confessions to surgery.


I was most fascinated by the characters whose conflicts went beyond the standard coming out story, such as the 50-something priest Father Charity (Jack Sochet) who finds out he was born intersex and Manny (Eddie Capuano), who befriends a phone sex worker named Misty (Samantha Elizabeth Turlington) to work up the confidence to crossdress. In these tales, gender becomes less defined, and the characters challenge the preconceptions of every audience member regardless of their background.


The set of Incongruence is left simple, consisting largely of chairs and a mirror (or looking glass) for each actor, maintaining a makeshift feeling throughout the production. The looking glass motif is used heavily throughout the play, as characters watch themselves in the mirror, Skype with parents through it or even step through the empty mirror frame as a sort of portal to another part of their lives. 


In some ways, the entire play is a sort of looking glass, a mirror into the lives of individuals whose struggles go far beyond the everyday experiences of the average audience member. The Trellis Project's brief run is over now, but it is clear that Ivy Theatre Company is doing important work in the world of contemporary theater, and is a group to be watched in the future.


This article was previously published on CHARGED.fm.

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