Superman is in the title of the play, but he is not the only hero associated with it. Superman Becomes Lois Lane is written by real life hero Susan Kimberly. This is her story and by sharing it, she helps facilitate understanding and compassion, and that, makes the world a better place. Freya Richman stars in the show as Susan, she is also a hero. You can google both of these women to find out more about what they have done politically and socially to make the world a better place for the transgender community. The incredibly brave thing each of them does is live an open and public life. Many Trans people will decide to transition and then live their life as the gender they identify with. That is the right thing for them, everyone’s needs are different and personal. I also know from personal experience that those who are able to share their journey bring comfort, validation, and hope to those who are just beginning. My son began to transition about seven years ago when he was nine years old. As parents we gained reassurance, comfort, and understanding from reading books, and talking to other people about their transitions and their lives. We have also experienced the understanding and empathy that we can create by sharing our story, and our sons journey. Reading about someone transitioning in a newspaper, magazine, or seeing it on a news program raises awareness and dissipates some of the mystery. Which is crucial to gaining an understanding that this is a normal event for many people on this planet – if anything is normal. But when we share our story in person we transfer that story not simply as data but with emotion as well, and that is when we create empathy. Superman Becomes Lois Lane does that as well. The play shares Kimberly’s story, not just the facts. It delves deeply into her emotions, her inner life, her past, her fears and it creates a much fuller and richer comprehension in the audience of Susan Kimberly. Not as a fictional character or a celebrity, but as a human being. As a woman who was once a man and the challenges that entailed.
This is an important message for all of those reasons, but it is also a really good play. Kimberly’s story is told as if Bob, Susan’s name before she transitioned, is a separate person. Susan and Bob have conversations with each other and talk about each other in the third person. This like so many aspects of a transgender persons journey is different from person to person. I could relate to this aspect, I think of my son and my daughter in some ways as two entirely different people. When I see my son I see who he is now. I remember my daughter, and rationally I can remember the things he did as a little girl, I haven’t lost that person or those memories, but when I look at him and think about him now, I just see my son. I don’t know how he thinks about that aspect. Playing it as two seperate characters was a powerful technique to utilize to tell this story, and I believe that this is how it was for Susan. Susan and Bob basically narrate the story, jumping in and out of scenes with other characters, flashing back and forth in time to uncover the pieces of her story. We meet Therapists, family members, friends, even Norm Coleman, getting a greater understanding with each scene of Kimberly’s journey. The third main character is Mae, Bob’s wife who remained Susan’s friend. Kimberly wisely includes her as a major character as well. Through Mae, many of those in the audience who are Cisgender, have our own “in” to the story. We understand how it must have felt to have gone through this life with Bob and Susan. We can see in her unwavering support, not for Bob or Susan but for the person they both are, a strength and courage that we can all aspire too.
Freya Richman as Susan, Sean Michael Dooley as Bob, and Jamie White Jachimiec as Mae ground a play that involves past lives and conversations between two actors who are in reality, the same person. Freya Richman is the soul of the production, her own journey must have greatly informed her performance and as such it’s hard to imagine another actor that could have brought so much to the role. She plays the lack of confidence and confusion that Susan feels at times particularly well. She has a quality that seems particularly open and allows the audience to develop empathy through every stage. Susan is at times sad, nervous, defeated, jealous, angry, hopeful, optimistic, excited and triumphant. Whatever the emotion the character is feeling, we not only understand through Richman’s performance what it is, but why. Sean Michael Dooley and Jamie White Jachimiec support Richman on this journey also creating characters that we become attached to and admire. They have a moment together during the second act that is heart wrenchingly powerful and beautiful. The cast is rounded out by three excellent ensemble players Sam Landman, Casey E. Lewis and Melanie Wehrmacher who all play multiple roles such as friends and Doctors.
The Play was directed by Laura Leffler and in my eyes she is another hero, see my review of Steel Magnolias from last November for that story. Here, she takes on what must of seemed like an overwhelming challenge. The time shifts, coming in and out of scenes, two actors portraying one person. This could easily have become a muddle, a confusion. Leffler strategically utilizes the multi-level set designed by Michael Hoover to clarify the changes when they take place. The video design by Kathy Maxwell, lighting design by James Eischen, and sound design by Katharine Horowitz all work together beautifully. I was very impressed with the set itself and the use of projection to help establish location and mood. Another pleasing aspect of this production was the program itself. It includes a Q & A with Susan Kimberly, a glossary of terms, and a spread on ways to support Trans people.
Superman Becomes Lois Lane is playing through March 1st at the History Theatre for more information and to purchase tickets go to https://historytheatre.com/