Plan-B Theatre Company's world premiere of Matthew Ivan Bennett's Eric(a) is one of the most impressive theater experiences in recent memory, thanks to an incisive script and a must-see performance by Teresa Sanderson in the title role.
A one-person show always strikes me as a difficult thing to pull off, but Bennett, Sanderson and the behind-the-scenes production team of Eric(a) manage to evoke a range of emotional touch points throughout the 70-minute running time, as well as an array of characters who come to life through Bennett's words--characters that easily allow the audience to imagine a world far more complex and complete than the bare stage, chair and podium that make up the entire set.
The show opens with Eric taking to the dais to offer a lecture called "Living Trans: An Intellectual Defense of Trans Experience," and Bennett cleverly brings the audience right into the show by having Eric hand out a list of talking points that both he, and the audience, turn to throughout the lecture as Eric intermingles stories of his evolution from a girl/woman named Erica into a man who started "transitioning" three years before the show's start.
The talking points are useful for those with little background in the language, psychology and realities of the transgender community. More useful, though, in stepping into that world is the connection between Eric and the audience that comes through Sanderson's incredible performance.
Vignettes throughout the show used to illustrate Eric's journey are the key.
When Eric describes the awkward, exciting moment of meeting a woman at a club who doesn't know he once lived as a woman--"I'm passing!"--it's easy to empathize, and root for Eric. When Eric proclaims, "I'm guilty of the worst sin in the trans community. I'm uncertain," you realize what a difficult path Eric has chosen. When Eric talks about the distance between him and his adult children, you feel for him, and hope they can grow closer. When Eric reveals his background to a woman he's been dating for a month, the difficulty of that conversation makes it impossible not to squirm a bit, even as a passive audience member.
But then, the success of Bennett's script teamed with Sanderson's performance is that the audience isn't passive--it's utterly engaged with this person on stage revealing all the complexities of growing up as a girl, but feeling like a boy on the inside. Acting on that feeling 50 years into a life does nothing to make things more simple, but as Eric avows toward shows end, it's an absolutely necessary step.
Eric(a) runs Thursday through Sundays through March 10. Visit the Plan-B Theatre Company Website for tickets and more information. Photo by Rick Pollock.
Dan Nailen has written about music, arts and culture in and around Salt Lake City for Salt Lake magazine, The Salt Lake Tribune and Salt Lake City Weekly since 1998. He's currently a contributor to saltlakemagazine.com, and you can find more of his work at SLCene.com.