NELLY BOY by Dave Deveau
, directed by Christine Horne, with Cole J. Alvis and Jason Lambert. Presented by Thirty Below in association with Theatre Direct at Tarragon Extra Space. Aug 3 at 9:30 pm, Aug 5 at 5 pm, Aug 8 at 6:30 pm, Aug 10 at 8 pm, Aug 11 at 11 pm, Aug 12 at 3:30 pm. Rating: NNNNN
Nelly, the title character in dave Deveau 's SummerWorks show, is sure that his life has to be more than a public bathroom decision - whether to enter Men or Women, that is.
Before the play begins, Nelly or Nelson, as his straight-as-a-rod father calls him causes a furor at the local mall. The action unfolds as Nelly attempts to explain his life and what took place as he's interrogated by an unnamed Man.
The play began life as a monologue, part of Theatre Direct's The Demonstration, but Deveau couldn't stop thinking about the gender-troubled Nelly.
"I frequently used part of the monologue for readings and realized that there was so much more to this kid's story," says the multitalented Deveau, a dramaturge, librettist and performer who's finishing a master's degree at UBC.
"I went back to Nelly's voice and started generating pages and pages of material, and, working with actor Cole J. Alvis , we delved into this character."
The playwright admits that he wrestled with not giving Nelly a gender at all, "but the reality of our language is that inherently we must choose a male or female pronoun. Because Nelly is biologically a male, in discussion I say "he.' That makes conversation go a bit quicker, though it's not necessarily accurate given Nelly's gender identity."
The play has now grown into a two-hander rather than a monologue.
"In a solo show, the audience has to believe all that the character says or has to question everything. I didn't want the audience to doubt elements of his story. The Man takes on that role, digging deeper into what Nelly tells. Though he may start as inquisitor, he develops into something different. At times he functions as Nelly's parent, suggesting the importance of a father figure in Nelly's life."
Gender's a big, touchy topic. Many people become upset when its rules are bent, and the Man occasionally stands in for those viewers with traditional judgments and biases.
"But the bottom line is that Nelly is a teen who doesn't fit into the mould he's been born into. He's facing life in the burbs, which for the best of teens isn't the easiest place.
"He has a particular perception of a world that isn't necessarily willing to welcome and love him. That's a reality a lot of us face, and I hope there's an element of the play that rings true for the marginalized among us."