“Boy” tells the true story of David Reimer, a Canadian boy born in the 1960s and raised as a girl. Named Bruce at birth, David was an identical twin to Brian, his name later being changed to Brenda. When they were six months old, both boys were referred for circumcision at hospital. A comparatively new method was used on Bruce, the first twin to have the surgery, and resulted in catastrophic and irreversible mutilation to his penis. The procedure was not carried out on Brian. His parents sought advice from Johns Hopkins psychologist, John Money, on how best to help their son in the coming years learning to live with his situation. The advice from Money was that, since in his opinion gender identity stems from social learning, it would be better to have the boy castrated, a vagina created, and to raise him as a girl. So that’s what his loving parents did, believing that a Harvard educated professor must surely know best, and Bruce was given the name of Brenda, dressed in frocks and encouraged in all things girly. Money continued to see the twins on a regular basis, the fact that they were identical twins being almost too good to be true for his research. As small children they were made to imitate the sex act to reinforce “this is what girls do; this is what boys do”.
Brenda did not feel like a girl, although unaware of her surgical history. She wanted to climb trees, not sew; to fight, not run away. Experiencing severe depression in teenage years, Brenda was told her medical history and decided from then to live as a boy. She had reconstructive surgery and changed her name to David, eventually marrying and becoming a father to his wife’s three children from previous relationships. But the psychological damage to both the boys resulted in Brian’s death from overdose at the age of 36 and David taking his own life two years later.
“Boy” was originally performed for 12 year old school children in the Netherlands. In the less advanced UK it performs to adult audiences. The raked seating in the main hall at Summerhall holds about 120, at a guess, and at 11.30am there wasn’t an empty seat. The piece is written by Carly Wijs who also directs. The two performers, Vanja Godee and Jeroen der Ven handle the telling of this somewhat harrowing tale with tenderness and gentle humour. Their easy, relaxed relationship with the audience as they play out the narrative, more story telling than drama, is warm and engaging. A variety of soft toys is used with good effect for visual aids, making the point that this is a story with children at the heart of it; children and two caring, trusting, Mennonite Christian parents. The staging is simple, a blue satin cloth serving as both a screen for the actors and later a screen for projected video of David Reimer, handsome and seemingly happy in his skin. The scenes are punctuated with a few bars of Elvis songs. The lighting is basic; either on, or fade to off, but no less effective for that. The whole production is a powerful and deceptively simple telling of a shocking tale, told with empathy, compassion and love.
“Boy” is on in the main hall at Summerhall at 11.30a.m. from August 5th – 14th, 16th – 21st and 23rd – 28th. Tickets are priced £8 – £13. Tickets can be found HERE.
Reviewer: H.S. Baker
Reviewed: 10th August 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★