The inherited purposes of great theater are many and varied. Some shows offer an escape from the grayness of our lives, others give a lesson in history about obscure but relevant events in the past, some work on our various emotions making us feel “more alive” for the experience and still others have social relevance and are designed to change perceptions.
Christine Howey’s one-woman show, Exact Change, manages to do all of the above. Exact Change is a series of poetic vignettes with projected titles, photos and videos projected on a large screen. It is the story of a woman, trapped in a man’s body that at a very early age discovered that she was a woman with all the attributes of a man except for the manliness part. It thus became Christine’s quest to make the transference of gender. She began by befriending transvestites (men who dress as women and attempt to pass themselves off as thus). He/she later joined “transvestite social clubs” where men of like mind would get together to discuss the challenges of attempting to look like a woman.
Even after marriage to a woman and having a daughter the overwhelming desire of Richard (or Dick as she refers to her former self) was to not just camouflage but to become what she at the bottom of her heart desired above all else. Thus at the age of 45 she traveled to Denmark and there had what was referred to as a “major pelvic event” or sex reassignment surgery (more commonly known as a sex change).
Over the course of the hour and a half that Christine is on stage, she goes into great detail concerning her growing up convinced she was a girl in spite of evidence to the contrary. One of the most telling projections is a photo taken of Richard as a young boy lying on a bed reading about flowers. His bed is covered with a bed spread with a pattern of race cars on it. The wallpaper is the typical “little boy” motif popular in the fifties with a hunting theme repeated across the walls.
One thing that should be pointed out is the difference between transgender and gay. Gay women and men seek the company of same sex partners for relationships while transgender people are simply not satisfied with the hand that nature has dealt them and through the miracle of modern science and hormone treatments are able to become the person they always felt they were. In effect, transgender is a personal choice to change for themselves, not for others.
What Exact Change seems to be more than anything is a rallying point for anyone who has been harassed for being different. In spite of the advances made in social acceptance, those who march to “the beat of a different drummer” are still hounded, ostracized and attacked both verbally and physically even today in our so-called “enlightened society”. It takes shows like Exact Change to break these barriers down and to end the exploitation and harassment.
This past Friday and Saturday, None-Too-Fragile Theater hosted three performances of Exact Change with two sold out shows and an 80% full Saturday matinee. As compared to the world premier back in January this show seems sharper, fuller of wit and more easily understood concerning Christine’s journey to womanhood. With the success that this show is celebrating each time it sees light it is hoped that larger venues will clamor to produce it as well. Today in our society we are at a threshold of change where differences between us such as race, creed, color or sexual and gender preferences should be ignored. The strength of the world is not one of exclusion but inclusion where talent is recognized over preferences. Here is hoping that Christine’s Exact Change carries on.