Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
(Paul Fraughton | The Salt Lake Tribune) Teresa Sanderson rehearses a scene from the Plan B Theater production of Matthew Ivan Bennett's play, "Eric(a)."
New Utah play, ‘Eric(a),’ focuses on one human story of transition
Utah stage » Solo production explores personal journey of a transgender man negotiating the cultural forces of identity.
First Published Feb 23 2013 01:01 am • Last Updated Feb 26 2013 08:29 pm

When Utah playwright Matthew Ivan Bennett set out to write a play about a woman in the process of becoming a man, he soon discovered that dramatizing transgender themes was every bit as fraught and wary as introducing them into casual conversation.

The fact that he interviewed numerous transgender people in person and online helped, of course. It just didn’t make writing the script any easier.

At a glance

Plan-B Theatre’s ‘Eric(a)’

When » Feb. 28-March 10. Thursday and Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m.

Where » Studio Theatre, Rose Wagner Center for the Performing Arts, 138 W. 300 South, Salt Lake City.

Tickets » $10-$20. Call 801.355.ARTS or visit planbtheatre.org for more information.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

What began as an idea for a three-person play in November 2010 morphed into a different setup. When that draft stalled, Bennett gave the idea a rest. It wasn’t until actor Teresa Sanderson suggested Bennett consider writing a one-person play, a suggestion relayed by Plan-B Theatre Company producing director Jerry Rapier, that Bennett started a third draft, which became "Eric(a)." Even considering his prodigious playwright’s pen, Bennett counts it as perhaps the most difficult play he’s ever written.

His play hits the cultural zeitgeist at a time when transgender stories are being told more frankly in popular culture, such as those of Chaz Bono and "Matrix" film director Lana Wachowski going public after years of being known as Chastity and Laurence. For Bennett, the interest was more personal, never sensational.

Bennett’s play opens Feb. 28 at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, with noted Utah actor Sanderson in the title, and only, role. "It was the most collaborative process we’d all been part of," Rapier said. "And it exposed a truth in theater that we sometimes forget: That is, the more specific you are, the more you reveal universal concerns."

And somehow the play’s difficult birth seems all too appropriate, given the walls that arise when a transgender person announces to friends, family and the world that the body he was born with is a source of intolerable unease. Eric, the stand-alone character with only the whisper of a vowel to remind him of his past life, covers it all and more in the course of Bennett’s hourlong play.

It’s the blistering, honest and aching testimony of someone who spent 50 years as a married mother before embarking into the life of a man for three years and counting. "I’m discovering I really, truly, deeply do not have the certainty other guys have," Eric says. "I’ve been too weak to even say that to myself."

"Eric(a)" comes with an explicit educational angle, Bennett’s accompanying 17-point "Intellectual Defense of Trans Experience," Eric’s essay and declaration to an outside world that’s either bemused, amused or bigoted. And there are times when the monologue pauses for humor, describing what it’s like for a trans man to pass airport security through a scanner. "I was a hermaphrodite member of al-Qaeda," he jokes.

The monologue takes its own twist on romance, as Eric describes a woman he’s fallen for — "with a laugh like a Gypsy guitar and the skin of a Spanish Jesus" — but with whom he can’t decide whether to be honest.

"She’s taller than me, even in flats, but I pass — which makes me sing the ‘Hallelujah Chorus,’ although, as you might know, it’s a catch-22. They see me as a man, I feel seen, but worry about being called a liar later on; if they see me as a woman, I feel invisible; if they’re unsure what I am, I feel invisible."

story continues below
story continues below

By play’s end, "Eric(a)" has become a story about honesty and the courage of being true to yourself, the vital ingredient to standing true before the world.

"I wanted to showcase the story about a person trying to socialize as a man," Bennett said. "I felt pulled in by people who’d felt they’d been men all their lives, but had no practice in it. That interested me, because all my life I’d also been trying to be a man."

Although the weight of the play rests entirely on Sanderson’s shoulders, "Eric(a)" is also a play that involves and implicates its audience, immersing them so fully in the psychological world of a transgender person that the story reverberates with intimacy. "The audience has to be a big part of this," Sanderson said. "It’s a play that makes you go to different places."

"Eric(a)" reminds its audience, transgender or not, of the universal sentiments we all carry when we feel out of place, out of synch with our roles in society, or ill at ease regarding some aspect of our physical appearance.

Rapier predicts the play will strike some or all of the notes in people — and many more.

"Once Teresa gets this down, she’ll need to grab hold of it with both hands. This is a play that’s going places," he said.


Twitter: @Artsalt


Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment

About Reader Comments

Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.