Gender identity is at the heart of the play “Scorch” on stage at OutCast Theater for a short run, June 13-17. It’s part of Saturday’s Queer Pride Day activities in Langley.
The play stars a cast of one, Carmen Berkeley, who plays Kes. Berkeley and director and co-producer Ty Molbak are friends and students at the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University. Molbak spent time on Whidbey as a child.
In the play, Kes, a teenager born female, is identifying more and more with male characters in movies, magazines and video games. When Kes swoons over a photo of actor Ryan Golsing, “my mother thinks it’s because I like him. No, I want to be him.”
Kes also tries out guy stuff like peeing standing up.
But when puberty hits, so does the realization that anatomy is destiny.
But does it have to be?
“All of sudden, they have boobs and it’s confusing because they really thought they were a boy,” explains director Ty Molbak, using the gender-neutral term of “they” for Kes’s character.
But there is a place where males and females can visit, play, chat, even become a new person — the Internet.
“They use avatars online, becoming the gender they identify with,” Molbak explained.
Kes meets a girl, Jules, online and so begins a long-term conversation that builds in intensity and emotion.
The online relationship is where Kes is freed of the female identity that still defines life at home, at school and on the job.
Jules believes Kes to be a boy. So when Skype and other modern mating devices enter the picture, Kes struggles with what to do, what to say, what to reveal and when.
The high anxiety tale has plenty of universal relationship angst, such as first date jitters, first kiss, first loves that are familiar to most people, no matter where their stripe falls (or doesn’t) on the rainbow flag.
“I could make many more faux pas on a first date and it’s no big deal,” said 23-year-old Molbak. “But for someone on the gender spectrum, they don’t have that freedom.”
“Scorch” is an Irish play that won several awards upon its 2015 debut. Irish writer Stacey Gregg based it on recent cases of “gender fraud,” a legal term in the United Kingdom.
At least five cases of “gender fraud” have been tried in United Kingdom courts, some resulting in sexual assault convictions, prison sentences and sex offender status.
The cases involve women who identify as men and who date and engage in sex with women without revealing their fluid sexuality.
“I want to stress, especially to teenagers, that gender fraud is not something that happens in this country,” said Molbak, who is producing the play through his new film and theater company, Blue Collaborative. Rachel Kaufman from New York City is co-producer and production manager. Whidbey resident Heather Mayhugh is part of the technical team.
Molbak’s younger brother, Luke, wrote and performs music for the play.
Carmen Berkeley, 21, acts as narrator while living in the skin of Kes. Strobe lights and musical interludes punctuate the story.
The OutCast’s circular black box theater is a perfect setting for the unsettling “Scorch,” which is not recommended for anyone under the age of 13.
The intimate, 60-seat theater, co-founded by K. Sandy O’Brien and Ned Farley, has produced many cutting-edge plays since 2010. Last year, Farley directed “A Kid Like Jake” about a family and their 4-year-old boy’s gender identity.
On stage for 90 minutes with no intermission and no other actors to project on, Berkeley said she’s learned the value of audience.
“The audience can undervalue their own role,” she said. “A lot of the story is very raw, very personal and very intimate, so I’m feeding off the energy of the audience. They’re not spectators in this production.”
Molbak said he’s not sure if the Langley performance of “Scorch” is its American premiere. It’s performed with permission from Nick Hern Books. Performance and rehearsal space was donated by OutCast Productions, and the Whidbey Giving Circle gave a $500 grant.
• The play “Scorch” is on stage at OutCast Theater at the Island County Fairgrounds June 13-17. Tickets: $15 adults; $5 youth; $10 discount on Saturday, June 16, at 4:30 p.m. for Queer Pride Parade participants.