LOOKING FOR NORMAL by Jane Anderson

Roy is a middle-class mid-Western John Deere employee who, after 25 years of marriage and fatherhood, finally faces his life-long secret: he believes he is a woman in a man’s body and wants a sex change operation. “I don’t believe you’re a woman. Only a man could be so selfish!” screams Irma, Roy’s beloved wife, and mother of their two children, 22-year-old Wayne and 13-year-old Patty Ann.

Anderson’s humor leavens the realism, perception and poignancy with which she treats a gender issue that could be confusing, camp or tragic. Her play opens in the rectory where Irma, knowing that something is wrong, has dragged Roy for a conference with their pastor, Reverend Muncie. Roy has blinding headaches and a limp libido and, with Irma out of the room, he confesses to the startled Reverend that he has been seeing a psychiatrist, decided to have a sex change operation and is ready to tell his wife. Right now.

We follow the changes in Roy’s life through his final metamorphosis into dresses, high heels and long hair. Most dramatically, we see highlights of the effect on his family: Irma, who throws Roy out, tries kissing another man, saves Roy from suicide and finally realizes, when the Reverend urges her to move on, that Roy is her life. That raises major questions for son Wayne, a roadie for a rock band, who comes home for Thanksgiving. When he finds out his parents are sharing a bed again, he blows up at his dad. “As a man, you’re straight. As a woman, you’re gay. Does that make Mom a lesbian?”

Budding teen-age Patty Ann is more fascinated by and accepting of her father’s change. She asks all those physical questions: “Will you have breasts? Long hair? Shave under your arms?” Struggling with the disturbances of puberty and the disadvantages of her own suddenly awkward body, Patty Ann can’t understand why any man would want to change to a woman.

There’s also the job and the parent issues. Roy’s boss Frank  finally decides to promote him early and get him out of the warehouse where the guys would beat him up. Frank and his wife are splitting and he and Irma exchange bewildered condolences and a passionate kiss that makes Irma realize that, without love, the physical doesn’t do it for her.

Roy’s father, Roy Sr. is a farmer who goes through four daughters before getting the son he craves. His traditional macho values make him very tough on the boy. Roy’s mother Em is a warm tender woman who says, “I will always love all my children. Somebody has to.”

Anderson extends her play with monologues from Roy’s late Grandmother Ruth who abandoned her husband and 3-year-old son to drive ambulances during the war in Europe and just never came home. Ruth’s main function seems to be to clarify the varieties of love she enjoyed. She has a beautiful speech about not minding what she touches – male, female, an old person’s wrinkles, a roll of fat, a sexual part – “when they belong to someone I love”.

Ruth’s character raises some questions which the playwright has left hanging. Although Roy names his new self after her, he doesn’t know anything about her except that she left the family. Roy Sr., in his dotage, cries for the mother who abandoned him and who, in a monologue, justifies herself somewhat guiltily by saying he should be raised by people who were better parents.

There are other Anderson extensions such as diagrams of sexual parts explained by Wayne and Patty Ann respectively.

One thought on “LOOKING FOR NORMAL by Jane Anderson

  1. Loved the movie with Jessica Lange and Tom Wilkenson, it has stayed with me for many years. Seeing the play, I’m sure, would make a huge impact on audience members.

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