Three Transgender Couples Find Love in “Southern Comfort,” a Touching New Musical [Berkshire on Stage]
Review by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray
Gail M. Burns: Most people think that the musical Oklahoma! was so innovative that it changed the course of musical theater, and I think Southern Comfort may end up doing the same. What do you think, Larry?
Larry Murray: This intimate production for Bill Finn’s Musical Theatre Lab certainly explores new ground not only for musicals, but for theater in general. The story of Lola and Robert, a transgender couple, is Shakespearean in its scope, sweeping in its complexity and has an unusual hybrid score that is part musical theatre, but because of its instrumentation, more bluegrass and country than Broadway. The story was incredibly unusual, and down-to-earth in a human, people-next-door way, though few of us can claim such interesting neighbors. There are basically three couples, though their identities and relationships are far from standard. You are good at following the family trees in Shakespeare, can you run down who is who, who was who and who will be who?
Gail: Well, with the exception of Lola (Jeff McCarthy), all the characters have transitioned and are living as the gender with which they identify. Robert (Annette O’Toole), Sam (Todd Cerveris) and Jackson (Jeffrey Kuhn) are men and Carly (Natalie Joy Johson) and Melanie (Robin Skye) are women, although only Melanie is using the gender assigned her at birth (this is called cisgender). Once a trans person announces their gender then they expect to be referred to and treated as such, even if they never make any further cosmetic change to their appearance. But in this case all the trans folks appear to be the gender they claim to be. Except for O’Toole and McCarthy, these are cisgender actors playing their own gender, in other words biological men are playing Sam and Jackson and biological women are playing Melanie and Carly.