“Transitioning” is a fascinating word. It has so many meanings that it is difficult to wrap your mind around it sometimes. No matter how boring or “same” that our lives seem to be we are all in some state of “Transitioning”. Sometimes we need a little jolt (like a birthday with a zero attached or a good book or a play) to shake us out of our tree and examine what our life has become, what journey brought us here and what preparations need to be made for the future. In order to be here now we need to examine how we got “here” and where do we want “there” to be.
Transitioning is, in most cases, a natural process. We transitioned as a spirit child to birth with a gender assigned to us. We transition through the seven ages as observed by the Bard of Avon until we transition past the veil and back to our eternal home, but sometimes the social boat of “the natural order of things” gets rocked a bit. Thus is the case of Dick Howey who began life as a little girl stuck in a little boy’s body. From his experience of “playing the male part” it was only natural that Dick would become an actor. After all he had been doing it all his life.
As the actor Dick Howey, (prior to transitioning in 1990) he portrayed such male characters as Lucifer, Goebbels, Terrible Jim Fitch, Richard Nixon, God and others. It was while on stage performing a long soliloquy as the male character, Terrible Jim Fitch, that his entire being seized up and he realized that he could no longer be a him. At first, Dick went the route of “dressing up” as a woman but this was only window dressing. Thus in 1990 at great risk (since this type of surgery was still in its infancy) Dick Howey was surgically and chemically transitioned into a full woman, Christine Howey.
Over her life, Christine Howey (performer, writer, critic, director, poet, copywriter and creative director) has amassed a collection of poems, recollections, bits, bytes and situations about her amazing life that first came to light at last year’s Cleveland Public Theatre Big Box. In the ensuing time the work has been expanded and refined until it has reached its present state, that of “Exact Change” now playing at CPT’s James Levin Theatre.
“Exact Change” is a tale told through poetry and prose that tells the unabashed story of the transition of Dick Howey to Christine Howey. In the jam packed 85 minutes of performance there are all the elements that make for great theater. With evenly spaced delivery there is laugh out loud comedy, stark drama, poignant reflections combined with a multitude of characters and voices.
The set consists of (from left to right for those playing at home) a large screen where poem and segment titles are projected as well as photos and movies. Center stage has a comfortable chair with a small table next to it on which sits a glass of wine. Farther to the right are three free standing windows with venetian blinds. The lighting is muted and perfectly suited for the production. A five piece group of musicians (composed of Danny English, Piano; Scott Shaughnessy, Percussion; David Nainiger , Bass; Griffith Genticore, Trumpet and Daniel Muller, Saxophone) provide jazz interludes between the scenes. The show is directed by Scott Plate with Amanda Lin Boyd as Stage Manager, Benjamin Gantose as Lighting Designer, Esther M. Haberlen as Costume Designer, Jeff Herrmann as Scenic Designer, Kyllea Kerg as Text Animation and Design, James Kosmatka as Sound Technician and Laura Perrotta as Assistant Director.
The work begins with 6 poems composed by Christine. While not related to her transition as such, they do set the tone of the evening by offering clues as to her thought process. She performs "The Robot Poem", "The Long Con", "I Gotta Go", "Beowulf at Breakfast, "Defenestration" and "The K-Nork". At this point the subject shifts to her life before, during and after her transitioning covering such subjects as her discovering that she wanted to be a girl, enduring the horror of child psychology, her "major pelvic event" and surviving under ice. Although there are some great comedic moments you can feel the pain the she endured that still lurks close to the surface. The hurt does not stop after the operation, life simply goes on in another vessel.
During the play we are not asked to judge for it is not our place to do so. Nor are we asked to relate, for only someone who has undergone what Chris has experienced could do so. Nor should we use the word courage for courage is the ability to achieve the inevitable against the advice of all others. We are simply asked to listen to her story told in the only way she knows how.
In the course of this experience you may even find yourself “transitioning” a bit. Whatever your thoughts were upon entering the theater, you will find a better understanding of not only Christine Howey but also of anyone in your life that marches to a different drummer. This is theater and it is what it does best. Last night’s opening and tonight’s performances were and are sold out as I predict that all the others will be. Get your tickets now!
Prude Alert: This is an uber-mature topic that also has some language thrown in for good measure. If you have sensitivities to this subject, be forewarned. Go see a Disney movie instead.
Shooting From The Lip (My Last Words): “Exact Change”, now playing at Cleveland Public Theatre’s James Levin Theatre is a no-holds-barred exploration of one man’s journey to womanhood told through poetry and prose with comedy, drama and poignancy. In short, it is brilliant. It is probably the most dramatic 85 minutes you will ever experience. This is sure to be a sellout.
The show runs through Saturday, January 25, 7:00 p.m. in CPT’s James Levin Theatre, 6415 Detroit Avenue in Cleveland’s Gordon Square Arts District.
Every Saturday performance will be followed by a post-show discussion with Christine Howey and special guests.
Tickets are $12 – $28.
Take advantage of $12 tickets on Monday and Thursday shows. Student and Senior discounts ($3 off) are available for Friday and Saturday performances.
Every Friday is FREE BEER FRIDAY at CPT. Audience members are invited to mingle with the artists after the show and enjoy a drink or two on CPT.
Group discounts are available for 10+. Call James Kosmatka, CPT Director of Patron Services at (216) 631-2727 x203 for more information.