Dandelion Theatre presents the world premiere of Brynne Frauenhoffer's plaintive, often overloaded exploration of family and identity, directed by Ben Kaye. When expectant parents Josh (David Stobbe) and Michelle (Gabriela Diaz) leave Chicago to visit Josh's small Missouri hometown, a powder keg of hot-button issues goes off.
Josh's teenage half sibling (K. Holland) is wrestling with gender identity and at constant loggerheads with their mother, who grudgingly agrees to call them "Ru" rather than Ruth. Josh's stepfather is dying of cancer, and, due to a groaningly coincidental fender bender, Josh reconnects with his first love, whose five-year-old daughter may be his. It's a lot of plot to keep straight, intertwined with frequent Bible passage references, Trump name checks, and abortion-debate talking points.
It is admirable and ambitious for Frauenhoffer to tackle so many heavy themes, but their weight overwhelms the thinly written characters she's created to carry the load. The two men are especially two-dimensional, a collection of cliched traits rather than full-fledged human beings. The best moments in this play occur during heart-to-heart exchanges between characters who are not men. Ru, who explains to their mother that they are neither man nor woman, says to think of them as their mother thinks of angels—beings not defined by their sex. Ru's journey would have been more than enough for an entire narrative; instead they are a supporting character in a sprawling story bent on addressing too many topics at once. Frauenhoffer's intellect and feeling for this material is obvious. I just wish she'd let her people breathe now and then. v