'Becoming a Man' sets Atlanta actor free

Play about transgender ordeals enlivens 7 Stages

As a camp counselor in Costa Rica a few years ago, Scott Turner Schofield suffered a serious blow to the head that required a detailed medical examination and extended hospital stay. When his doctor realized the athletic young man had the body of a woman, he thought the kid was just confused.

"Son, you have a terrible brain injury," the doctor said sternly.

After having a heart-to-heart conversation with another doctor about his quest for a sex change, Schofield was informed that Costa Rica is the cosmetic-surgery capital of Latin America. And the surgeon offered to remove his breasts on the spot.

In his autobiographical solo performance piece, "Becoming a Man in 127 Easy Steps," the Atlanta-based artist describes the comic absurdity, social stigma, emotional imperilment and sheer-naked vulnerability of the transgendered life.

Suggesting an image of physical rebirth, the show begins with Schofield emerging from a cocoon of billowing fabric suspended from the ceiling. After a precarious aerial ballet, he bounds to the floor like some newly minted Peter Pan and describes the messy medical details of getting a sex change. In a metaphorical gesture that signifies the total soul-baring to come, he disrobes completely and tapes a sign to the set that says: "No secrets allowed."

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By turns fiercely comic, brutally honest and deeply moving, the show is beautifully written, choreographed and performed. Like some sexually ambiguous Scheherazade, Schofield unspools the action as a series of stories chosen willy-nilly by the audience from a list of numbers assigned to various words ("queer," "straight," "butch," "femme," etc.). Directed by Steve Bailey, the intermissionless 75-minute pieces feels so artfully balanced and delicately nuanced that it makes you wonder if Schofield really has 127 stories in his repertoire or is just pretending. From the little girl forced to wear a Minnie Mouse costume when she really wanted to be Mickey to the young man standing in front of a Texas judge begging to have his sexual designation legally changed, from the complicated family relationships to the three suicide attempts, "Becoming a Man" is raw, urgent and honest. Much to his credit, Schofield comes across more as a loveable neighborhood kid bursting with energy and insight than an agenda-waving political zealot.

With great humor and pathos, he describes his alienation from his biological father, relates his adventures as a baby-sitter and describes his close calls with Atlanta cops and skinny-dipping European males. During the performance, he sings "Like a Bird on a Wire" while tethered to a swinging rope, and has a live telephone conversation with his stepfather.

In a democracy that boasts great freedom of expression, transgenderism may be the final frontier of sexual politics. Going from female to male can't be an easy process, and this 28-year-old artist never pretends that is. Schofield — winner of an off-Broadway Fruitie Award and a prestigious Princess Grace Foundation acting fellowship —says the titular number 127 is part of his Social Security number, and jokes that he wants someone to steal his identity. As it turns out, the man born as Katie Lauren Kilborn has sculpted a personality so unique that it would be virtually impossible to replicate.

"Becoming a Man in 127 Easy Steps"

Grade: A-

8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday. 5 p.m. Sunday. Through Sunday. 7 Stages. 1105 Euclid Ave., Little Five Points. 404-523-7647, 7stages.org. (Note: Features adult material and full-frontal nudity.)

Bottom line: One of the year's most essential theater experiences.

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