According to the ghostly grandmother in Jane Anderson's serio-comic Looking for Normal, "People would rather be shocked than enlightened." Anderson's script may not live up to either expectation, but StageQ's heartfelt production provides enough love to compensate.
When middle-aged Midwesterner Roy (Douglas Holtz) announces his intention to switch gender, the fallout is understandably difficult for his family to handle. His wife (played with endearing bewilderment by Kathy Lynn Sliter) must first overcome the intimations of guilt imposed on her by her insufferably priggish pastor (Scott Albert Bennett). But what really drives her grief and anger is the desperate realization that the little things that cement her relationship with Roy may be lost forever. "I know the weight of you," she tells him, "I know your smell," heartbreakingly evoking the tiny intimacies that make love precious. The rest of Roy's family and his co-workers at the local John Deere plant veer from disbelief to ridicule to outright denial.
But it is Roy's pubescent daughter, whose own physical transformation parallels that of her father, who brings the play to life. Dani Holtz gives a superb performance in this role, totally inhabiting the character in ways that elude most of the other actors. For example, her hilarious vamp on the joys of menstruation (yes, you read that right) had the house in hysterics on opening night. For such a young performer, Holtz has remarkable confidence and impressive comic timing.
As the spectral Sapphic grandmother who drifts through the action like a wisp of smoke, Sarah Whelan-Blake delivers her contemplative monologues with a delicate mixture of defiance and regret. When she recalls her many past lovers ("the Braille of a scar, the smoothness of a stump, the peach-fuzz on an upper lip"), she jolts the audience with the observation that these imperfections were important only because they were part of someone she loved. Such moments of tenderness stand in stark contrast to the brisk comedy that peppers the evening.
Greg Harris' sure-handed direction is, unfortunately, hindered by the halting format of the script. Scenes often drag on, but they end, paradoxically, too abruptly. It's an annoying device that outlives its welcome. Nevertheless, Anderson does offer an interesting dialogue on the nature of love, and that can never be entirely bad.