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A life in transition captivates at Cleveland Public Theatre

Roy Berko

(Member, American Theatre Critics Association & Cleveland Critics Circle)

What is it like to live much of your life perceiving that you have been born in the wrong body and then going through the process to correct this mistake of birth?  That’s the major issue exposed by Christine Howey in her one-woman, self-acted and self-written play, EXACT CHANGE, now on stage at Cleveland Public Theatre.

To understand Richard Howey’s dilemma (that was Christine’s name before he transitioned), requires an awareness of human sexuality.  An individual’s gender is usually identified at birth by their biological sex–male or female.  This determination is made by an examination of a person’s sexual paraphernalia (vagina or penis).   As a person develops there is a personal growing awareness of sexual orientation (heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual) and gender identity (the way a person perceives their biological sex).

In Howey’s case, the awareness of gender identity occurred early, probably around the age of three.  Early on, he wanted to be a girl, dress like a girl, play with the girls, be called a girl’s name.   What followed was a life of conflicted feelings, marriage, parenthood, and then an awareness of the need to be true to his/her needs and identification.

EXACT CHANGE, an adaptation of Howey’s earlier work, LIKE A DOBERMAN ON A QUARTER POUNDER, a one-act play presented at CPT during last year’s season, the new play is ninety-minutes of intense emotion, humor and revelation.

The evening begins with Howey’s poems, monologues and dialogues, all highlighting various levels of the human condition, but not necessarily leading up to Howey’s own emotional and physical conflicts.  Howey expounds upon how Beowulf deals with breakfast, the dilemma of why the “k” is silent at the start of words when immediately followed by “n” (e.g., knife), and the thoughts and actions of William Randolph Hurst.

The second part of the presentation turns personal, as Howey shares her journey from Richard to Christine.

Howey is a master of words, and her talent is well illustrated in the beginning segment.  She is a member of the Northeast Ohio Slam Poetry Team and has done many solo poetry readings, as well as being a multi-award-winning theatre reviewer.

The author, who for many years acted and directed at Dobama, is also a skillful actor.  Those skills were recognized by her receipt of a 2012 Times Theatre Tribute award for performance excellence for LIKE A DOBERMAN.

Throughout, Howey grabs and holds audience attention with her compelling vocal and physical expressions.  This is a tour-de-force performance well deserving of the heartfelt concluding standing ovation.

The script is a work in progress.  The author might want to ask whether her tale of Richard to Christine is the major focus or whether it is the multi-talent of the writer/performer.

If the former, then elimination of the starting poetry and expansion of the life story would help.  Questions abound.  We know Richard was married.  We know that he was the father of a daughter, Noelle, the author of DRESS CODES,  a story of three girlhoods—her mother’s, father’s and hers.  These facts are not well fleshed out in the staged version.  We lose, to some degree, Richard’s expressed motivation to transition, the coming out process, and his desire to go through the sex change procedure.

This change of focus would flesh out the personal story and make it open to more productions, and hopefully an off-Broadway run.

Howey is supported by Scott Plate’s direction, Danny English’s original music, and Jeff Herrmann’s scenic design.

Capsule judgement: EXACT CHANGE is a fascinating evening of theatre, which is a must see for anyone interested in the real human condition, an awareness of gender dysphoria, fine writing and compelling acting. Bravo!

EXACT CHANGE runs through January 26, 2014  at Cleveland Public Theatre.  For tickets call 216-631-2727 or go on line to