There are no two ways about it. Ian Dixon Peter’s Boy Stroke Girl is a terrible play.
The story follows a hip young guy called Peter who starts to fall in love with someone called Blue without knowing Blue’s sex or gender. I should have known this was going to be awful. The premise is bad enough: gimmicky at best, and requiring mockery at worst. (The writer chose the second option.)
There are three main problems with this play, so I’m just going to focus on those.
First, the play conflates sex and gender, and doesn’t even break down gender identity from gender expression. If we can expect plays in the 21st century to tackle so fundamental a topic as gender, then we should at least expect them not to make this mistake. I don’t mean that the characters necessarily have to know the difference between gender identity or gender expression (even though it’s not hard, and it’s easily explained with reference to a few ‘masculine trannies’ like Grayson Perry). But the playwright should at least know the difference, and somehow explore it. In Boy Stroke Girl, Blue is entirely ambiguous: we know nothing of their sex or their gender identity, and we can see that their gender expression is deliberately vague. In this way we’re put in Peter’s shoes: looking at Blue, hunting for clues, not caring about anything else.
This brings me to the second point. That we don’t care about anything else except Blue’s gender (or sex) is the play’s greatest failure. Because the characters are so uninteresting, and we don’t find out anything about their struggles, and we don’t really see them go through any problems, we just don’t care about them. Instead, we’re positioned to be as obsessed with Blue as Peter is, yet the basis of that obsession is gender—in a play which wants to transcend gender. Peter at least spots this: in the one scene that is actually enlightening, Peter stole words from my lips and tells Blue that although they are trying to ignore gender, it’s all they can talk about. It’s almost as if the playwright knows this is the play’s problem, and he writes it into the script. By this point in the story, it’s almost as if he’s fed up with it himself.
The third and final problem is character. Blue is awful. Blue is annoying, self-obsessed, emotionally distant, whiney, and says there are far more interesting things about them than their sex or gender—but then doesn’t seem to be able to prove it. Blue also says the same line over and over again. Sometimes that’s funny in a play; a playwright writes a character that way in order to mock them. But in Boy Stroke Girl we’re supposed to agree with Blue that sex/gender labels are annoying. But to have Blue keep moaning like a 15-year-old that “labels don’t define me” just has to be one of the most annoying things I’ve seen on stage in a long time. I’d love to do a command-F on the script for “label” and “define”.
In any case, Blue’s whinging would almost be acceptable if we knew anything else about them. If we had some feelings to hook onto, or some character history that would help us understand where they come from—either of these would be great. But no. This makes the audience incredulous towards the love story. There’s an unwittingly funny picnic scene where Blue and Peter tell each other that they’re falling in love. They’re in their mid-late-twenties but really they sound like 15-year-olds because the basis of their love seems to be their shared love of a television show. They haven’t helped each other. They haven’t shown each other their vulnerabilities. How can this be love?
Boy Stroke Girl is the kind of play that makes you feel bad for the actors. They all tried hard, but even a good chef can’t make a meal out of a turd.
The play is on at Tristan Bates Theatre until June 4th, but you should only go if you feel sorry for the actors or want to give money to this usually excellent theatre.