Is He Acting Like a Man? Is His Father?

A surreal play brings a father and son closer

According to director Dustin Wills, it was crucial to cast a trans actor in Basil Kreimendahl's play Orange Julius, which is now at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater.

"I don't think it would have been done if we didn't have a trans performer for that role," says Wills. "We were fortunate to have a performer who was perfectly suited to that role."

That performer is Jess Barbagallo, who played George in Wills' 2016 production of O, Earth, a "trans fantasia" inspired by Our Town. "That's when I got steeped in the [trans] community in New York deeply," the director says. "Jess brings a lot of experience to the role – as does Stephen Payne, who is a Vietnam War veteran."

In the play, which Rattlestick is co-producing with Page 73, Julius, the father, is a Vietnam vet dying from the cancerous effects of the chemical weapon Agent Orange. Nut, his adult child, tries to reconnect with him by caring for his decaying mind and body, confronting childhood memories, and envisioning war movie fantasies. Through this, the two bond in unexpected ways. 

As Wills says, "Nut really is trying to be seen as a man by his father, and in pursuit of doing that, Nut has to imagine the circumstance of the father, living deeply what the father went through in the war and how it affected his life after that."

In the play, Nut imagines himself in Vietnam with both his father and a character called Old Boy. Wills says Old Boy "is this hyper-masculine figure of Nut's creation who represents a view of masculinity that Nut imagines: strong and aggressive, but coming from a place of caring for your comrades in war.