The Adventures of Herculina | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

The Adventures of Herculina 

THE ADVENTURES OF HERCULINA, Next Theatre Company. Inspired by the diaries of 19th-century hermaphrodite Herculine Barbin, playwright Kira Obolensky raises a number of intriguing questions about identity, gender, and the myriad ways society punishes those it cannot easily categorize. In Obolensky's play, a boisterous schoolgirl who's already a square peg in a round hole at her straitlaced convent school is discovered to have the partly formed genitalia of both sexes. This freaks out the school's sexually repressed authorities, and Herculina--now assumed to be a man--is tossed out to wander Candide-like across France and later America, searching for her/his lost love, her best friend from school.

Such rich material could have produced a great play. But Obolensky settles for a merely good one, avoiding the most charged issues raised by Herculina's life, including the key question of whether gender roles are genetically or societally determined. Aided by Sarah Tucker's likable but shallow production and Louise Lamson's very perky performance as Herculina, Obolensky also devalues her protagonist's identity crisis, making her transformation from woman to man as easy as a costume change. (The real-life Herculine had so much trouble making the switch that she killed herself soon after she was banished from the convent.) Instead, Obolensky simply repeats many of the current cliches about Martian men and Venusian women, doing nothing to advance our understanding of Herculina's plight or our own. --Jack Helbig

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