Originally published by INFORUM and written by Ryan Johnson.

FARGO—Theatre B’s first commissioned play also will be the troupe’s last full production at its home for 10 years along Main Avenue.

That upcoming move makes it even more fitting that “The Sweet New” is all about change and identity—a theme very much on the minds of the ensemble’s members as the search for the next permanent space begins.

The play, which follows three generations of family members as they immigrate to America, assimilate into American culture and transition to another gender, was written by Raymond Rea, a local filmmaker, playwright and associate professor of film at Minnesota State University Moorhead.

It’s a personal and loosely autobiographical story of Rea, a transgender man, and his family, but it’s also a story that could have audience members examining their own lives when it officially opens Friday, April 15.

“There’s a lot about change and about embracing who you are and who you want to be and that emotional journey that you go through when you’re becoming who you want to be,” said Director Darcy Bakkegard.

Original work

Rea first started writing “The Sweet New” in 2003, and an earlier version was performed in San Francisco back then. But the work has gone through substantial revisions leading up to its Theatre B premiere and is now a completely different work.

Brad Delzer, Theatre B’s former artistic director, approached Rea in 2014 with a script under consideration for the ensemble about a female-to-male transition, but the playwright told Delzer he had his own script that could be a better choice for the topic.

“The Sweet New” went through Theatre B’s Incubator series that helps support new works through workshops and readings, a process that Rea said helped him prepare for a complete rewrite. After several more revisions with the help of Delzer, the play was announced a year ago as Theatre B’s first commissioned work that would mark the end of its 13th season.

It was a new process for Theatre B, especially working with an accessible and local playwright, said Executive Director Carrie Wintersteen.

“We rarely get to just pick up the phone and talk with a playwright and say, ‘Can you tell me a little bit more about this?’ ” she said.

Theatre B ensemble member Scott Horvik rehearses a scene from “The Sweet New.” Kensie Wallner Photography
Theatre B ensemble member Scott Horvik rehearses a scene from “The Sweet New.” Kensie Wallner Photography
‘Meaningful conversation’

The intergenerational story of “The Sweet New” drives home the metaphor of immigration that Rea said he connected with while in the early stages of his own gender transition.

“In some way, transgender people always feel like they have an old country that they came from,” he said. “Their customs are of the old country and then they enter a new country and have to learn all these new customs. If they don’t get the customs right, they’re going to look like they’re from the old country.”

His hope, he said, is that the play can “de-sensationalize” transgender issues and help the audience understand it as just another change that people go through. Still, Rea said he didn’t want this work to only be about his own life, and the story’s inclusion of immigration and the search for identity should strike a chord with just about anyone.

“There’s always people immigrating, and there’s always people coming to this country and feeling the pull of the old country and the new country,” he said. “I did want to align that with transexuality just to make it a more understandable human experience.”

The story visits three family members at different points in time, starting with an Italian immigrant in the 1940s, the immigrant’s son as he tries to assimilate into American culture in the late 1960s and a young man in the ’90s during his transition.

The characters face distinct challenges and struggles, according to Bakkegard, but the underlying questions they raise could have the audience reflecting on its own perceptions long after the 70-minute play is finished.

“Ray has written a piece that almost demands meaningful conversation and reflection, and that’s one of the reasons why I think the piece is so powerful,” she said.

If you go

What: “The Sweet New”
When: 7:30 p.m. April 15-16, 21-23 and 28-30 and May 5-7; 2 p.m. matinees April 24 and May 1
Where: Theatre B, 716 Main Ave., Fargo
Info: A pay-as-you-wish preview is set for 7:30 p.m. April 14. Tickets for all other shows are $5 to $20 at www.theatreb.org or by calling (701) 729-8880.