by Andrew Rothkin · August 25, 2015
Christine Howey | Steve Wagner
Well before discovering the power of Christine Howey’s versatile acting, I was blown away by her words: words that went straight to her story; words that went straight to my heart; words that colored her one person show with nuance and metaphor and depth, whether pausing on her lips as she shared a personal hindrance or triumph, or erupting from her lips in an effortless stream of fine-tuned poetry.
Howey began life as Richard Howey -- aka Dick, ironically enough. She was born beautiful and complete, despite a ghastly, superfluous protuberance that seemed to mock her at her pelvis: an unnecessary appendage that confused the world around her and mislabeled her a boy. And while he tried his whole life to fit into the world’s expectations -- marriage, fatherhood, manipulating most every movement and gesture to fit in and mask her secret -- Dick could only find moments of happiness, because living a lie is exhausting and Christine was desperate to be…well, Christine.
In Howey’s world, the most mundane of endeavors were often filled with incredible pain -- or filled with abundant joy. Merely shopping for shoes or holding one’s own baby could be sources of anguish or dread; sitting down to pee or walking by, unnoticed, reasons for untold joy.
But Howey is too gifted a writer with much too much to say to merely focus on her transition. She is a complete, multidimensional human being, replete with a history of a life truly lived -- and one who has known some remarkable people -- some profound, some uproarious.
I was so enthralled by Howey’s wordsmithery, how quickly and easily the poetry poured forth in Exact Change, that I initially found her acting glib. I wanted her to slow down, to connect with me more, to share her piece my way. But then I understood. She wasn’t sailing by at accelerated speed to distance her audience from a shared experience, she carried us in her wake from the start -- my emotions ebbing and flowing, unknown to me, until she was ready to reveal where she had led me. I soon learned to relax and go for the ride -- not concerning myself with where Howey was pulling me, but knowing it would be worth the trip. Indeed, whether the button of any story was profundity, tears or laughter, every anecdote had a payoff, every seeming tangent a part of the whole.
In telling her story, Howey uses many voices in addition to her own, transforming in body and voice to the men and women who were part of her history -- some who were significant forces, some strangers who crossed her path at significant moments.
Beyond her substantial skills as both actor and writer, what is most commendable about this work is her openness and bravery -- not just for sharing some of the darkest, most painful and most private parts of her life, but in sharing some of the ugliest elements as well: when she was a bad husband, a bad father, and in many ways and at many times, a self-centered misanthrope. But when self-hatred and suicidal thoughts are constants in your life, how can someone be anything else?
I am very grateful that the cruelest voice in Howey’s life -- the one in her own head -- did not succeed in taking her life. In time, despite her fears and guilt and the gnawing voice in her mind, Howey did put an end to Dick -- or at least to the parts that caused her pain. Now, as Christine, she is free to be who she truly is.
With such mastery of storytelling as both actor and writer -- especially when said actor/writer is sharing her own, personal story -- it is sometimes easy to forget that an entire team of people helped to bring this story to life. Jeff Hermann (Scenic Design), James Kosmatka (Sound and Video Design) and Natalie Robin (Lighting Design) all added layers to the experience -- and certainly, the fine performance and diverse elements would not have worked without Scott Plate’s solid directing tying it all together, keeping Howey brisk at times, tender and slow at others -- just as each moment required.
Christine Howey has changed a great deal in her life. But when it comes to her engaging solo show, I hope she doesn’t change a thing.