SALT LAKE CITY — While I love a big boisterous musical there is something special about attending a small, intimate play mounted to make the attendees think about issues of the day. Such is the case with the new play Six Years Old from Wasatch Theatre Company in Salt Lake City.
This play by Daphne Silbiger is about a six-year-old trans child named Adalaide who wants to be a boy—and not just any boy but her hero Han Solo from Star Wars. In fact, one of the main conflicts between Adalaide and Dewey (Adalaide’s 4-year-old brother) is who gets to be Han Solo in their playtime and at dress-up at school. Dewey thinks its just for fun, but Adalaide has a much bigger transformation in mind.
The best aspect of Wasatch’s Six Years Old is the casting of Comet Higley as Adalaide and Mitch Daley as Dewey. Both perfectly portray their young characters, even though they are obviously adults. Some audience members may find the characters a bit grating at times, but anyone who has spent time around 6- and 4-year-olds will recognize the accuracy in the performances.
Em Smiley plays the children’s babysitter, Kim, who is a gender non-conforming, and it is not an easy job babysitting these complicated children. As the babysitter, Kim recognizes the problems Adalaide is having and tries to show an empathetic ear, but Adalaide is resistent. Things get even worse for Kim when the kids’ mother, played by Charly Kuecks, becomes involved and blames Kim for the choices of Adalaide and Dewey.
I am not trans, so I cannot speak for the accuracy of Silbiger’s writing for Adalaide, but it felt convincing in the moment, and Higley’s portrayal seemed faithful to the situation. I appreciate the character is not written to be an angel child, as is sometimes the case in advocacy projects. The character is a normal high-spirited child with the added complexities of being misgendered.
Clocking in at just over an hour, Six Years Old is a short play that makes its point quickly. Smiley, as Kim, opens up the proceedings with a beautiful song on the guitar. It is a nice mood setter, though I could have used even more of that, as it would have been a nice break from the antics of the temperamental children.
The play is performed in the Black Box at Wasatch Theatre Company. It is perhaps the most intimate play I have ever seen, with maybe 25 seats in the small room. Watching Six Years Old is a similar experience to seeing a small indie film at Sundance: made with little to no budget and trying to make an important point to its audience. This kind of arthouse project will not appeal to everyone, but for audience members with an open mind, Six Years Old can be a special experience.
There is little to be had as far as settings, props or costumes, but the play does not need spectacle to work. Director Jim Martin has focused his energy on the characters, in particular Adalaide. Those performances drive home the message of the play: a message that adults need to listen to our children especially when they say that they are not happy in their bodies. Six Years Old is worth an hour of readers’ time, if only for the performances alone.