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"Go put on your dress," the sinister Spooky tells his boyfriend Timothy whenever he gets out of control. Timothy obliges by going into the tent they share and emerging as a platinum-haired Hollywood starlet, Little Red Riding Hood, a helmeted Valkyrie - whatever the situation calls for. Occasionally, Timothy is replaced by an actual woman. No matter. The point has been made. These are all roles and their distribution by gender is arbitrary.

The need for a vacation from the definitions that society and our own insecurity impose on us is the starting point for Tom Hayes' playful new fantasy, Lord of the Burgeoning Lumber, now receiving its world premiere at convergence-continuum in Tremont. Don't be fooled by the title. It sounds like a campy sex farce. It's not.

The publicity pictures and even the plot summary - two cowboys encounter a ranger while cavorting in the woods - suggest an homage to the movie Brokeback Mountain. But that's not it either. If you're looking for a point of reference, try early Sam Shepard. Better yet - just go see it and discover a fresh new voice emerging right here in Cleveland. Lord of the Burgeoning Lumber is like nothing so much as itself.

"There's power in names," Tom Kondilas tells us at the very top of the show when Timothy, played by Geoffrey Hoffman, asks Kondilas' character Spooky what to call him. "Power in names over the named thing there is power. I'm not giving you that." Hayes devotes the rest of this tight 75-minute tone poem to exploring the vagaries of sexual identity.

Hayes buys back all the stereotypes - homo and hetero - and shuffles them into a new deck, daring us all to draw a card and play. Director Clyde Simon keeps the pace light, never forcing the underside.

Hoffman is endlessly entertaining as the shape-shifting Timothy; Tom Kondilas plays Spooky with dangerous authority; Tyson Rand as the homophobic ranger never lapses into caricature. Megan DePetro and Sarah Kunchik make brief and highly effective appearances as the "real" Butterfly Queen and Helga, the helmeted maiden warrior.

It all happens in an artfully designed and beautifully lit forest - "where the wild things are," the script keeps reminding us. A man can cower and protect himself or he can draw on the wildness within to become - that's right - "The Lord of the Burgeoning Lumber." What this means is not exactly clear, but it feels right. There is power and resonance in these shifting images and a truth that runs deeper than words.

Apart from an entertaining evening that gives you something to think about, Lord of the Burgeoning Lumber is also organic, homegrown theater.

Originating at Cleveland State where Hayes is an MFA candidate in the Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts program, it was read under its original title, A Howl in the Woods, in Cleveland Public Theatre's Little Box series, then workshopped and finally produced by convergence-continuum. This is the way theater is supposed to happen, step by step and with the support of the community. You owe it to yourself to see the engaging, mind-bending results of this successful developmental collaboration.Ê

Lord of the Burgeoning Lumber Through December 20 convergence-continuum The Liminis, 2438 Scranton Road 216.687.0074Ê

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More by Jean Seitter Cummins

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