Kendra Malm’s first play, the romantic comedy “Life Is Complicated,” is getting a staged reading this weekend at Olympia Little Theatre.
The plot twist — in the play and in reality — is that Malm and her play’s protagonist, Chelsea, are transgender women in the process of opening up about their identities.
“I’ve lived 15 years flying under the radar,” Malm, 53, said in an interview last week. “It’s time for me to step out and share my story, I think, even if it is through the vehicle of Chelsea.”
She and the Chelsea character are two very different people, the playwright said, but her own experiences have deeply informed the play.
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Malm, an Olympia native, and Chelsea transitioned while living away from their hometowns and families, then returned to create a new life among the people they knew and loved.
We have to explain ourselves all the time. People can’t seem to just accept that this is the way we are.
Kendra Malm, Olympia playwright
Chelsea is opinionated and sarcastic, which gives the relatively reserved Malm a chance to speak loudly and clearly about her experiences and opinions. It’s hard, she said, to be asked prying questions about your body and hard to be expected to justify your identity.
“We have to explain ourselves all the time,” she said. “People can’t seem to just accept that this is the way we are.”
Malm, who’s also a director, actress and retail saleswoman, began writing “Life Is Complicated” in 2009, starting with her desire to create a starring role for a tall, middle-age woman — a woman like her, who was too old to play the ingenue and too young to play the matron.
She decided on a traditional romantic comedy, and every boy-meets-girl story needs a complication.
“What could be the barrier?” she said. “The transgender idea came to mind right away.
“I started seeing some of the key scenes in my head — the confrontation between Chelsea and her mother, the confrontation between Chelsea and her boyfriend. The images wouldn’t let me go. I had to get it down and get it out.”
To flesh out the play, she did a lot of research on how to structure the play, which includes some clever banter between the couple about how they do and don’t fit the rom-com mold: They didn’t meet cute, but Chelsea does have the classic funny best friend.
It’s the kind of story I thought our audience would enjoy. It’s a very relevant issue. It may be controversial to some people, but it’s handled gently and with love.
Toni Holm, Olympia Little Theatre board member
Malm also is Olympia Little Theatre’s artistic manager, but that doesn’t mean she had the power to choose to produce “Life Is Complicated.” A committee chooses the company’s season.
The committee was impressed by the quality of the writing, said Toni Holm, a member of the company’s board.
“It’s the kind of story I thought our audience would enjoy,” she said. “It’s a very relevant issue. It may be controversial to some people, but it’s handled gently and with love.
Though she wrote the play with herself in mind, Malm and director Martin Larson of Tacoma chose Jenni Fleming, an actress who identifies with the gender assigned at birth, to play the lead in the reading.
“As an author, I needed to take a step back and see how the play was working,” Malm said.
She hopes this is just the first step for “Life Is Complicated.”
“I would love to see it fully produced and out there in the repertoire,” she said. “It’s talking about modern issues. It’s talking about transgender issues from the perspective of a transgendered person. It’s not someone else trying to tell my story or our story.”
This isn’t the first time art has imitated life for Malm. She played Joanne, formerly Joe, in Olympia Little Theatre’s 2015 production of “Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean.”
“Often, you see cisgender women — or cisgender men — playing the part of a transgender woman,” she said. “I wanted to play the role as a transgender actress.”
That role was a big step toward fully claiming her identity.
Life Is Complicated
What: Olympia Little Theatre presents a staged reading of a romantic comedy by Olympia native Kendra Malm, the theater’s artistic manager.
When: 7:55 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and 1:55 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave. NE, Olympia.
Information: 360-786-9484, olympialittletheatre.org.