REFLECTIONS OF A ROCK LOBSTER: A Story for Our Times
Reflections of a Rock Lobster
Adapted & Directed by Burgess Clark, Based on the book Reflections of a Rock Lobster by Aaron Fricke; Set Designer, Janie E. Howland; Costume Designer, Dawn Testa; Lighting Designer, Ben Williams; Asst. Director/Sound Designer, Justin J. Gray; Projection Designer, Matthew Haber; Stage Manager, Alycia Marucci; Production Stage Manager, Jo Williams
CAST(in alphabetical order): Alex Aroyan, Doug Bowen-Flynn, Rosie Cerulli, Sean Crosley, William Goldstein, Justin Hynes, June Kfoury, Conrad Krendel-Clark, Alex Levy, Allan Mayo, Nicholas McNeil, Niamh O'Connor, Rachel Padell, Kevin Paquette, Sophia Pekowsky, Paula Plum, Nathaniel Punches, Scarlett Redmond, Ian Shain, Futaba Shioda, Richard Snee, Felix Teich ENSEMBLE: Anthony Esielionis, Aly Grindall, Ellis Hampton, Ashley Hevey, Kristina Kastrinelis, Joy Kozu, Megan McMahon, Marianna Odoy, Linnea Schulz, Julia Talbot, Kim Uggerholt, Natalie Vatcher, Emily White
Performances through March 11 by Boston Children's Theatre at Wimberly Theatre, Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street, Boston, MA; Box Office 617-424-6634 x222 or www.bostonchildrenstheatre.org
In the spring of 1980, Mount St. Helen's volcano erupted in the state of Washington, blowing off the northern face of the mountain and spreading ash into neighboring states and Canada. Across the continent, in the small town of Cumberland, Rhode Island, 18-year old Aaron Fricke created a cultural firestorm that shook his high school and the community to their foundations, ultimately gaining a civil rights victory with far-reaching ramifications still being felt today.
Celebrating its 60th anniversary season, the Boston Children's Theatre is presenting the world premiere of Reflections of a Rock Lobster, adapted by BCT Executive Artistic Director Burgess Clark from the book of the same name by Fricke. The production features a cast of thirty-five, mingling children and teenagers between the ages of 14 to 19 with adult actors, who artfully create the '80s world of polyester, large lapels, and narrow minds on the stage of the Wimberly Theatre at the Boston Center for the Arts. Reflections tells Aaron's story of being stigmatized as a gay teen, subjected to name-calling, ridicule, and bullying by his peers, and the egregious lack of concern for his safety by school authorities. When he meets Paul Guilbert (Felix Teich), an out gay student, Aaron (Ian Shain) comes out of his shell and learns to stand up for his rights.
For Aaron, standing up for his rights takes the form of suing the high school and PrincipAl Lynch (Douglass Bowen-Flynn), a hard-line anti-homosexual administrator who tacitly condones the brutality Aaron faces on a daily basis, when Lynch denies his request to bring Paul as his date to the senior prom. Bolstered by advice and support from John Delaney (Allan Mayo), a paraplegic Viet Nam vet who works with the National Gay Task Force, Aaron comes out to his family and goes to court to fight the denial on the grounds of the First Amendment. The District Court judge finds in his favor, paving the way for the two young men to attend the prom, albeit under police escort, and setting a legal precedent which has echoed for three decades.
Shain is endearing and impressive in the lead role. He is onstage for virtually the entire play, and spends a lot of time getting beaten up by the tough guys (kudos to Fight Choreographer Adam Mclean). He capably conveys Aaron's fears, uncertainty, and his growing comfort in his own skin. The scenes he shares with Teich are genuine, both young men being unafraid to delve into the strong emotions and physical affection of the relationship. Teich captures the swagger and pride that define Paul, ultimately teaching Aaron how to be his own hero.
Sophia Pekowsky as Aaron's hypochondriac friend Claudia Cooper is both sweet and ditzy, garnering sympathy for her challenging existence as a fellow outsider. BCT Executive Producer Toby Schine does a strong turn as the attorney for Aaron's lawsuit, and Mayo gives a droll performance, making the most of some of Clark's best comic lines. Aaron's parents are played by Paula Plum and Richard Snee, whose real life marriage informs their onstage connection. Snee makes Mr. Fricke's transformation from remote Dad to strong supporter seem authentic, while Plum shows Mrs. Fricke's struggle with a sequence of complicated and conflicting emotions. Niamh O'Connor is the older sister who ranges between self-absorption and sibling solidarity. Bowen-Flynn makes a great villain who never sees the error of his ways.
Reflections of a Rock Lobster is an important play with a strong, affirming message. It seems that Clark has brought all of the elements of Aaron's story into his adaptation, and, as powerful as it is, it would be more potent if it was shorter and tighter. The first act is overlong, and the point would still be made if Aaron suffered fewer beatings. However, the story is told with an emphasis on the humanity of the characters, as well as with a lot of humor. The featured players give sharp definition to their alter egos and allow us to get to know them. The bullies are the only stereotype here, which is fitting because they have always been with us and we don't need to get to know them any better. Our focus is – and should be – on the heroic people in this story.
Photo credit: Saglio Photography, Inc. (Ian Shain as Aaron Fricke)