BWW Review: Last Act Theatre Challenges Our Assumptions with A REAL BOY

BWW Review: Last Act Theatre Challenges Our Assumptions with A REAL BOY

Last Act Theatre Company's production of Steven Kaplan's A REAL Boy holds great promise. We're greeted upon entering the Trinity Street Playhouse with music skillfully curated by sound designer Rachel Steed. A pristine set is provided by Chris Conard, and although there is no credit for projection, it's used to benefit the theme of A REAL BOY nicely.

Stage left, we have Miss Terry's (Yamina Khouane) kindergarten classroom, and stage right, in miniature, we have the Meyers's (Chelsea Manasseri and Sean Moran) black and white kitchen. Their son Max (Genevieve Schroeder-Arce) is in Miss Terry's class, and we learn in the first scene that Max is not like the other children. Miss Terry is concerned that Max only colors with black and white crayons, and in her concern, she has called the Meyers in for a parent conference. Miss Terry's narrative about Max is soon dismantled by Max's parents who are... puppets - and they don't permit color in their family. Miss Terry, however, strongly feels it is her duty to show Max that the world is full of color. As the first act progresses the struggle between Miss Terry and Max's parents grows more tense, Max begins to sprout strings himself, and claiming the Meyers are abusing him, Miss Terry invokes in loco parentis, and takes on the responsibility of parenting Max.

Act II finds Miss Terry camped out in the classroom with Max; in loco parentis can only be claimed if she and Max remain in the school. Principal Klaus (Adam Martinez) is holding the insanity of the press and upset parents at bay. The news has spread and Congresswoman - no - Congressperson- Rebecca Landel (played with gleeful snark by Emily Christine Smith) has taken the opportunity to use Max to her political gain. Meanwhile, the Meyers have found an equally opportunistic lawyer Jilly Lambert (also played with gleeful snark by Roxanna Taylor) who intends to take the school to court. As tempers flare and chaos ensues, Max becomes a victim to all the insanity. Despite all this, Max and Miss Terry come to a solution on how Max can best move forward in the end.

The puppet as parent metaphor in A REAL BOY is intriguing, particularly since playwright Kaplan is a gay parent who had his own concerns with whether his son would be welcomed in the classroom. It's a compelling and interesting analogy from so many angles. It's just there may be so many it's hard to know if there's a stake Kaplan intended to put in the ground at all. Because there's so much intersectionality, there's not a particular point of view or character in which we can ground ourselves. While that may be the point, it runs the risk of simply confusing us. As such, it's difficult to tell exactly what Kaplan wants us to know.

Kaplan indeed gives directors Chelsea Beth and Matrex Kilgore some challenges to overcome with the script. The pacing on opening night was uneven and the cast seemed to be missing a cohesive concept within which to work. However, this is also a show with excellent production values and some great talent. Chelsea Manasseri is simply radiant as a quiet Mary Ann Meyers, her pain and love for her son Max never overplayed. As mentioned before, Roxanna Taylor and Emily Christine Smith are a delight as the two strong (if perhaps stereotypically written) women duking it out in the public eye for Max's rights, and Genevieve Schroeder-Arce plays Max with quiet grace and innocence. The set (Chris Conard) sound (Rachel Steed) light (Courtney DeGinder) and costume (Marina Zanzibar) design are great. And while Kaplan could tighten the script, A REAL BOY still gives us a chance to challenge our assumptions, and that's always a good thing.

A REAL BOY

by Steven Kaplan

directed by Chelsea Beth and Matrex Kilgore

Last Act Theatre Company

at the Trinity Street Playhouse

901 Trinity St, 4th Floor, First Baptist Church

August 9-25th, Thursday through Sunday at 8pm

Tickets available here.

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