BWW Review: TEENAGE DICK at Theater Wit
What does live theater look like during a pandemic? As Americans adjust to the new realities of social distancing and sheltering in place to slow the spread of COVID-19, many theaters across the nation and the world are dark. Though live performances have been canceled, Theater Wit offers an innovative remote viewing alternative for its Chicago premiere of Mike Lew's TEENAGE DICK, directed by Brian Balcom.
Live performances of TEENAGE DICK ended with the final preview on March 16, which was filmed with a live audience. Now, patrons can purchase a "remote view" ticket to any of the regularly scheduled performances through April 19. Ten minutes before the show begins, ticket holders receive their own individual link to stream the recording. After the show, viewers may participate in a video chat with the cast and fellow audience members.
TEENAGE DICK retells Shakespeare's RICHARD III in the complicated, often vicious setting of high school. Instead of a hunchbacked Shakespearean villain, Richard (MacGregor Arney) is a sly, ambitious teen with cerebral palsy. His scheming rise to power takes the form of running for senior class president against the cocky quarterback Eddie (Ty Fanning). Along the way, he enlists the aid of his friend Barbara, or "Buck" (Tamara Rozofsky), a wheelchair user who empathizes with Richard's disability but navigates her own very differently.
In a nod to the play's Shakespearean origins, Richard speaks in archaic prose, peppered with teenage vernacular, and often launches into monologues. Already bullied for his CP, Richard's pretentious speech creates an additional barrier between himself and his peers. Even Buck, always ready to call it as she sees it, calls Richard a "Renaissance-faire-talkin' weirdo."
The play's portrayal of Richard allows room for sympathy without trying to justify his cruel actions. When Richard pursues Anne Margaret (Courtney Rikki Green), a beautiful dancer and Eddie's ex-girlfriend, he initially does so with ulterior motives. No one is more surprised than Richard to find a kind soul and friend in Anne. She teaches him to dance and is the first person to ever ask him what it feels like, physically, to have CP. In return, Anne opens up to Richard with painful secrets from her recent past. Their scenes offer a glimpse of hope that this tragedy could end differently.
However, like Shakespeare's Richard, our teenage protagonist believes that he's been forced into the role of villain by the world's cruelty. When his English class studies Machiavelli, Richard concludes that it's better to be feared than loved. Or rather, since he feels that he cannot be loved, he seeks to be feared as he grasps for power. Though the nuances of the cast's performances are difficult to capture through limited camera angles, this production raises compelling points about disability, bullying, politics, social media, teenage pregnancy, female agency, and more.
Streaming of live theater, in itself, is not a new concept. Programs like National Theatre Live broadcast live performances, often in real time, to cinemas around the world. Others, such as BroadwayHD and Digital Theatre, offer online streaming of archival recordings. Though Theater Wit's recording cannot match the production quality of these larger companies, its pioneering effort with TEENAGE DICK is filling an essential gap during these difficult times.
While countless actors, musicians, stage crew, and other theater employees are out of work, Theater Wit has committed to paying full performance rates to the TEENAGE DICK cast and crew for the duration of the run. Buying a ticket directly supports these artists. For those who love theater, by nature a communal art form, this is an important opportunity to support the theater community at a time when many arts organizations are struggling. So get comfortable, grab a hot drink, and stream some Chicago theater.
TEENAGE DICK runs through April 19. Remote view tickets are $28. For remote view tickets and information, visit TheaterWit.org or call i??(773) 975-8150. Theater Wit is located at 1229 N. Belmont Ave., Chicago, IL 60657.
Photo credit: Charles Osgood