Dream Boy Theatre Review - A Lyrical Coming of Age Story

 

 

The story of Dream Boy begins much like most tales - with a family arriving at a new place looking for a new beginning. In the case of this Eric Rosen adaptation of Jim Grimsley’s 1995 novel. We open on an omnipresent Narrator (Christopher Maikish) leading our company of actors in a hymn from center stage. He introduces us, the audience, to the idyllic landscapes and God-fearing folk of North Carolina’s hidden gem, Potter’s Lake. Finally, the spotlight settles in on the teenaged protagonist, Nathan (Matthew Boehm).

 

  

Nathan is the only son of a frail Mother (Elizabeth Dement) and an often drunken Father (Jim Hanna). Nathan is good with words but cautious in meeting new people. So when he is befriended by the slightly older but very popular Roy Connolly (Randall Ray Clute) who lives on the neighboring farm, adjusting to his new home becomes a hundred times easier.

 

The two young men bond quickly. Roy introduces Nathan to his two other running buddies, rowdy chain-smoking Burke (Billy Evans) and Randy (Craig Jorczak), a timid church-mouse of a boy who struggles to keep up with Burke. Nathan helps Roy with writing composition. Roy teaches Nathan a few tricks on mastering Algebra. In between, Roy shares the wonders of the countryside and the secrets hidden in the night. Nathan is quickly enamored by both.

 

 

Their fondness for each other evolves into something more intense and physical, but fiercely secret. Eventually, the past Nathan and his family sought to escape returns and Nathan flees the lewd advances of his drunken father by running away from home. Discovering this, Roy gives Nathan shelter in his family barn until he can take Nathan on an intrepid adventure with Burke and Randy. The journey leads the boys to a haunted, deserted plantation where the full nature of their relationship is ultimately discovered, followed by more violence visited upon Nathan; leaving the fate of their fledgling romance uncertain.

 

 

While on its key elements, Dream Boy depicts a familiar gay coming of age story, on the particulars of exploring this tale, the production largely hits a home run. Nathan treads a complicated path of exploring his physical sexuality from a place of affection and love for the first time; that exploration is sharply contaminated by an introduction into physical sexuality through abuse. Does Nathan know “what to do” because it is right and natural? Or is he tainting Roy as well? Similarly, Roy has engaged Nathan through affection and he clearly believes it is something to be hidden. But Roy says and acts as though he cares about Nathan. Roy is not ashamed of his feelings, only of being discovered, making him, in my opinion, not the typical closeted country boy.

 

 

What I enjoyed most about this production is the familiar collision emotional and physical gauntlet that must be endured to move from adolescence to adulthood. There is a clear chain of causation – from the euphoria of first love to the scars and trauma of sexual abuse to the confusion of how what appears to be the same physical act can mean two very different things – and how a person navigates these pitfalls, leads directly to forming personal identity. It is a critical personal evolution and beautifully articulated in this show.

 

 

Director Michael Matthews crafts a fine piece of theatre that is lyrical, haunting and often very humorous. Matthew Boehm and Randall Ray Clute (as Nathan and Roy respectively) give performances that are truly earnest and engaging. Kudos to Craig Jorczak who nails the comic relief element in his role as Randy and Kate Connor who walks a tragically thin line between her loyalty to her son and her husband. Well Done.

 

Dream Boy at Celebration Theatre has an impressive tour de force in the production team. Stephen Gifford’s production design of a cornfield viewed through askewed picture frame is versatile and right on target symbolically. The collaboration of Tim Swiss (Lighting Designer) and Rebecca Kessin (Sound Designer) works extremely well in making the story feel both expansive and intimate as needed for the tale to unfold. Allison Dillard’s Costume design adds the finishes touch of authenticity as we travel to this small town somewhere in the late twentieth century. What this production accomplishes in such as small space is the definition what “making theatre happen.”

 

Dream Boy is running now through March 20, 2016 at:

Celebration Theatre

@ The Lex

6760 Lexington Ave

Los Angeles, CA 90038

 

PHOTO CREDIT: Matthew Brian Denman

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