Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

A Fascinating Production of Farm Boys

Also see Richard's reviews of Legally Blonde and Camelot

Scarlett Hepworth, Matt Socha and Norman Muñoz
Amy Fox and Dean Gray's Farm Boys is currently being presented at the New Conservatory Theatre Center. The drama is based on William D. Fellows' book Farm Boys: Lives of Gay Men from the Rural Midwest, which presented a series of autobiographical narratives by gay men raised on farms during the 20th century. This production has personal appeal to me since I was raised in a farming community in Ohio. The main plot could rightly be the old "saw," "You can take the boy off the farm but you can't take the farm out of the boy."

Farm Boys is set in the 1980s with flash backs to the 1960s in Colby, Wisconsin (their big event of the year is the Colby Cheese Festival). The play opens very strangely with Lyle (Brian Levy) lying on a beach with a sign overhead saying Fire Island. We learn later on that Lyle is a ghost and this Fire Island is the playwright's version of heaven. The plot centers on a late-30ish John (Matt Socha) who has been living in New York with his lifetime companion Kim (Norman Muñoz), a modern dance choreographer. John is returning to his rural Wisconsin home town since has inherited the farm of Lyle, his first lover. He faces Lois (Scarlett Hepworth), Lyle's ex-wife who knew of the affair. However, she welcomes John and his partner with open arms to Wisconsin.

The ghost of Lyle visits John and the play goes back in time when John was a teenager having a tempestuous affair with the town veterinarian Lyle. It's reminiscent of Brokeback Mountain in that Lyle is uncomfortable with the relationship. The memories of that relationship cast a shadow over his current relationship with Kim. Also, the community is fearful the couple will live there, and John must decide where he and Kim can create a home for themselves. Lois is now remarried and hopeful that the couple will stay; Kim thinks it is a swell idea to opening up a school of modern dance. Also in the mix is a large corporation that is slowly extinguishing the small farmers in the area. Keith (Bradly Mena), a closeted teenager who is planning to go to Bible College in St. Paul, enters into the two-hour drama. He becomes friendly with Kim and in a moment of passion plants a big kiss on the dancer's mouth. Guilty of his secret homosexual passion, he turns against Kim and tells his pastor that he was sexually assaulted by Kim. As to what happens to everyone, I leave secret.

Farm Boys portrays accurately the fact that the land haunts gay persons who leave for the city; for many of them it is a forced exile from the place where they were born and raised. Amy Fox and Dennis Gray's words are well written and the confrontations between the characters are excellent. Director Dennis M. Lickteig's scenes in the first act are a little awkward - one does not immediately get the idea that Lyle is a ghost, and the opening scene on a beach in Fire Island can be confusing.

Lickteig has cast some excellent actors to play the parts. Matt Socha (recently seen in Visiting Bertha at the SF Fringe Festival) as John delivers some very touching moments in the second act. He deftly steers his way into being a 16-year-old in the flashbacks. Norman Muñoz (has played drag queens and demons in many productions) is very good as Kim, with the funniest lines in the play, and he delivers them with perfect comic timing. He is the perfect opposite of Kim's mate John. He also does a wonderful modern dance routine in the second act.

Bradly Mena (Equus, Corpus Christi) gives a strong and believable performance as the sexually repressed teenager Keith. His speech inflections as a farm boy in Wisconsin are perfect. Scarlett Hepworth (many regional productions) gives a heartrending performance as Lois. Brian Levy (spent 12 years dancing professionally in New York and Minneapolis) as the ghost Lyle has very little to do but stand around looking sympathetic to John's predicament. However, it is an efficient portrayal of a ghost.

Farm Boys has been extended through March 4 at the New Conservatory Center Theatre. The theatre is located at 25 Van Ness Ave, just off Market St, San Francisco. For tickets please call 415-861-8972 or on line at Also running is Craig Lucas's Dying Gaul through March 4th.

Photo: Stephanie Temple

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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