dark play or stories for boys
On an open, largely bare stage, where the only constants are several monitors scrolling text, Adam, an innocent sixteen-year-old, is having an Internet chat with Rachel, an enthusiastic teen who has answered his blogged request for love. Adam sits in his chair, facing the audience, speaking aloud the lines we know he is typing to Rachel, and we see on his face his excitement at Rachel's responses. Rachel, on the other side of the stage, also facing the audience, also speaks her lines with real sweetness and joy. And we see Nick, the precocious fourteen-year-old who has created Rachel in order to fool Adam. Rachel is merely an online persona of Nick's invention. And when Adam asks Rachel a question for which Nick has no easy answer, Rachel turns, questioning, toward Nick – and, in that moment, I want to stand up and applaud, because that's it, that is the weird and complex reality that is behind the pseudo-reality of online chat, and this is a play that finally gets it and puts it on a stage. Much credit to director Michael Michetti for not only conveying it, but for also making it exciting to watch. In this play, Internet chat is actually theatrical.
"Dark play," Nick learns, from a drama teacher, is a game where only some of the people know the rules; the others don't even know they're playing a game. And Nick asks, almost too quickly, if that's like what happens when you lie in a chat room. Nick is smart, perceptive and incredibly manipulative. A quiet loner – we are not surprised to learn he has few friends, nor does his early-play reference to comic book superheroes take us by surprise – Nick sees himself as superior to the people he can't seem to relate to as an equal, so he entertains himself by messing with their heads. As his little dark games start to bore him, he goes for the big score: creating Rachel for Adam to fall in love with.
The play only works if Adam is gullible. I'll say that again: the play only works if Adam is gullible. Knowing this, the script makes a point of, early on, introducing Adam as extremely gullible. Indeed, Nick talks about classifying people by their "gullibility threshold," and notes that Adam is pretty much off the chart. And yet, despite this very obvious establishment of character, we are asked to believe that Adam falls for increasingly ridiculous (and, at one point, absolutely gut-bustingly funny) scenarios that Nick feeds him. It nearly challenges the audience's own gullibility threshold, to be asked to accept that a character could be that astonishingly dim. It helps that actor Adam Haas Hunter does a solid job of putting Adam across, especially when he has instances of momentary doubt but quickly suppresses them because he so passionately wants to believe. It is the script itself which, at times, gives one pause.
Stewart W. Calhoun is exceptional as Nick. The play is told in flashback – the moment in the present (to which Nick keeps returning between scenes) is a rare and painful moment of indecision for Nick. The game player does not know the right move to make, and it's nearly tearing him up. Calhoun brilliantly shows us the interplay between Nick's self-confidence and his self-doubt. And while there's a certain likeable charm to this kid, whose opening line is "I make shit up," there's also an almost emotionally sadistic streak in him, and Calhoun transitions seamlessly into the Nick who crosses lines he really shouldn't cross.
There's great comic work from Johnathan McClain and Bethany Pagliolo in various over-the-top supporting characters – McClain does a hilarious turn as a beggar whose sob story reaches ever more ridiculous heights of improvisation, and Pagliolo's drama teacher who advises her students to seek out "dangerous" theatre is equally memorable.
While dark play or stories for boys isn't entirely dangerous itself, it most definitely is a story of dangerous theatre. It's the story of a kid who plays a dark game and ends up being played by it. It's very nearly Les Liaisons Dangereuses for the Internet age. And it works.
dark play or stories for boys runs at the Theatre@Boston Court in Pasadena through November 18, 2007. For information, see www.bostoncourt.com.
The Theatre@Boston Court presents dark play or stories for boys by Carols Murillo. Directed by Michael Michetti. Scenic design Donna Marquet; Video Design Austin Switser; Sound Design Cricket S. Myers; Lighting Design Lap-Chi Chu; Costume Design Rachel Myers; Props Lena Garcia; Assistant Director Jennifer Epps; Associate Producer Brian Polak; Production Stage Manager Rebecca Cohn; Casting Michael Donovan, CSA; Key Art Christopher Komuro; Publicist Aldrich & Associates.
Photo: Ed Krieger