Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

The Yellow Boat
The Vortex Theatre
Review by Carole C. Sullivan

Also see Carola's recent review of Cabaret and Carole's review of Vanities

Colyn Morris and Madilyn Gogel
Photo by Jason Ponic
The Vortex Theatre has been committed to inclusion and diversity for many years, and their production of The Yellow Boat illustrates this beautifully, and taking their committment to the next level. Director RayRey Griego has brought together two interconnected, multi-ethnic casts to explore this unique play. The cast includes representatives of many cultures, races, genders and ages.

Originally developed at Childsplay Theatre in Tempe, Arizona, The Yellow Boat is based on the true story of eight-year-old Benjamin Saar and his family. Their experiences during the AIDS epidemic with Benjamin's hemophilia and eventual death are heartbreaking and at the same time uplifting. Playwright David Saar, father of Benjamin, manages to portray the poignancy, futility, and even humor of their experiences. Although originally written as a play for young people, the play has been produced extensively throughout the U.S. in colleges, universities, and regional theatre companies for family and general audiences.

With the COVID-19 epidemic fresh in everyone's mind, the play further rings true in its exploration of government, medical, and personal reactions to the threat of an unknown disease. Fear brings out the best and the worst in all of us. Our institutions often fail us, but we go on.

The play does not preach. We experience much of the action through Benjamin's point of view and are buoyed by a child's resilience in the face of calamity. Hope is infused through the metaphor of a Swedish folk song in which a yellow boat sails off into the sun. Ben's boat is the Phoenix rising into eternity.

An ensemble of twelve–eleven actors and one musician–take us on this journey through games and with a playful spirit. The show is presented with two casts labeled the Yellow cast (which I saw) and the Boat cast. Except for the actors playing Benjamin (Colyn Morris) and his mother (Michelle Varela) and father (Dachery VannJoy), the cast play multiple roles and most transition from adults to children with ease. Benjamin is played by two different actors as are most of the parts in the different casts. This facilitates a truly collaborative production.

The physical aspects of the show are kept minimal with moveable set pieces in primary colors to represent home, school and hospital. An original painting by the real Benjamin of the yellow boat and the sun is an appropriate large backdrop for the space. The original music is provided by an on-stage synthesizer. The music is used perhaps too sparingly. Large child-like properties created for the medical procedures work well. All design aspects create a simple, unified look that serves the play.

The ninety minute play is presented without intermission. The Yellow Boat is a very worthwhile evening in the theatre.

The Yellow Boat runs through April 2, 2023, at the Vortex Theatre, 2900 Carlisle Avenue NE, Albuquerque NM. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2:00 p.m. General Admission Tickets $24, Students and SAG/AFTRA $19. For tickets and information, please visit or call 505-247-8600.

Directed by RayRey Griego. Music Director and live music by Vivian Fernandez. The Ensemble: Jesus Banuelos III, Maria Teresa Herrera Bustamante, Madilyn Gogel, Ffox Hilton, Jesse Liesveld, Volyn Morris, Ludwig Puchmayer, Floretta Stewart, Dachery Vann, Michelle Varela, and Nicee Wagner.