Regional Reviews: San Francisco
The action is set in an African-American prep school for boys preparing for its 50th anniversary. Headmaster Marrow (Ken Robinson) worries about pleasing the board and raising money to secure the school's future when conflict breaks out between his swaggering nephew Bobby (Dimitri Woods) and another pupil, Pharus (Jelani Alladin). Pharus is somewhat effeminate, with an angelic voice, a mischievous brain, and a taste for manipulation. Despite the all-male, conservative environment, he makes little secret of being gay.
Pharus shares a room with the understanding AJ (Jaysen Wright), staying on good terms with David (Forest Van Dyke) who wants to be a minister, and with Bobby's unintelligent friend Junior (Rotimi Agbabiaka.) Pharus is hoping to be a leader of the famed school gospel choir. However, during a confrontation between Bobby and Pharus with white Professor Pendleton (Charles Shaw Robinson) trying to calm the situation, things turn ugly.
There are searing gospel songs performed throughout the 90-minute no-intermission drama. The playwright's pacing and the characters' stimuli are spot on as he captures astutely the pressures of a boarding school environment. The actors are pitch perfect when they break into song.
Jelani Alladin is charismatic as Pharus. There is a scene in which Pharus and his roommate AJ are wrestling, and Pharus' true feelings toward AJ come out. It's one example in this outstanding performance. The four other principal pupils answer their characters' profiles agreeably. Ken Robinson gives a splendid performance as the Headmaster, especially when he breaks out in song with his powerful voice toward the end of the drama. Charles Shaw Robinson gives a beautiful performance as the white head of the choir.
Jason Sherwood's set nicely encompasses a school hall, showers and dorms, creating the intimacy the play calls for. Callie Floor has designed excellent uniforms for the prep school boys while lighting director Kurt Landisman provides mood lighting that is a great asset to the production. Music director Darius Smith's arrangements are striking, both in the gospel and new-age songs. Kent Gash directs with delicacy and an iron grip.
Choir Boy runs through July 5, 2015, at Marin Theatre, 397 Miller Ave, Mill Valley. For tickets call 415-388-5208 or visit www.marintheatre.org. The company will start their 49th season with Sarah Ruhl's The Oldest Boy opening on September 10 and running until October 4.