Big performances overshadow narrative in RTP’s ‘Choir Boy’
Richmond Triangle Players, in collaboration with The Heritage Ensemble Theatre Company offer Choir Boy by Tarrell Alvin McCraney [nominated for best adapted screenplay for Moonlight] for their entry in the 2017 Acts of Faith Festival.
Pharus (Jamar Jones) is summoned to the office of Headmaster Marrow (Vegas Krane) after flubbing the school song during a graduation ceremony. Although Pharus reluctantly admits under duress he’d been distracted by a homophobic slur from a fellow student, he refuses to name the offender out of a sense of duty to the school code.
Instead, Pharus hopes to exact revenge by controlling who can and can’t sing in the school’s prestigious choir. The designated student leader of the choir, Pharus wields his power until Mr. Pendleton (Christopher Dunn) the new teacher of “Creative Thinking” with no knowledge of music, steps in to be the choir’s sponsor a/k/a peacemaker.
The story centers on Pharus coming to terms with his sexuality in a sometimes hostile all boys prep school environment.
Unfortunately, Jones’ performance at the onset is over-the-top – perhaps in an effort to show the audience that he’s gay - and potentially tender moments turn into more comic moments which were laugh-out-loud funny to some, and uncomfortable to others.
Perhaps Director Margarette Joyner wanted to make sure the audience understood that Pharus was gay?
Subtlety would have better suited the tone of the play.
As part of the Creative Thinking class, the students debate the role of Negro spirituals to the African-American experience. Pharus argues they served to inspire hope and community, and his arch-nemesis Bobby Marrow (the headmaster’s nephew played by Ariel Baldwin) argues they contained secret code to help the slave escape.
Junior (Jay Banks), AJ (Keaton Hillman) and Elijah (David Heard) round out the choir and fill in the escalating drama and eventual showdown as Pharus is outed and humiliated in a very public way.
The spirituals sung throughout Choir Boy serve to reveal the character’s inner thoughts and feelings, but the songs sometimes become incidental to the show – the bubble gum in a pack of baseball cards.
The music is good, with some really beautiful harmonies. But the good parts only add up to a pretty good show.
There are some strong individual performances, but the characters seem more sketches at times than true-to-life. And the whole sometimes feels like a collection of strung-together scenes rather than a story come full circle.
Choir Boy continues through March 18. Tickets can be purchased by visiting www.rtriangle.org.
Julie Harthill Clayton is an out and proud bisexual with a passion for reading, writing . . . and NOT arithmetic. Her work has appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Internet Review of Books, Curve Magazine, Lambda Literary and more. She is working on her first novel - Two Tickets to Freedom - a semi-autobiographical queer coming-of-age tale. A paralegal by day, Julie spends her free time knitting, writing, and reading anything she can get her hands on. She lives in Richmond with her partner, local artist David Turner, and their mischievous and loving hunting dog, Max.
Richmond Triangle Players has been RVA’s leading source for LGBTQ entertainment and theatre for about 25 years, but their lavished Scotts Addition location wasn’t always their home. Back in the early days, they performed on the third floor of the now defunct-Fielden’s nightclub. “It was a postage-stamp stage, you could literally watch the building crumble around [...]April 27, 2017
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