Firehouse’s ‘The Boy in the Bathroom’ tackles complex emotional issues through song
Firehouse Theatre opened its 22nd season with the regional premier of The Boy in the Bathroom, a new musical written by Michael Lluberes in collaboration with Joe Maloney, and directed by Firehouse’s Adam B. Ferguson.
Originally developed at the New York Musical Theatre Festival, Lluberes’ show tackles the issue of mental illness, specifically obsessive-compulsive disorder [OCD], its impact and aftermath both on the sufferer and those who love them.
David (Denver Crawford) is a college drop-out with OCD who hasn’t left his mother’s bathroom for more than a year. He writes his thesis on pieces of toilet paper while sitting on his refuge – the commode.
His mother, Pam [Catherine Shaffner], enables his illness by sliding pancakes and other flat foods under the bathroom door. She even bakes him a birthday cake, flattens it with her shoe and stuffs it into a Ziploc baggie. The audience is asked to suspend disbelief by not spending too much time thinking about where Pam goes to the bathroom, or how David disposes of his trash.
Pam has baggage of her own and is terrified to lose David, and so continues to allow him to remain in the prison of his mind.
When she falls and breaks her hip, she hires Julie [Rebecca Turner] to help her out around the house. Julie makes it her mission to coax David out of the bathroom, engaging him in cards and other games, all played by sliding the pieces back and forth under that bathroom door.
Crawford and Turner have lovely voices. Watching Julie and David’s blossoming feelings is endearing. Unfortunately, my own personal experience caring for a loved one with OCD makes me wary of the plausibility of their romantic relationship.
Real life isn’t so neatly tied up with a bow.
Shaffner, however, steals the show with a powerhouse performance. She is utterly convincing as a woman so terrified to be abandoned by her child [just like she’s been abandoned by the men in her life] that she allows David to be stuck in his illness.
Ferguson’s direction is solid. Tennessee Dixon’s set design is spare and effective, creating an understated and intimate vibe.
The Boy in the Bathroom continues through September 4 at Firehouse Theatre 1609 W Broad Street. For tickets visit www.firehousetheatre.org or call 804.355.2001. Free parking is available across the street in the Lowe’s parking lot.
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.
This will be the first time his production will premiere in Richmond.January 31, 2017
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