I really think “Teddy Ferrara,” the play that recently opened at the Goodman Theatre, has the potential to be great.
It hints at issues that really need to be addressed, and it is being produced at a time when we can address them.
But “Teddy Ferrara” seemed to me to be about sex more than anything else. Sure, they brushed on controversial topics: prejudice, homophobia and hypocrisy. But every scene was so provocative, so bluntly sexual, that it took away from issues, making it seem as though the play was less about the serious issues queer students face and more about their sex lives.
That’s not to say I have a problem with gay couples. I don’t. If this had been a play about straight men and women, I would be saying the same thing: the level of sexual content in this show is just too high.
This play, written by Pulitzer Prize finalist Christopher Shinn, is a heavily crude, though thought-provoking play about queer students life on a college campus.
It opens immediately following a meeting of the Queer Students Group, headed by a senior named Gabe (Liam Benzvi). Gabe has recently started dating Drew (Adam Poss), the smarmy, controlling head of the school newspaper.
At the meeting, Gabe meets Teddy Ferrara (Ryan Heindl), who he labels as “kinda weird.” Teddy, who seems to have a troubled life as an outsider who performs sex for an Internet chat site, later tells Gabe that his roommate has, on several occasions, attempted to film Teddy and another man who was spending the night in their dorm.
This likely helped to fuel Teddy’s decision to jump from the library balcony and kill himself.
Meanwhile, Gabe and Drew’s one-week relationship unravels. Drew becomes controlling, and though he claims he wants monogamy, proceeds to flirt with about every man he sees. He claims that every gay guy cheats, and even goes so far as to make out with Gabe’s closeted friend Tim (Josh Salt). Gabe, too, eventually succumbs to temptation.
Having premiered in the Goodman’s smaller Owen Theatre, this show had a very personal quality. At some points, this was effective. I felt like I was in the same rooms as the actors, listening in on their conversations. It felt real.
However, there were times when the close proximity made me uncomfortable. The sexual content in the play would have been a bit much even if the theater had been bigger and I’d been in the back.
However, sitting so close to the stage I was practically on it, I felt like I was witnessing something far too intimate to be on a stage. As a result, I can’t say I enjoyed “Teddy Ferrara.”
Although I thought some parts were interesting. The highlights of the show included the University President’s (Patrick Clear) meetings with the students. Not only did Clear serve as a much-needed comic relief, what with his pointless ramblings, but they were practically the only times the play’s issues were addresses. Here, we finally got to see Gabe’s side on the whole matter. It was interesting to see that he didn’t think Teddy jumped just because he felt victimized. In other scenes, issues were hinted at briefly before the flirting started.
This show paints a poor picture of gay life. Not one of the characters is likable, and for some reason, Christopher Shinn paints the gayest characters as the least likable of all; they are the one’s cheating on their boyfriends and coldly rejecting boys because they are in a wheelchair. If Shinn sought to increase tolerance with Teddy Ferrara, he has almost certainly failed.