In today’s world, more people find themselves with the potential for communication; whether it be cellphones or Skype, SnapChat or online messages boards, the world is spanning across oceans, connecting from person to person, in more ways than ever before. But, stemming from these connections is a failure to connect. Who is on the other end? What are we really seeing of a person and what are they hiding? And most importantly for the theatre world; where is the communication between a play and its audience?
“Teddy Ferrara” tells the story of Gabe, played by Liam Benzvi, a senior in college; leader of the Queer Student Group, finally has a single room and is dating an amazing guy. But, that all changes when tragedy strikes the school and Gabe’s world is thrown into disarray. And when new evidence comes to light, Gabe begins to question his own assumptions as he finds out that the events surrounding the tragedy aren’t as easy to define as they seem.
Starting off too many scenes with a kid with a phone in his hand, one can be almost proud of the simplicity in which such an image reflects today’s youth but, “Teddy” loses touch with reality from there.
Penned by Christopher Shinn and directed by Evan Cabnet, “Teddy Ferrara” is real; literal, real and yet lacking. The young, LGBT-identified cast, made up of many brilliant actors such as Ryan Heindl as the title role, Jax Jackson as the aptly named Jaq; the transgendered, activist youth and Adam Poss as Drew, the head of the queer students, help give the audience an understanding of the background of these LGBT characters as well as the academy heads who have no idea how to relate to said community. But, at the same time, Liam Benzvi, in the role of Gabe, seems to have the most demands and doesn’t seem to fully deliver. While charming, handsome and full of “leadership qualities,” his portrayal of Gabe is too monotone throughout the entirety of the play, not lending any sort of help to the drama or the emotional shift he should have been experiencing towards the end as the weight of the media whirlwind of Teddy’s suicide finally takes hold of him.
For a play to be centered around the idea that a gay youth’s suicide would have a tremendous effect on the lead character, it would help if said lead character didn’t rebuff the hand of friendship offered by said “gay youth” every time it was offered, making the idea that Gabe, said lead, was supposed to be violently affected by this suicide.
When performing a play on a stage that has such heavy concepts as LGBT suicides, there has to be some level of understanding of that community. When asked at a student press conference held at the Goodman Theatre, how the cast undertook that idea (that thought of not allowing the cliché, stereotypical “isolated, gay” teen to make its way onto stage) their responses were encouraging; their understanding of the gay community stemming from the young cast being fully LGBT-identified. But, the outcome wasn’t all it was cracked up to.
Being a homosexual teen in 2013 isn’t just about being “gay,” or fighting for our rights, or even finding the perfect boyfriend or girlfriend; it’s about being a teen. It’s about sex and class schedules, making mistakes and learning that all people are not as clear-cut as they seem. It’s about social media and the ever-present fact that you are being judged 24/7, that with the press of a button, your secrets could be blasted to the world around you. But, at the same time, that the internet could be the only place that you feel wanted.
Coming from an LGBT youth and activist, this play gave me ideas and questions to chew on, and I thoroughly enjoyed “Teddy Ferrara,” and have recommended to all family and friends. It was beautiful and awe-inspiring and at times, jarring to the point where I had to stop and ask myself “what just happened?” But at the same time, it might not have been ready for a full, on-stage production.
“Teddy Ferrara” seems to suffer from too many storylines (bad boyfriends, revealing newspaper articles, running for campus president…), a closed-off location and too many scenes that start with a kid with his phone in his hand and just a complete lack of understanding of a central idea. When bringing a college-life type of play to the stage and especially when coupling it with a suicide, it won’t just affect one person, it will affect the community around the school and inside of it; that’s what “Teddy” lacked. It lacked a story line. Was Teddy’s suicide supposed to be the main catalyst of all the coming events? Did his suicide stem from his awkwardness, his loneliness or his very sexually-explicit online life? Then there is Gabe’s run for campus presidency and his serious lack of being able to pick a reputable boyfriend which lead to an unclear focus and, at times, no urgency in a critical situation. “Teddy” has potential to be a mind-opening, view-changing play, but hasn’t seemed to reach its full potential.
It is heartwarming to see a renowned theatre such as the Goodman not afraid to be so committed to developing new works that touch on such serious and controversial issues as cyber bullying and gay youth suicides. But at the same time, it was so real to see college life acted out on stage.
While “Teddy Ferrara” brought a beautiful and at times jaw-dropping play to stage it lacked a full, completed story. Especially evident in the last thirty seconds of the play where, while it seemed it could have given you another scene… or four; it cut off, making it anti-climactic, unfulfilling and disappointing. I would gladly see it over and over again, but only to see how it changes as I strongly believe “Teddy Ferrara” could only get better, more real, from here.
“Teddy Ferrara” is running for a short time at the Goodman Theatre from February 2nd until March 3rd, 2013 at 170 N. Dearborn Chicago, IL. To reserve tickets, www.goodmantheatre.org.