It’s no secret that LGBTQ youth throughout society have suffered from a great amount of bullying and rejection. Inspired by the suicide of Tyler Clementi in 2010 at Rutgers University, Pulitzer Prize finalist Christopher Shinn exploits the very issue at hand in “Teddy Ferrara” with only partial success.
The play ends up at almost three hours long, which seems almost ridiculous at first glance. The span seems suitable because of the amount of serious themes that thread throughout the characters and plot. However, the conflicts that appear left and right is almost like saying “Wait, there’s more!” and while the exploration of these said issues are important, a web of situations just seemed to form. There are simply too many subplots inundating beneath the surface; it becomes confusing and permits audience members to feel restless in their seats.
The play’s abrupt conclusion does not help either, making it as if there was no real ending. It also doesn’t allow for any sort of opinion to come through, like Shinn does not want to state an opinion on the issues. But what the ending does do is make clear that this story is not supposed to take a side. These characters represent the positions that could be taken on the issue of suicide; it is up to the audience members to decide which position to uphold.
Despite the play’s name, the story mainly follows Gabe (Liam Benzvi), a senior in college who runs the Queer Students Group and competes for student body president against his supposedly straight best friend, Tim (Josh Salt). Gabe’s on-and-off relationship with the big-headed and manipulative newspaper editor Drew (Adam Poss) also presents a challenge within the lives of the university students. Another subplot involves is the university faculty; the president (Patrick Clear) and provost (Janet Ulrich Brooks) come together with a couple of expected protestors and a handicapped student along with Gabe to discuss complex issues existent throughout the school; the group becomes more important as the death of Teddy Ferrara (Ryan Heindl) is exposed.
The interesting thing about these characters is not all of them are what they seem. You expect the university president and provost to be unlikeable, when both characters are genuinely concerned with the issues surrounding the university. On the other hand, the one character you want to sympathize with is Teddy Ferrara; this proves to be exceptionally difficult as Teddy’s personal life is exposed to the audience. Heindl’s portrayal of Teddy was fantastic as he brings a very questionable and multifaceted character to life. Patrick Clear’s performance as the president brought about a sigh of relief amidst the somewhat tense atmosphere as well.
The staging by director Evan Cabnet is a bit questionable. An explicit amount of sexuality comes off incredibly risqué and provocative rather than intimate. However, the scenery was incredibly minimalist. The issues that fall into the hands of audience members are more than enough for the human mind to handle; any set addition of set would distract from the plot. The spare set also adds to the exposure motif that embodies “Teddy Ferrara”. The transitions are smooth upon the thrust-style stage.
This exposure motif also continues through the use of social media, which is a recurring element throughout the entire play. Every scene seems to be controlled by networking though Internet or text messages, and it almost seems to be a trigger for many of the actions of the characters. Newspaper articles bring light to new secrets and text messages spread rumors like wildfire throughout the plot.
Shinn’s clear and honest voice is enjoyable and his courage in delving into this issue is impressive, but he takes on more than he can handle by adding subplot after subplot. The subplots do not have a clear conclusion and brings about confusion. The director’s and actors’ efforts bring life to Shinn’s vision, but even the ridiculous time span of two hours and forty minutes cannot truly define and explain all the situations that Shinn attempts to interpret.