“Teddy Ferrara” Leaves Goodman Audiences Stunned – by Marisa Cullnan

March 5, 2013 in Blog by Cindy-Bandle-Young-Critics

Playwright Christopher Shinn writes the Goodman Theatre’s “Teddy Ferrara” as an adaptation of the Tyler Clementi suicide at Rutgers University in September 2010. This drama had great potential to be a fantastic show detailing how society’s hateful attitude towards homosexuals may drive them towards drastic measures to cope with the solitude and oppression they endure. Gabe finds himself looking forward to a great senior year: He runs the Queer Students Group and someday wants to make it in the political world. When gay freshman Teddy Ferrara commits suicide after a bout of sexual-orientation-based bullying, the resulting whirlwind of national attention changes the campus’ world.

“Teddy Ferrara,” however, made college seem like it’s all about sex, lies and technology (especially sexting). It was like the audience was watching college students’ most intimate moments (uncomfortably, at that) rather than an emotional play about the horrors of teen suicide. The characters seemed fairly independent of each other, the only chemistry being between Gabe (Liam Benzvi) and his best friend Tim (Josh Salt). The characters weren’t too complex—no actors tapped into deep emotions—so no one really stood out as doing more than a fine job.

The college atmosphere was effective as that’s when people start to mature and “find themselves.” However, the play relied very heavily on technology to draw attention to the development of cyberbullying: the cause of Teddy Ferrara’s suicide. That being said, the stage seemed dead most of the time—especially when characters just stood around texting. I lost interest very quickly because it seemed like they were preoccupied and I ended up being bored.

Neither the lighting nor sound design nor costumes nor characters was anything special: just what you’d expect a 21st century college student to wear and be like. The parts weren’t outstanding so the actors also didn’t add any depth to them. Ferrara (Ryan Heindl) undermined his bullying situation to the point where his suicide, although anticipated, seemed to come out of nowhere (after drawing the connection between Ferrara’s story and Clementi’s, I knew the suicide of a gay student would be the central conflict of the play). But all of a sudden, a quick scene opens up with Ferrara at the library and ends with him jumping nine floors to his death. I expected to get to know Ferrara more and understand how the bullying was affecting him so I was surprised when his suicide seemed to just be thrown into the first act as if the director said, ‘oh, we forgot this part…it’ll fit in just fine here!’ We didn’t know much about Ferrara besides the fact that he was a gay freshman who would visit gay chat rooms and talk about who he was seeing as well as show his viewers “what they wanted to see.” This led to the notion that the play was centered around nothing deeper than sex.

I’m not a fan of “Teddy Ferrara” at all. The play included vulgar language and was altogether uncomfortable. With each zipper unzipped, I felt more and more like I was spying on couples’ most intimate and private moments rather than a play. The shock value didn’t distract from the lack of a gripping plot. Out of respect to Clementi and his family, Shinn should have focused much more on the effects of the bullying rather than what he was bullied for.

2 hours 30 minutes with one intermission in the Owen Theater

February 2-March 3, 2013