Christopher Shinn’s new play “Teddy Ferrara” is clearly supposed to make a statement. Dealing with the hot-topic issue of LGBTQ communities on school campuses and lifting details specific to the controversial suicide of college freshman Tyler Clementi, it is hard to imagine how “Teddy Ferrara” could be anything but hard-hitting social commentary. At least, it’s hard to imagine until you’ve seen it. Despite its close to three-hour running time, “Teddy Ferrara” blatantly ignores the “L”, “B” and “Q” elements of the LGBTQ equation in a fashion that is, on occasion, downright insulting. The only mention of lesbianism, for example, comes in the first scene when Drew (Adam Poss) makes the dismissive jab “dykes don’t care about that,” with “that” being their weight.
As a straight female, I can’t personally relate to much in “Teddy Ferrara.” But my roommate, who is also a good friend, is bi, and we discuss LGBTQ issues on a regular basis. Many of these were skirted upon throughout the course of “Teddy Ferrara” but never truly dealt with, like having gender-neutral restrooms for transsexual and gender-queer students. There were plenty of opportunities to discuss these concepts, particularly during the handful of meetings of an LGBTQ panel organized by the wonderfully tactless University President (Patrick Clear), who strives to make the campus more “gay-friendly.”
Despite its focus on such a hot topic, “Teddy Ferrara” is cold. The central characters are flat and mostly unremarkable, more placeholders than people, with interchangeable personalities although transgender student Jaq (Jax Jackson) and wheelchair-bound Jay (Christopher Imbrosciano) do provide some much-needed dimension amongst the student body. Thankfully, the older characters like the outspoken Gender Studies teacher Ellen (Kelli Simpkins) and the clueless University President are much more rounded and dynamic, despite spending far less time on stage.
The set, designed by Lee Savage, mainly consisted of the same utilitarian layout, but one scene set in a busy nightclub complete with booming music and strobe lights stuck out like a sore thumb from the rest. Nothing of any particular significance happened, and the mysterious rationale behind the brief change in pace and tone kept me distracted long after the strobe lights stopped flashing.
To put it simply, “Teddy Ferrara” is flimsy. Because it lacks definition and direction, it easily contradicts itself like a person in an argument without a solid opinion on the matter. This can be seen in all aspects of the show, from inexplicable changes in tone to a character who one minute asks for monogamy but then claims that monogamous homosexual relationships are impossible the next. “Teddy Ferrara” has the makings of a hard-hitting, controversial drama but is watered down to the point of mediocrity by edging around the issues instead of facing them.
“Teddy Ferrara” is playing at the Goodman Theatre and will run through March 3rd.