“Leave it all out on the stage” goes the familiar saying. The theater has no boundaries in sending a message. Some may be quick to take offense while others rave in the daringness of it all. Theatre can be radical and can defy the confines of society’s limitations. The worldwide premiere of Christopher Shinn’s Teddy Ferrara at the Goodman deals with subject of the LBGTQ community and university life. Had I known to brace myself beforehand, the production might not have served its purpose. “Leaving it all out on the stage” is a test of faith in one’s production. Despite its sensitive subject matter, Teddy Ferrara passes in flying colors.
The play was complex in its various storylines, not shying away from reality. In fact, Shinn provided very real, yet shocking depictions of extreme intimacy. Having been no stranger to the LBGTQ world due to the diverse environment of my high school, the staged sex was not shocking. I was more appalled at the crude and promiscuous nature of the young Teddy Ferrara; Ryan Heindl did not hold back in portraying a webcam porn addict. I felt as though I were right in his bedroom, the material thrown at me with on hesitation. Though I was visibly uncomfortable, I respected Shinn for including this scene. I believe his intent was to make us feel as though we were watching something very real. I appreciated this as producing the desired effect; the shock factor of Teddy’s outlandish behavior would play a huge role later in the play.
I loved this particular cast for this production; as it turns out, most of them can resonate with many of the LBGTQ themes in the play. Though their acting abilities were superb in their emotional depiction, I felt as if some of the lines and delivery were robotic. Some of the characters were not needed in order to deliver Shinn’s powerful message; however, I felt that this was another one of Shinn’s intentions, as opposed to telling an actual story. Despite these elements that bothered me, I thought the simplistic set to be appropriate; it provided a setting, but did not distract from the important components of the play. The Goodman’s Owen Theatre is significantly smaller than the Albert; I preferred it, for I felt it provided the realistic connection the audience members needed. The instrumental track between acts added to the tense, yet emotional environment; I could describe them as eerie and thought-provoking, producing the goose bump effect and all.
I found that the accurate portrayal of the strife of a young LBGTQ community was what many liked most about the play. However, what was a positive hit for others provoked my own uncomfortable anger; it was the strongest point of the play for me. My emotions were not directed at Christopher Shinn, nor at the actors; in fact, it was simply the exposing of a difficult truth. In that regard, I appreciate Teddy Ferrara so much for exposing a common, unjust concept we encounter every single day. At the end of the first half of the play, Teddy commits suicide; it is only after that people begin to see his inherent value. The concept both confuses and angers me; seeing it in the show hit me very hard.
Suicide is a very sensitive subject; it is something many people seek out where the blame lies. In order to deal with these feelings of guilt, people nearly patronize those who have resorted to suicide. They create memorials and speak with touching words about the injustice such a beautiful person has fallen victim to. However, we find that the majority of these people would not give the “victims” the time of day before they took their own life. The simple question arises: “Why isn’t anyone told these wonderful things while they’re still alive?” This is a question I constantly ask myself, and I’m afraid I’ll never receive the answer I want. The character of Teddy Ferrara was admired in such a way; it made me sick to my stomach. I believe that Christopher Shinn’s intention was to highlight this aspect of our society; I found it to be very successful.
As an audience member, I felt as though the intention of the show was to produce an uncomfortable, yet powerful awareness to areas of social injustice regarding the LBGTQ community. The pathos of the entire production was strong and appropriate. The fact that there were questions at the end of the show made it even more effective. It snapped us back into reality by saying, “this is reality.” I have a deep appreciation for this production. The complex emotions I experienced still stir in my heart as I think about Teddy Ferrara; Shinn’s bravery in his refusal to hold back was truly admirable.