Too Much Time and Too Little Clothin: Goodman Theatre’s ‘Teddy Ferrara’ doesn’t spark – by Julia Szromba
When: Through March 3
Where: Goodman Theatre, in the Owen
Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission
There are a lot of things I could say about ‘Teddy Ferrara,’ a new play written by Christopher Shinn and directed by Evan Cabnet, but the one thing I remember most clearly is leaving the Owen theater speechless, and not in a good way. Based on the hype about its premiere and the short description in my playbill, I expected to watch the emotional and thought-provoking story of a highly topical subject: the bullying of gay teens. Instead, I managed to endure over two hours worth of a production that was completely out of focus.
Gabe (Liam Benzvi) is the main character in the play, and while he was played well, I found it odd that essentially every character was in love with him at some point during the story. At first, I was intrigued by his complex relationship with his new boyfriend Drew (Adam Poss), but Drew undergoes an inexplicable character shift about halfway through the show from timid and over-attached to manipulative and conceited. It was a complete, 180 degree flip in dynamic, and it was a distracting turn in a play that attempted to be true to life.
Beyond this head-scratcher of a plot twist, there was, of course, the never-ending stream of sex. The first make-out scene was fine, even the first hookup scene, but by the fourth, fifth, and sixth, I was done. Certainly it was not because the characters were gay that made me uncomfortable, I would have felt the same way had the couples been straight. The issue was that the play seemed to be set on a backdrop that college is a place for sex, and sex alone. Not once to the characters reference classes, only one briefly mentions a career goal, and even when they do go out, it is for the purpose of getting wasted and getting laid after. I watched people of all ages squirm in their seats as scene after scene continued to graphically reference this topic. While it would have been more than acceptable to acknowledge sex in the production, the over-the-top glorification seemed out of place and overshadowed almost all other themes.
The few moments of success involved the school president (Patrick Clear) who provided a comical, but realistic perspective on bullying. When Teddy Ferrara kills himself, the school rallies to discuss and advocate for change. The president, feeling pressured by ambitious plans to run for Senate, feels he must address the event and shut it down before he loses public face. As he speaks in front of students, he attempts, and subsequently fails on a grand scale, to relate to the lives of teens in a serious, yet hilarious way that somehow saves the production from falling into complete shambles. I wish this kind of older generation view had been a more prevalent theme because it was something people of all ages could recognize and learn from. It is clear that this man doesn’t understand, and doesn’t attempt to understand, the lives of LGBTQ teens and the implications of that on the real world are important to consider.
Ultimately, while I understood that the goal of ‘Teddy Ferrara’ was to demonstrate that the truth changes after a tragedy because everyone involved wants to spin it in a different way, this valuable message was lost in an unfocused, oversexed, and too long drama that left me shielding my eyes and waiting for the lights to go up.