Commissioned by the Goodman, Pulitzer Prize nominee Christopher Shinn’s latest play attempts to cover far too much. The frustration is that nothing is ever resolved during almost 3-hours of mindless banter. Filled with meaningful pauses and anguished looks, this melodrama is more concerned with appearing contemporary by jamming it full of every electronic communication available. The result is an unfinished, inhumane play that professes to be empathetically driven by an actual tragedy.
Set at a fictitious state university, Shinn based his play upon the suicide of 18-year-old gay Rutgers University student, Tyler Clementi. Like Clementi, Shinn’s titular character has been secretly filmed by his roommate while having a gay sexual encounter. When Clementi’s video went viral his disgrace and anguish drove him to take his own life. Shinn’s premise is that Tyler then became just another LGBTQ bullying victim. He wanted audiences to understand that such martyrdom glosses over the complex person inside. This play is his attempt to correct that error with the fictional Teddy Ferrara.
Unfortunately, his title character (sensitively created by Ryan Heindl) turns out to be the play’s most interesting, but he’s gone before the end of Act I. Regrettably Gabe, the protagonist and playwright’s voice (serviceably played by Liam Benzvi), isn’t nearly as complex or engaging. He begins likably enough, but as the story progresses he’s revealed to be just as bigoted as everyone else. In fact, there are very few likable characters in this play. Patrick Clear manages to stand out as an inept university president prone to cliches and platitudes,with an obvious eye on a political career.
Director Evan Cabnet valiantly does what he can with a script that eventually becomes much ado about nothing. However one suspects that, with editing and rewrites, Shinn’s play just might become courageous enough to satisfactorily address its controversial subject.