Dream Boy

Michael Van Duzer Reviews - Theater

Eric Rosen’s adaptation of Jim Grimsley’s Dream Boy receives its Los Angeles premiere in a richly textured production by the Celebration Theatre. Under Michael Matthews’ vivid and pictorially elegant direction, the play admirably balances the story’s beauty and its bleakness.

A Narrator (Christopher Maikish) introduces Nathan (Matthew Boehm), the new boy in a tiny, hymn-singing, rural, Southern town. Nathan’s family has rented a house from the Connollys, who live next door. Roy Connolly (Randall Ray Clute) and Nathan are immediately attracted to each other, though neither has the ability to articulate his feelings.

The boys become closer, and their awkward, fumbling attempts at physical intimacy are recognizably human and humorous. But there is little levity in their lives. Nathan’s Father (Jim Hanna) is a surly, embittered drunk who cannot keep a job and hides his simmering desires under a cloak of Bible-thumping sanctity. His Mother (Elizabeth Dement) is well-meaning but exhausted by futile attempts to keep her husband on the right path.

Like her son, Mrs. Connolly (Kate Connor) provides a ray of sunshine in Nathan’s gloomy life, but fear, intolerance, and dangerous family secrets constantly threaten to overwhelm him. Nathan is equally insecure at school where Roy’s friend Burke (Billy Evans) zeroes in on Nathan with a bully’s keen sense of the easy mark.

Matthews has assembled a terrific team of designers who do an astounding job of creating a visual and aural landscape that manages to capture the atmospheric and occasionally surreal quality of the writing. Stephen Gifford’s expressive scenic design encompasses the stark and brutal small town world as well as the allure of the lush forest that surrounds it. Tim Swiss’ moody lighting and Rebecca Kessin’s perfectly modulated soundscape work together to enhance the plot’s tension and its subtle sense of foreboding moving inexorably towards tragedy. Allison Dillard’s costumes and Tuffet Schmelzle’s dialect work with the cast grounds the action in reality, allowing the words to take flight.

Those soaring phrases are usually uttered by Maikish’s Narrator, who effectively colors the dense lyrical passages while deftly placing set pieces and handing off props. Boehm’s Nathan grows from a poignantly inarticulate outsider to a young man with a growing understanding of his identity. Clute is a wonderfully exuberant Roy who finds that chipping away at Nathan’s defenses is worth the effort. With Matthews’ keen guidance, they breathe life into the story’s more familiar outlines and smooth over the play’s sudden savagery and its ambiguous ending.

The rest of the cast is uniformly strong. The always reliable Hanna brings surprising depth to his tortured Father, allowing a touch of humanity to show through the villainy. Dement’s Mother accurately portrays how a life of disappointment and fear can paralyze a person. Evans’ Burke is the fierce and caustic high school bully we’ve all prayed would walk the other way, while Craig Jorczak’s appealing Randy brings a welcome humor to the schoolyard and makes the most of his appearances. Erin McIntosh’s Hannah and Connor’s Mrs. Connolly ably make their points in their brief time on stage.

Dream Boy is a darker property than the title might suggest, but Matthews’ production is impeccable and haunting.

Celebration Theatre       January 29 – March 30, 2016      www.celebrationtheatre.com