Tuesday, 18 September 2012
Theatre review: Choir Boy
Choir Boy takes place in an all-male, all-black US prep school, where the Headmaster (Gary McDonald) tries to juggle the tensions of a hormone-filled building with keeping the alumni happy and their all-important donations coming in. And this is a school board that's easily offended: As the play begins they're demanding he punish Pharus (Dominic Smith) because he briefly looked behind him while singing the school song at commencement.
Pharus1 is unapologetically effeminate, catty, and sometimes coldly ambitious. He's not hugely popular with the students but not that unpopular either - his distraction during the song was due to homophobic remarks being muttered behind him, but aggressive Bobby (Eric Kofi Abrefa) and his sidekick Junior (Kwayedza Kureya) seem to be in a minority: For his senior year, Pharus has been elected leader of the popular (and hugely important to the donors) gospel choir, which as well as these three boys includes his roommate AJ (Khali Best) and aspiring preacher David (Aron Julius.) The play takes us through this final school year, looking at how having an openly, if not yet entirely comfortably, gay teenager in class affects not just him but those around him.
Choir Boy is certainly stronger than the last two McCraney plays I've seen, with some powerful themes balanced out with a sense of humour, but it's not without its problems. One thing I've always found about the playwright is a lack of focus, and it's the case here again: The script feels a bit flabby in places - it's a risk of these kinds of stories spread out over a year, and perhaps I should have been thinking of it as more of a character study, but nearly an hour in I did find myself wishing the play would get on with telling us what the central story arc was.
Choir Boy by Tarrell Alvin McCraney is booking until the 6th of October at the Royal Court's Jerwood Theatre Upstairs.
Running time: 2 hours straight through.
1McCraney seems to have a fondness for giving his protagonists that name as it also cropped up in American Trade - are those of us who've seen both meant to infer a connection between the choir boy and that play's rent boy?