|Rita Marchelya and Laura Wickens|
"Raised by Lesbians" is anchored by a strong cast and a sweet, funny central story but derailed by unnecessary wackiness.
By FRANK EPISALE
Leah Ryan’s “Raised by Lesbians,” as directed by Dev Bondarin for Geek Ink, is part of this year’s FringeHIGH, “a collection of boundary-stretching plays guaranteed to captivate and entertain NYC teens.” These plays might be a little more adventurous than what typically tours to Junior Highs but, if you’re a teen living in New York and know about the Fringe Festival, chances are your parents won’t object to any of the content.
Not surprisingly, then, “Raised by Lesbians” draws heavily on structures and devices common in Theater for Young Audiences. An “issue play,” lightened up by a wacky, cartoonish conceit and broad, comic characterizations, this is a show that would be very much at home, and very welcome, on a high school stage. This Fringe production, which I saw at an 11pm showing, brings the considerable energy and charisma of a skilled group of performers to bear on a text that suffers from considerable structural and conceptual shortcomings. Thanks to the ensemble, the result is a compelling, funny, and occasionally even moving piece of theater, despite its flaws.
|RAISED BY LESBIANS|
|Written by: Leah Ryan.|
Directed by: Dev Bondarin.
Produced by: Jessica Bathurst.
Cast: Virginia Bryan, Eli Ganias, Matthew Glogowski, Rita Marchelya, Kira Sternbach, Laura Wickens.
Sound design by: Chris Rummel.
Set design by: Ann Bartek.
Costumes by: Megan Q. Dudley.
Lighting design by: Amith Chandrashaker.
Production stage manager: Marcie A. Friedman.
Prop Design: Kanda Masami.
Assistant Stage Manager: Emma Halpern.
Related links: Official site
|Barrow Street Theater|
27 Barrow St.
Fringe Festival 2008, Aug. 8-24, 2008
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Joe (Matthew Glogowski) loves his mother Alice (Laura Wickens) but sometimes wonders whether his life might be easier if she weren’t a lesbian. Or, at least, if everyone in town didn’t know that she is dating women. Adding to this uncertainty is the fact that his father (Eli Ganias) has a lot more money than his mother, and has begun dropping hints that if Joe wants to come live with him it might be a lot easier to get things like new basketball shoes.
Interspersed with real-world scenes are the occasional dream sequence and a strange parallel sitcom/fantasy world in which Joe is called “Feral Freak Boy,” a Victor of Averyon-type who is being raised in captivity by Dr. Glenda (Wickens) and her assistant Betty (Rita Marcheyla, who also plays Alice’s love-interest.) In these scenes, Dr. Glenda’s custody of Feral Freak Boy is threatened by a mysterious Masked Man (Ganias), who seems to be trying to take the boy away.
|Matthew Glogowski and Kira Sternbach|| |
The opening scene, set in the Feral Freak Boy world, is fast-paced and funny, and it seems at first that the play’s parallel universe structure might actually work. Before long, though, these alternative scenes begin to drag, despite the best efforts of cast and director. The less funny these scenes are, the more it becomes clear that they are distracting from, rather than augmenting, the relatively compelling real-world scenes. It’s not just a matter of tightening the script, however: the metaphor doesn’t work. In order to enjoy the “L’Enfant Sauvage” scenes, the audience has to accept them as wacky fun without thinking too much about them; significant cognitive acrobatics are required to make sense of the alleged parallels between the two situations.
This is a shame because, with the exception of a few clunky scenes between Alice and Rita at the video store, the real-world material is pretty good. Ryan wisely avoids presenting Joe as tortured and traumatized; he’s just a kid who’s a little embarrassed at the thought of his mother’s sex-life, and who wishes he had more spending money. Glogowski performs the role convincingly (I was startled to see the actor at a nearby bar later in the evening because I hadn’t yet read his bio he’s a recent college graduate and had found him utterly believable as a sixteen-year-old), particularly in scenes between Joe and his best friend Gracie (Kira Sternbach), who secretly has a crush on Joe’s mother.
Wickens and Ganias are also largely successful at capturing the specificity of their characters, who are refreshingly more complex than the stereotypes, negative or positive, one might have expected from this kind of show.
| ||[Playwright] Ryan wisely avoids presenting Joe as tortured and traumatized; he’s just a kid who’s a little embarrassed at the thought of his mother’s sex-life, and who wishes he had more spending money.|
Clearly, the juxtaposition of the Freak Boy scenes and Joe’s scenes is meant to make us aware of how absurd such stereotypes are when faced with the fleshed-out humanity of real people. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work.
A part of the reason for this might be that even in the real-life scenes, Ryan lapses into stereotyping-for-laughs with her portrayals of heterosexual women. Stepmother Eileen (Virginia Bryan) is a quilting-obsessed housewife who sends a nauseatingly cheerful family newsletter to all of her friends; cheerleader/crush Jennifer (Sternbach) is a bouncy blond with a squeaky voice who apparently doesn’t have a thought in her head. While these characters do elicit some laughs, they're not nearly as funny as they're intended to be, and the broad strokes with which they're painted seem to violate the play's internal logic: caricatures in Freak Boy world, real people in Joe world.
Somehow, though, despite all its flaws, the production is quite a bit of fun. When I sat down to watch “Raised by Lesbians,” I had already seen two shows earlier that day, both of which were pretentious, and self-serious, and one of which was astonishingly bad. In that context, the modest and good-natured ambitions of “Raised by Lesbians,” coupled with fun, smartly-crafted performances from all of the actors, made for an enjoyable end to a long day.
|AUGUST 19, 2008|
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