Thursday, June 18, 2015

Choir Boy: ☼ ☼ ☼

There are two ways to discuss Tarell Alvin McCraney's "Choir Boy," having its West Coast premiere at Marin Theater Company: as a play and as social commentary. As far as the latter goes, McCraney's coming-of-age drama touches upon homophobia, racism, elitism and boarding schools versus their boards of governors, as well as generational attitudes about young black men. Mixed with some brilliant gospel singing, these issues grab our attention and hold onto it.

But despite the promise of a brilliantly musical beginning, "Choir Boy" takes us to the sky but not quite to Heaven. If it is memoir, we need more background. If it is a musical, give us more variety. But if it is drama-with-music, it seems out of character for Headmaster Marrow (Ken Robinson) to turn to face the audience and sing like the opening of Oklahoma. Perhaps if the music weren't as brilliantly in the pocket when the young men are singing in their choir we would not notice the few false notes.

The story belongs to Pharus (Jelani Alladin), who is enthusiastically nelly -- a diva in an environment where expressing oneself in this manner can prove dangerous. He doesn't seem to notice his own arrogance, ignoring his room-mate Anthony (Jaysen Wright)'s warnings. What matters to Pharus is becoming head of the choir, and being granted the privilege of singing the school song at the upcoming graduation ceremony.

Enemies abound. Bobby (Dimitri Woods), the headmaster's nephew, has problems of his own and
speaks hatefully to Pharus; Bobby's sidekick Junior (Rotimi Agbabiaka) sticks with Bobby, though he seems to be primarily looking out for himself.

David (Forest Van Dyke) has the nicest voice but has a secret of his own that puts him in jeopardy. The character of Mr. Pendleton (Charles Shaw Robinson) is a bit confusing -- why would this man who knows nothing about music be put in charge of the choir?

The set by Jason Sherwood is terrific and scene changes are skillfully executed, one minute the Headmaster's cushy office and the next a shower room, with little interruption in the action. A lot of credit also goes to Kurt Landisman for his expertly placed lighting. The show is directed by Kent Gash, who helmed the show in Washington D.C.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants "Choir Boy" Three Stars, one each for acting, directing and music. Though we have quibbles with the script, the young men on stage are all excellent performers with a lot to say.

"Choir Boy"
Marin Theater Company
397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley
EXTENDED Through July 5
(Tuesday - Sunday)

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