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Boy

A botched circumcision instigates a circuitous life journey for the boy, powerfully performed by Bobby Steggert, in this fascinating docudrama.

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Paul Niebanck and Bobby Steggert in a scene from “Boy” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Paul Niebanck and Bobby Steggert in a scene from “Boy” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Darryl Reilly

Darryl Reilly, Critic

Boy is a fascinating and poignant play inspired by the true story of an infant emasculated by a botched circumcision.  The distraught parents seek the advice of a noted doctor who advises them to raise him as a girl.  In 90 minutes, author Anna Ziegler brilliantly dramatizes this profound situation in a series of crisp scenes inhabited by fully rendered characters.

Also instrumental to the successes of the play is the very skillful and believable dialogue.  The clinical facts are imparted with simplicity, and all of the characters’ conversations and exchanges are realized with true to life details.

Set in 1990, and taking place in Davenport, Iowa, where the family lives, the plot is disclosed through flashbacks that are indicated with slide projections noting the years being enacted and pertinent information, some of the plot take place in Boston where the doctor is in residence.

Ms. Ziegler imaginatively presents the ramifications of this decision on the family and how this effects the boy’s emotional development.   The crux of the play is the complications that arise when the now 23-year-old falls in love with a woman.

In his widely produced 1977 play, The Elephant Man, Bernard Pomerance employed the theatrical device of having the grotesque John Merrick portrayed by an actor (invariably a handsome one) without makeup.

Boy is similar in that the magnetic Bobby Steggert plays Samantha and later Adam without any external differentiation.  Acclaimed for his New York City appearances in such musicals as Yank and the 2009 Broadway revival of Ragtime, as well as the Terrence McNally play, Mothers and Sons, Mr. Steggert here delivers a powerful performance.  Low-key yet animated, he commandingly conveys all of the anguish and endurance of the character with heartbreaking effect.  His characterization is particularly outstanding considering he alternates between being a child, an adolescent and an adult throughout the play.  Each permutation is depicted with absolute focus.

As in The Elephant Man and in many such medical narratives, there is the sympathetic professional who intercedes.  As Dr. Wendell Barnes, Paul Niebanck offers a vivid portrait of the well-intentioned physician whose theories clash with the needs of his patient.  With his scholarly countenance and soothing modulated voice, Mr. Niebanck makes a great impact in this pivotal role especially when facing critical scrutiny for his efforts.

Rebecca Rittenhouse and Bobby Steggert in a scene from “Boy” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Rebecca Rittenhouse and Bobby Steggert in a scene from “Boy” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Two highly experienced New York City stage, television and screen actors wonderfully play the parents Trudy and Doug Turner.  Heidi Armbruster beautifully conveys maternal concern and stalwartness, as well as a sense of Midwest American humor.  At one point wearing a mechanic’s jumpsuit and at another carrying cooler of beers, Ted Köch is an engaging model of a working class everyman.  Mr. Köch’s explosive tirades to the doctor and his tender interactions with his troubled son are highlights of his richly subtle performance.

Rebecca Rittenhouse captivatingly plays the hard-edged single mother Jenny Lafferty who becomes the romantic fixture of Adam. The winsome Ms. Rittenhouse is quite moving as she gradually learns the truth about him.

Linsay Firman’s arresting direction is an exemplary unison of physical staging and perfect performances.  Ms. Firman ably presents the material with striking visual results and emotional resonance, all with a steady pace.

Sandra Goldmark’s scenic design is an adroit assembly of furnishings on a unit set that serve as various residences.  Provocatively and perhaps symbolically hanging from the ceiling in reverse are smaller scale representations of selected furnishings from the set.  This intriguing non-realistic dimension is enhanced by Nick Francone’s stark and contrasting lighting design.

Shane Rettig’s original score and sound design is at times suitably booming and mellow and uses snippets of Guns and Roses for time period authenticity.

The costume design of Sydney Maresca is a pleasing and purposeful assortment of garments that transmit naturalism.

That such difficult material has been put on the stage so successfully is a testament to the accomplished talents involved in Boy.

Boy (through April 9, 2016)

Keen Company and Ensemble Studio Theatre/Alfred P Sloan Foundation Project

Clurman Theater, 412 West 42nd Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 800-447-7400 or visit http://www.keencompany.org

Running time 90 minutes with no intermission

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Darryl Reilly
About Darryl Reilly (643 Articles)
A native New Yorker, Darryl Reilly graduated from NYU with a BFA in Cinema Studies. For the Broadway League, (formerly The League of American Theatres and Producers) he developed, and for five years conducted their Broadway Open House Tours, which took visitors through The Theatre District and into several Broadway theaters. He contributed to Broadway Musicals Show by Show: Sixth Edition (Applause Books). Since 2013, he has reviewed theater, cabaret, and concerts for Theaterscene.net.

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