By Tulis McCall
There is a lot of talent and dedication packed into the tiny Theatre C at 59E59 Theaters. A Real Boy is trying very very hard to be a real story about real issues in a roundabout sort of way. The fact that it fails in spite of the talent and good intentions is disappointing.
Stephen Kaplan is writing in parables. A pair of marionettes, Peter Myer (Brian Michael) and his wife Mary Ann (Jason Allan Kennedy George) have adopted a “real boy” named Max (Alexander Bello) and are raising him as simply as possible. (This reminded me of the couple who adopted a chimpanzee and tried to raise her as a human – just as an experiment, mind you.) When Max’s kindergarten teacher Miss Terry (Jenn Remke) notices that he draws using black and white crayons only, she becomes alarmed at the ways in which this may limit him. On the advice of her principal Mr. Klaus (Jamie Geiger) she invites the parents in to a school conference. It is only at this meeting that anyone realizes that the Myers are puppets.
Really? They didn’t enroll Max or come with him to the first day of school?
Anyway – all does not go well because the Myers are sensitive to anything that smacks of prejudice against them or ignorance of their particular situation. As a for instance, they do not eat or sleep so their ability to feed and supervise Max’s physical well-being are in question.
When Max himself sprouts strings and seems to be turning into a puppet (osmosis I guess), Miss Terry takes it upon herself to hold Max in school – specifically in the classroom – where she can legally take a stand to protect him.
Aside from the fact that logistics are stacked against this story – try as we might to suspend our disbelief – the cast has been woefully unprepared for this challenge. Messrs. Michael and George seem to have some real acting chops (As does the rest of this very good cast). What they have not been guided to do is to handle a marionette – perhaps the most difficult puppets to manipulate. Instead of pouring their chops into the marionettes and guiding the movements from that vantage point, these two engaged the other actors directly and left the puppets hanging, literally. The other actors do their best to focus on the puppets but it does little to correct this disconnect.
In addition, the two puppeteers are asked to perform chores that require some serious dexterity. Stirring a pot of cookie dough, putting on lipstick, rummaging thought a back pack. Any of these would be a challenge to a master puppeteer, which neither of these performers are. Finally, the set design lets everyone down with the layout of the Myers’ home. It is doll-like in size (understandable) but results in the humans suffering mightily as they try their best to move within the confines created. Another distraction.
And finally, there is the idea of marionettes living a life free of human manipulation. Yes, yes I get it. This is all about what is “normal” and what is not. How we judge others by the degree to which they are different from us. Roger that. This is clear as day. But the reality of this choice – to make the marionettes, well, marionettes instead of “people” creates a conflict that buries the story. I have been a puppeteer and I have seen many a show that included puppets. The puppets were always entities unto themselves – part human or part animal and part magic. To limit them to being puppets – in spite of the attempt to rectify this as the story ends – kinds of defeats the purpose.
The parable sputters across the finish line, and the good intentions are for naught.
A REAL BOY by Stephen Kaplan, Directed by Audrey Alford
WITH: Alexander Bello, Katie Braden, Jamie Geiger, Jason Allan Kennedy George Brian Michael, Jenn Remke, Kelley Selznick, and Danie Steel.
Set by Ann Beyersdorfer ; lighting byJenn Fok; Costumes by Tristan Raines; Sound by Megan Culley. Puppets designed and built by Puppet Kitchen.
59E59 Theaters (Val Day, Artistic Director; Brian Beirne, Managing Director) is thrilled to welcome the world premiere of A REAL BOY, written by Stephen Kaplan and directed by Audrey Alford. Produced by Ivy Theatre Company in association with Athena Theatre, for a limited engagement through Sunday, August 27. The performance schedule is Tuesday -‐ Friday at 7:30 PM; Saturday at 2:30 PM and 7:30 PM; and Sunday at 3:30 PM. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Single tickets are $25 ($17.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-‐4200 or visit www.59e59.org.