First, the good news. Playwright Stephen Kaplan has come up with a thoroughly original way to examine prejudice from both sides of the fence.
Miss Terry (an excellent Jenn Remke), the kind of devoted kindergarten teacher with whom your child would flourish, is concerned about five year-old student Max Myers. (Cute, but unfocused Alexander Bello.) Everyone in class arrived with a box of crayons, but Max has only black and white. When colors are offered, he shies away. Max’s parents don’t allow color. Nor does he ever put himself in his pictures, apparently not only usual but a sign of healthy development.
Miss Terry insists that something must be amiss at home. Browbeaten, Principal Klaus (Jamie Geiger trying hard in a badly written role) arranges a parent-teacher conference.
Jenn Remke, Alexander Bello
Imagine her surprise when Mr. and Mrs. Myers (Brian Michael and Jason Allan Kennedy George) turn out to be puppets! (Actually they’re 4’, black-and-white-painted, marionettes i.e. manipulated by strings.) Max was adopted. (We never learn how or from whom which would help explain things.) Miss Terry tries hard to be politically correct, but it’s clear she feels Max is handicapped by his home life. While his mother agrees there are issues, she’s cowed by a husband contentious from the get-go. How dare Miss Terry haul them to school for such an inconsequential reason!? (Stereotypes ring true.)
Trying to be “inclusive,” the educator chooses Pinocchio for storytime. Max doesn’t understand for obvious reasons. He goes home and asks his father whether he’ll always be a real boy. Mr. Myers is furious and demands Max be transferred. Miss Terry makes it her cause to protect (and nurture) the boy. The word “Abuse” is bandied about.
To prevent both the Myers and Child Services from taking him, Miss Terry resolves to make her classroom their home aka “sanctuary.” Max is a sweet boy and very attached to her- no problem there. The Myers lawyer-up with a curiously dim Katie Braden (Jilly Lambert) who, for some odd reason carries her infant around – the bundle is too small, awkward and would suffocate a baby. Congresswoman Rebecca Landel (overacting Danie Steel) steps forward to take media circus spotlight in favor of Miss Terry. Klaus is a wuss.
Left: Brian Michael; Right: Jason Allan Kennedy George, Jamie Geiger
And now, the bad news: Miss Terry’s anxieties about Max’s future are left unelaborated; Mrs. Myers fears are unexpressed. Though the stand off concerning educational responsibility is clear, the omissions in writing obscure parallels. Everything comes to a head when Max starts to grow (wonderfully manifest) strings. The play’s ending is effective and unexpected.
Director Audrey Alford seems oblivious to stage sightlines. Unless you’re in the front row, you won’t clearly observe any of the extensive action taking place on the floor and will lose much of what occurs in the Myers home, a raised area with kid-sized furniture where movement is blocked by an unnecessary doorway. Despite being briefly held up, few get a glimpse of a later drawing by Max that surprises his mother. Puppet entrances and exits seem overly complicated making a great deal of noise. Acting is wildly uneven. Neither actor/handler is an adequate puppeteer. (Puppets are swell.)
Ann Beyersdorder’s Set Design is a delightful, elaborately detailed classroom incorporating theater walls. Really, it’s a pleasure just to be there. Though the Meyers’ home is deftly proportionate to its inhabitants, nothing makes it warm or lived in. This latter may, of course, be intentional.
Tristan Raines Costume Design envisions a congresswoman as sex bomb and a lawyer as untucked housewife.
There are lots of good ideas here, but not enough distinctive writing.
Photos by Heidi Bohenkamp
Opening: Jamie Geiger, Jenn Remke
Ivy Theatre Company in Association with Athena Theatre presents
A Real Boy by Stephen Kaplan
Directed by Audrey Alford
Puppet Design- Puppet Kitchen Productions Inc.
59 East 59th Street
Through August 27, 2017