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Andrea Lauer

The Boy Who Danced On Air – Tradition vs. Morality vs. Love


…Rules needn’t be understood/Follow the path as you should…

Bacha bazi, an ancient Middle Eastern tradition in which men purchase young boys for entertainment and sexual purposes, is illegal (against both sharia law and the civil code), but largely ignored by authorities. The public part of this practice often manifests as boys taught to dance for the pleasure and seduction of so-called owners and their friends. In this play, a righteous Afghan explains that men have needs which by law cannot be met by a woman other than a wife. “Dancing boys allow us to keep our sacred relationships.” Without them, he declares, moral order would topple.

Inspired by Frontline’s 2011 documentary The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan, the musical’s authors, Charlie Sohne and Tim Rosser, parallel a stirring love story between two emotionally different Bacha bazi boys with the social and political behavior of equally dissimilar masters. We’re given four points of view representative of a torn country. No mean feat.


An unobtrusive storyteller, the “Unknown Man” (Deven Kolluri) with a later named role, looks back at this tale. Behind a scrim, shadows describe Jahandar’s (Jonathan Raviv) purchase of Paiman (Troy Iwata). The innocent child is informed of his future and taught to dance. (Well conceived.) … Night by night in the master’s embrace/the boy learns his place… Jahandar is kind. His boy will not be sold to others. A curtain opens.

Paiman becomes a popular artist. Jahandar is proud and affectionate. Years pass. One day, he touches the boy’s cheek and whips his hand away. Peach fuzz. When a man is capable of making decisions for himself, he must stop ‘dancing,’ banished from the only life he’s known. “You don’t want me anymore?!” To keep a boy is natural, to keep a man is wrong. The master will, if regretfully, find his charge a wife. Paiman never questions the way things must be.…. I’ll dance away the fear…

Troy Iwata

Jahandar’s cousin Zemar (Osh Ghanimah) purchases his dancer, Feda, at a discount. (Nikhil Saboo) He’s a provocative performer …I could be your dream/I could be your idol/ I could be the words you never speak… but old for the art. Unlike Paiman, Feda has dreams of escaping to the city. At first, he mocks his tender peer. Through a haunting song, however, the two inadvertently grow close…I never feel lonely with him around me…(His love? His God?) Feda chips away at Paiman’s singular docility.

Meanwhile, Jahandar plans sabotage, potentially exposing a political/industrial lie to Americans aiding the country. Afghanistan for the Afghans he demands in the name of self rule, like every colonially bound citizen before him. Freedom. Progress. Jahandar is an articulate, forward thinking businessman with nationalist plans. He tries to enlist the crass, joke-telling Zemar (imagine the Catskills), but is strongly advised to let things be. Then they make a bet.

Troy Iwata, Jonathan Raviv

Most of Tim Rosser’s songs are meandering, tuneless. There are 4-5 in the show with accessible, appealing  melodies out of 17. Because these are well crafted, the others feel diminished. Lyrics tend to be less specific and evocative without some structure. Well researched, and insightful phrases pepper even less successful efforts.

Charlie Sohne’s Book, however, is deft, illuminating, strong, and in the end carries one past musical weakness. Characters are credible and heady. With Jahandar, the writer manages to create a good man in context, found reprehensible outside it. Despite yearning for freedom, Paiman and Feda sing …when I have a boy of my own…never considering foregoing the ritual. Relationships evolve. Betrayal is accepted. The play ends cleverly, imbued with theatrical hope, but tempered by truth. Custom, brutality, morality, free will, and love all play parts.

Nihil Saboo, Troy Iwata

Jonathan Raviv makes a riveting Jahandar. Dignity, rectitude, and devotion contrast  casual cruelty with a visceral jolt. The Afghan chooses incomprehensible tradition over entropy. Raviv is intense and masculine with focus that makes things appear to be happening in real time. Warmth, tension and wretched pain are empathetic.

Troy Iwata (Paiman) and Nikhil Saboo (Feda) are well cast opposite each other. Iwata inhabits naïveté as if he came to the theater with it. He exudes fragility and instills Paiman with a tenuous quality affecting every scene. Trust comes no sooner than time dictates. Courage is strikingly credible. His physique is soft.

Nikhil Saboo’s expansive portrayal of Feda makes the cocky rebel as persuasive to us as he is to Paiman. When the façade cracks, we too are surprised. (When he reverts, we wonder at forgiveness.) Exuberant dancing simulates flight. The actor’s song enchants. His physique is ripped.

Troy Iwata

I found Osh Ghanimah’s New York accent off putting but believed Zemar’s irresponsible, cold-blooded nature. Deven Kolluri effectively projects gravitas, coming into his own at the end.

Tony Speciale’s direction and Nejla Yatkin’s integrated choreography are inspired. Simply to have Paiman walk around a wall while Feda jumps down from it is telling. Both Iwata and Saboo move like dancers throughout. Actual performances utilize each actor’s strengths and reflect the namesake’s character. Diaphanous fabric is made poetic.

Desire and affection are portrayed with tact and delicacy. Feda showing Paiman what to expect at his wedding ceremony will take your breath away. Paiman’s attempted dance with a debilitating wound is poignant. Manhandling is palpable. Despite the single set, we know where we are.

Scenic Design by Christopher Swader and Justin Swader is minimal and effective. Draped fabric and intermittent colored lights extend over audience heads,  while dirt and garbage butt the theater floor and stage adding atmosphere. Lighting Design surreptitiously affects mood and attention. (Wen-Ling-Liao) Justin Graziani does magical things with Sound Design.

Violence – in particular a wrestling scene – is startlingly real. Kudos to Fight Director Dan Renkin.

A group of musicians playing for a dancing boy (Library of Congress)

Production Photos by Maria Baranova
Opening: Troy Iwata, Jonathan Raviv

Abingdon Theatre Company presents
The Boy Who Danced On Air
Music -Tim Rosser
Book & Lyrics – Charlie Sohne
Directed by Tony Speciale
Music Direction – David Gardos
June Havoc Theatre
312 West 36th Street
Through June 11, 2017

The School for Scandal -Full Tilt Farce


“The world is so censorious, no character will escape.”

From the moment we hear “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter” and get a gander at Mr. Snake’s (Jacob Dresch) green pompadour wig, we know we’re not in Kansas anymore; this will not be just another good production of the familiar eighteenth century Sheridan play. Indelicate bathroom sounds emitted by Lady Sneerwell (Frances Barber) who enters in her corset and petticoat, recoils at a glimpse of herself in the mirror, and is powdered (her breast) and sprayed with cologne (beneath her skirt) by her confidante, cement the presumption that this particular interpretation of the piece is going to be a hoot. And it is.

SnakeFrances Barber, Jacob Dresch

In an era with neither The National Enquirer or Gawker, aristocrats pursued word-of-mouth gossip as entertainment as much as to promote personal agendas. Salons were ubiquitous. Amorality ruled.

Ok, in brief (deep breath) Lady Sneerwell has conscripted gossip columnist/critic Mr. Snake to further her designs on Charles Surface (Christian Demarais), a dissipated, bankrupt extravagant. Both Charles and his brother Joseph (Christian Conn) are stuck on heiress Maria (Nadine Malouf), ward of Sir Peter Teazle (Mark Linn-Baker) who partially raised the boys in their traveling uncle’s absence.

Mark and

                                                                                                                Mark Linn-Baker and Henry Stram

Sir Peter is just married to a country girl who could be his daughter. The new Lady Teazle (Helen Cespedes) was chosen for a fresh, uncomplicated nature that has turned to fashionable acquisition and matrimonial defiance. “If you wanted authority over me, you should’ve adopted me, not married me.” Unfortunately for him, her cowed husband loves the lady. Sir Peter favors Joseph over Charles and does everything he can to help the young man’s amorous suit (which Sheridan curiously doesn’t show) while Master Ranji (Ramsey Faragallah) “a family confidante from the Punjab,” (think Jeeves), does everything he can to help Master Charles.


Ramsey Faragallah, Mark Linn-Baker

Silk stocking malice is fueled by Mrs. Candour (Dana Ivey) whose life appears to revolve around being in the know, society poet, Sir Benjamin Backbite (Ryan Garbayo) also pursuing Maria, and his shifty, affected uncle, Mr. Crabtree (Derek Smith). Smith also plays moneylender Mr. Midas whose slick fedora, long coat and shades are the man’s only character distinction-a missed opportunity.

When Sir Oliver Surface (Henry Stram) unexpectedly returns from the Near East these 16 years later, he decides to test his nephews’ integrity by way of several masquerades. Then things get complicated!


Christian Demarais, Henry Stram,

Of particular note:

Dana Ivey’s motormouth Mrs. Candour, tricked out in low, hanging breasts and matronly padding, emerges an obtuse, busybody grande dame. Ivey, as always, is an artful pleasure. As Mr. Crabtree, Derek Smith looks like Antonio Bandaras in a Charles Adams cartoon or a villain out of the Batman franchise. The actor oils his way around the stage with balletic movement and delightfully treacherous aura. His glee in dispensing hearsay is palpable.

Jacob Dresch (Mr. Snake), who would make a perfect Puck (Midsummer’s Night’s Dream), is intoxicating. The actor flickers with expression worthy of the silent screen yet never crosses that line. Listening (overhearing) is tart, phrasing crackles with ulterior motive. The character’s late request to keep secret one moment of mortifying honesty is terrific.


                                 Christian Demarais, Henry Stram, Christian Conn

Christian Demarais (Charles Surface) exemplifies the kind of attractive, unrepentant rake popularized in romance novels. Gestures and expressions are exaggeratedly broad indicating an uninhibited, young squire feeling his oats.

Mark Linn-Baker’s conservative, fussy, egocentric, rabbit-like Sir Peter is at every moment a delight. When he addresses the audience, we feel bemused but empathetic. The thespian holds attention with frisky, seemingly effortless energy.

The nimble Stram seems patrician to his bones. We see his upbringing even as Sir Oliver insecurely role-plays. With accomplished focus, the actor makes his character’s second deception seem more fluent than the first. When apoplectic, he’s restrained, when pleased, a hug bursts forth as if unaccustomed. Reasoning feels grounded, resolution fitting. A rewarding turn.

Ben Mehl, who plays the small parts of various servants, executes deadpan hesitance and piquant reaction.


Henry Stram,Nadine Malouf, Christian Conn, Christian Demarais, Ramsey Faragallah

How Director Marc Vietor manages constant, screwball flourishes without descending to kitsch is a marvel. Every character takes her/himself so seriously, froth organically rises to the top. Timing is impeccable. A scene at Joseph’s house is physical vaudeville. One at Charles’s home is visually clever and theatrically rowdy-a nice change. Vietor is not just imaginative, but original.

Original Music and Sound Design by Greg Pliska is, though ‘modern,’ amusing and on target. Andrea Lauer’s Costume Design and Charles G. LaPointe’s colorful Wig and Hair Design are inspired. Authentic period depiction paired with contemporary detail contributes immeasurably to winking mood and character. Anna Louizos’ stylized Set Design is painterly, eschewing competition with the costumes. Paneled, wallpapered walls effectively hide doors, windows and even a library offering charming surprises.

Photos by Carol Rosegg.
Opening: Dana Ivey, Frances Barber, Helen Cespedes

Red Bull Theater presents
The School for Scandal by Richard Brinsley Sheridan
Directed by Marc Vietor
Lucille Lortel Theatre
121 Christopher Street
Through May 8, 2016