accessAtlanta

City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP
City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP

‘The Storytelling Ability of a Boy’ at the Aurora Theatre

Theater review
“The Storytelling Ability of a Boy”
Grade: D+
8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Through May 2. $15. Aurora Theatre, 128 Pike St., Lawrenceville. 678-226-6222, www.auroratheatre.com

Suehyla El-Attar, Nick Arapoglou & Bethany Anne Lind. Photo: James Helms

Suehyla El-Attar, Nick Arapoglou & Bethany Anne Lind. Photo: James Helms

By Wendell Brock

You have to admire Aurora Theatre for putting its black box to good use. While many playhouses are virtually eliminating the alternative offerings of their secondary spaces (see Theatre in the Square’s Alley Stage), the Lawrenceville theater has launched its Georgia Gwinnett College Lab Series, which seeks to engage the under-30 crowd with provocative new work.

But Carter W. Lewis’ “The Storytelling Ability of a Boy” — which describes a weird love triangle among a high school teacher and a pair of precocious, sexually confused students — is a perplexing choice. A bruising account of adolescent angst that packs a ridiculous array of issues, buried secrets and violent episodes (not to mention a little narrative experimentation and a live cello performance), the play is a lesson in melodrama and excess.

Directed with a heavy hand by Anthony Rodriguez, the show features Nick Arapoglou as the poetic and energetic Peck; Bethany Anne Lind as his troubled sidekick, Dora; and Suehyla El-Attar as Caitlin, the emotionally involved teacher with a mysterious past. To be fair, “Storytelling” does capture something of the raw adrenaline rush of a couple of kids intoxicated by the power of words and sexual discovery. Drunk with the possibility of language and making stuff up, Peck has a mad crush on best friend Dora, who prefers to keep the relationship platonic for reasons that are eventually revealed.

In the meantime, Peck and Dora riff on Pavarotti and Gandhi and torment Caitlin with a series of brutal encounters involving nail guns and hunting rifles. Someone will get beaten to a bloody pulp by a bunch of high school bullies. And after a series of revelations about child molestation, lesbian relationships and sexual dysfunction, the story ends with a sentimental, idealized vision of the future.

As if this weren’t confusing enough, Lewis tries to deconstruct the very art of storytelling with distracting twaddle about narrative technique. The device has a phony, written-in-italics quality that feels false and truncated. Poor Caitlin can’t decide whether she wants to tell the tale from the sidelines or participate in it, and the writer indulges in a sophomoric amount of Freudian allusion and metaphor. Every drill and every quill is laden with sexual innuendo.

Considering the turgid material and histrionic tone, the cast soldiers on rather admirably, though El-Attar does succumb to a little hand wringing. The program and press materials describe the play as a “wickedly dark comedy.” That’s a misnomer. There’s not a thing funny about this ill-conceived drama, and it’s hard to say which is more lost: the characters or the script. Wildly uneven and unappealing, “The Storytelling Ability of a Boy” feels out of tune in nearly every way. Only the mournful playing of cellist April Still rings true.

If Aurora wants to build new audiences, it must do better than this.

2 comments Add your comment

Theda Reale

April 23rd, 2010
10:40 am

I saw this at Florida Stage befor Christmas and thought it was amazing! It was well recived here and I was curious about it’s run in Atlanta…To each his own!

Charles Hannum

April 23rd, 2010
12:19 pm

I continue to enjoy the reviews of Mr. Brock, although I regret that the paper now seems to have no full-time theatre reviewer since he evidently took the buy-out. But I read him avidly as an important part of the “what play to see” decision process.

And I must tell you I disagree with a substantial portion of his review of THE STORY TELLING ABILITY OF A BOY. And took the liberty of emailing Mr. Brock to mention the thoughts in the paragraph that begins below.

I saw the Aurora’s Story Telling Ability of a Boy a week ago and enjoyed the show. [But I have a Ph.D. in Theatre and most of my work life has been teaching and directing at the college level, so I'm naturally drawn to material dealing with young people.] I agree with comments in Mr. Brock’s review that the playwright has significant problems to overcome, including the “happy ending” tacked on at the end and not exactly inevitable. But I also think the production has important strengths overlooked in the review. Chief among them is the imagery of operatic teenage hormones rampant on the barren field of adult-society blunders represented by the teacher — a person whose raison d’être is to nourish, but who fails in that or in any other way to give life. The puppies try (sex) but never achieve fruition — surely we should see that as a metaphor for humans-in-training with the right “equipment” who simply need someone older and wiser to light the way. The playwright’s implementation is clearly clumsy in places, but the overall impact of the production as acted seems shattering (especially for parents), a necessary insight and proof again that theatre brings audiences closer to the edge of (if not into) ecstasy in the truest sense than anything else except sports and religion.

I’m also delighted to see Mr. Brock commending Aurora for its laboratory series, where experiment and research should trump most other things. Research and experiment are as vital to regional theatre as breath to life and proving grounds to car makers.

Tomorrow morning, I’ll be going through the printed paper again, looking for reviews by Mr. Brock (and Mr. Osborne) because I really do enjoy them as thoughtful and informed.

• Charles Hannum