Back to 2015
I remember the sad news of the suicide of Tyler Clementi, which inspired the play: it had great resonance around the world. TV and magazines were making a debate about the reason that drove him to commit suicide.
Teddy Ferrara is one of those plays that I need to see more than one time, to get all aspects from the script I read previously, because I think the matter it’s really important. So my report is based on the three times I saw it.
My opinion didn’t change after the third time. I liked it and I think it’s a very interesting play. Maybe is not perfect, but it makes you think a lot. I just changed my mind on one or two scenes that I found unnecessary at first, but at the end I think they worked because they explained how it works inside the U.S. universities. I also noticed that some parts of the script haven’t been used in the play, maybe they would have said a bit more about the characters, but I suppose there was a good reason why the production didn’t use them.
The first night I had a front row ticket and got a good seat in the circle above the stage. The second time I was in the stalls on one side, I didn’t take pictures but I had a quite good point of view. The third and last time I had the best seat, in the central stalls third row.
I was surprised to see so few young people in the audience, I thought the cast would attire a lot of young fans, but, I’m not sure, I think the play is rated for people over a certain age. Anyway, it’s not a play for teenagers and I wouldn’t have stand a noisy fandom.
More than a story about Teddy Ferrara, is about people around him. It would have been easy to put Teddy at the centre of the story, to set a drama about his life until the tragic end. No, I think that the play works because it shows the context where his willingness to die grown and people’s reactions to his death. Was his suicide really due to the behaviour of his roommate? It happened because he was gay and he couldn’t accept himself? There were other reasons? Maybe Gabe was right, is hard to know why people commit suicide.
The play, as it has been told, talks about suicide and the loneliness that surrounds people, even when they seem well connected to the community or to be successful in life. It’s told several students have thought about committing suicide at some point. There are rumours around the suicide of Kevin Gillman, a bright young student everybody admired. Surprisingly, also Gabe, the real protagonist of the story, tells he thought about it before he came out to his parents. He seems to be a self confident person with a bright future. It’s so touching when he cries over the balcony, alone, and you fear he’s ready to jump!
In today’s life, people don’t seem able to face a confrontation, despite social media were created to connect people. There are lots of dialogues between the characters, but they costantly use mobile phones to communicate. Drew disapproves that Gabe keeps using his mobile all the time when they are together, but later he breaks up with him with a message. Even when the article about Kevin’s suicide comes out, every one in the assembly takes the phone to read it, instead of checking for the news together. You can’t help smiling, anyway, seeing them doing so.
Teddy Ferrara is also an interesting analysis on gay students in university and what they think about themselves, homophobia and politics. Commonplaces still survive even between them and they’re quite cruel to each other.
The show has very moving scenes, intimate sexy moments with mouth-to-mouth kisses, but it got a lot of irony, as well. There are a few memorable lines, it’s amazing to think those actors were able to say such words. Most of them come from Drew (he’s quite cheeky!) and from Teddy. The audience got it and on Saturday 24 they were even more responsive, I could hear more laughters!
It also shows the different type of persons who are inside university.
Teddy is funny and unattractive, the audience laugh when he enters in the first scene, he even takes a cup-cake other refused (funny the joke about gay men being body obsessed). He seems to get attention only when he chats on the web and shows his body to other men. Actually the real Tyler Clementi seemed rather smart from some photos on his tribute site. But often in fiction U.S. writers seem to like nerds and make them extreme. Teddy is like a ghost even when he’s still alive, the other guys ignore him. He seems to find Gabe attractive, but he doesn’t get it: he keeps forgetting to search him on Facebook, he never introduces Teddy to any of his friends, he even call him “that” when Tim thinks he’s his boyfriend Drew. The last scene with Teddy on the balcony is gripping, leaved the audience in deep silence.
But he becomes the symbol of a new battle after he died. For that reason, the scene where Jaq gets a megaphone is irritating, maybe they didn’t even know each other, and Jaq doesn’t show respect for Gabe, who was going to make his speech. To be honest, his character is the one I would understand the less in real life, I know too little about transgender people. I’m talking, of course, about the role, not the performance, which was good.
The attitude of adults towards changes in society is another element of interest. The President, like every good politician, claims to get closer to the students he invited at the meeting, but he never really gets in touch with them, those new ideas are hard to understand to him, because his generation used to go forward and not to make big deal of such problems.
I like Gabe a lot because he’s very realistic, the one I understand the most. He has his faults, of course. He looks like the good guy at the beginning, but soon we see he got prejudices. He’s full of good intentions, wants to do his best, expresses opinions that go against the majority, but soon we realize he lives in his own world where only handsome gay men count. He’s proud to be the boyfriend of a handsome and talented newspaper editor. His aim is to gather together gay students but the main reason is he thinks he might be chosen to work for the campaign of the President, running for the Senate. So, when Teddy Ferrara comes around, Gabe doesn’t really care about him. Later, he seems to fancy Jay, the guy on the wheelchair, but clearly his condition prevents the boy to fall in love with him. He shares the easy point of view of the President, but I think he’s right when he says that self-pity doesn’t help the gay movement. He’s a complex character.
Drew, his boyfriend, is a mistery. He’s very caustic and yet he seems the only one who really cares about gay people who commit suicide because of homophobia. I wondered if Drew was thinking of Kevin while he was reading the tribute to Teddy. Maybe he was his true love and everything he did, he did for him. I like his dark side. One moment he’s self confident, the other moment he cries he was hurt in the past and pretends attentions. He wants honesty in relationships, but he isn’t sincere himself. He doesn’t seem to be really in love with Gabe, he cares more about his career as editor. Could they be together if they weren’t both good looking? There are lot of unexpressed feelings in this character. He’s quite sneaky, too, looks like he’s somehow involved in what happens to Ferrara!
Jay is a lovely guy, he has lot to give but he goes unnoticed, he finds both Gabe and Nicky attractive, but his love is unrequited. He doesn’t have many lines, but you can understand what he thinks. I fear in reality his condition must be very hard.
Tim and Jenny are a handsome straight couple. He seems a cliché: unfaithful and easily turned into gay. She, a girlfriend taken for granted by him. Them, together with the two policemen, were in more scenes in the script I was talking about before.
Nicky, Ellen and Provost are nice characters, as well, inside the world of university. They remain secondary, but their scenes are effective. Nicky, a journalist of the university newspaper, is in the middle of the desire of both Drew and Gabe. The faces of Ellen and Provost while the President is talking in the assembly say more than thousand words!
There’s a bunch of very good actors. I think it’s in the cast where the play is ace and deserves 5 stars! Some made their debut at the Donmar and on stage.
Matthew Marsh is perhaps the one with more experience, he’s great as the President, with his energy when he stands up and talks during the meetings and tries to extricate himself from some embarassing words he pronounces.
Oliver Johnstone made a great work with his role that impressed me, he certainly understood how to play Drew. He’s a sensitive actor who can cry and say jokes, too, he doesn’t fear the most intimate scenes and to tell lines like “I want you so fucking much!” or “Too late. Now I want to have sex“.
Luke Newberry made another fine and genuine performance, he looks so sweet that gives to Gabe vulnerability and self confidence at the same time. He goes really well together with Johnstone, they have a good interaction in scenes of intimacy and in quick cross-talks. Two actors I’m linking a lot!
A shout out for Ryan McParland, his role is unappealing and yet he plays him in a way that requests courage. Bravissimo!
Christopher Imbrosciano reprises his role from the 2013 production in U.S., I loved his performance!
Nancy Crane is charming and humurous and feeds lines to Marsh, with lot of funny cross-talks between them.
Pamela Nomvete, Kadiff Kirwan, Anjli Mohindra, Griffyn Gilligan and Nathan Wiley – as well as Abubakar Salim and Nick Harris, the two policemen – play shorter roles but worth a mention, they offer a good support to the main actors.
A praise to the excellent work by the director Dominic Cooke and the creatives.
Notes on the set design
The Donmar is a theatre that allows to see the stage from a not too long distance from every seat. It’s good, for a play like Teddy Ferrara. I was happy to see a show inside it, finally!
The set design was very simple and effective: it started with a table at the centre of the stage, with two boxes of cup-cakes – and in another scene two boxes of pizza – above, 10 chairs around, a black floor. The furniture was moved by the cast in and out during the action. In some moments, the stage was totally empty in the middle or there was just a chair, representing the university’s courtyard or the boys’ apartments. On the background, a wall made of windows, with a door in the middle, separated the classroom from what looked like a corridor inside the university. Over the stage, a balcony. The disco pub and toilets inside the bathroom were created just with lights and sounds. The cast used real mobile phones, a laptop, microphones and a megaphone. The props spot on and must have been delicious! Real cupcakes and pizza they actually ate! Lucky actors, the audience envied them a bit! Only Ellen got a sad healthy salad!
Teddy Ferrara it’s still on at the Donmar Warehouse until the 5th of December.
Photos by Manuel Harlan, from the Donmar Warehouse Facebook album:
NOW, IF YOU WANT TO READ FURTHER…
Would have been interesting to see how the Donmar’s production of Teddy Ferrara changed, compared to the first 2013 production in Chicago, U.S.
While they were making rehearsals in London, there has been another production in Mississippi with an American cast. That means that the play got something, isn’t it?
It’s amazing to read so many opposite opinions on Teddy Ferrara, even if almost all agree on the excellent performances from the cast. I think how you see it depends on who you’re and your background. Some said the play was important and moving. Some others hated it: looks like such portraits of gay people made some of the audience disappointed and, perhaps, hit the mark. It’s the only way I explain disapproval: some don’t watch inside the story and blame Christopher Shinn for what they consider a weak script with characters they find offensive.
In this, I agree with Gabe. Are we not sick of self-pity? Why do we want gay people and women to be painted with colors on screen and on stage, and never with gray and black, like if we were always the good ones? We are all human beings, with dark sides and faults. If we start from this idea, straight people would turn down Hamlet for how it treats marriage, love between man and woman and male-to-male friendship!
Isn’t it true, looking at the gay culture, that part of the movement is often ignored by the majority and that appearance and obsession with sex are one aspect of gay life? I could make several examples in support to this theory. From gay clubs that ban people with the wrong look, to artistic circles where if you’re handsome you go on with a career, otherwise nobody cares about you.
Do we really believe that this doesn’t exist? I think Shinn has been bold and honest in writing it.
And some tend to forget that a play needs dialogues that work on stage, they need to be extreme sometimes. When I hear spectators saying things like: “I’m not sure students would talk like that in university in England, maybe in America they do“, I don’t think it has any sense, is a language made for theatre of course! If you want dialogues from real life, you should watch a documentary instead.
Some others can’t get the playwright point of view and why he wrote some scenes they find useless, like the one in the bathroom, when Gabe and Nick get arrested. They should understand that it is an American story. In several films and TV series that come from the U.S. we see how important is, for the future career of graduates, to create a good curriculum and a good reputation in high school and college years. After having been arrested, Gabe would hardly get a chance in politics.
At the end, I think it’s a good thing that a play creates debate, rather than go unnoticed.
You can’t ignore it: satisfying!
MEETING THE CAST
It has been a real pleasure to meet two Italian sisters after the play on Saturday 24 October! Together, we were…”brave” enough to wait at the stage door for the two actors Newberry and Johnstone, who are far younger than us, and to say “Congratulations” for their wonderful performances and ask them to sign our programmes. They’re both so down to earth and lovely!
I had my In The Flesh DVD with me in London, so I’m happy Luke Newberry signed the DVD’s cover, too! He even said “Thank you for buying this“ and praised the series! I asked him if he was coming to the Nightmare Festival in Ravenna on the All-Saints week-end, too, but he told he couldn’t make it because he’s doing the play in London. Right, of course!
I’m sorry I forgot to ask Oliver a question on a 2016 project (I’m wondering if he’s in), but I didn’t want to bother him so I wasn’t able to say more.
The other members of the cast run away quickly, what a pity! Anyway, they were all great!
Here you can find some pictures my Italian friends took, lovely, isn’t it? http://inthefleshitaly.tumblr.com/post/131943156995/ok-so-i-went-to-see-luke-in-teddy-ferrara-the There is also a very interesting review of the play!
Here the cast& crew list with Twitter accounts:
Nancy Crane (Provost), @nancy_crane
Matthew Marsh (President)
Writer Christopher Shinn @chris_shinn
Director Dominic Cooke
Designer Hildegard Bechtler
Lighting Designer Paule Constable
Sound Designer Carolyn Downing
Donmar Warehouse @DonmarWarehouse
Donmar Warehouse official site donmarwarehouse.com
The Tyler Clementi Foundation: http://www.tylerclementi.org/
World premiere of Teddy Ferrara took place at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago in 2013: http://www.goodmantheatre.org/season/1213/Teddy-Ferrara/
Teddy Ferrara at the Ole Miss Theatre in Mississippi, 23 Sep.-4Oct 2015: http://theatre.olemiss.edu/olemisstheatre.html