Entertainment » Theatre

Choir Boy

by Clinton Campbell
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Sep 18, 2019
The ensemble of "Choir Boy," at the Calderwood Pavilion through October 12
The ensemble of "Choir Boy," at the Calderwood Pavilion through October 12  (Source:Nile Scott Studios)

Playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney is probably best known as the Oscar-winning co-author of the film "Moonlight." But last season, McCraney, who is also the chair of Yale's famous playwriting program, took Broadway by storm with his play "Choir Boy," which is currently receiving its New England premiere at SpeakEasy Stage.

Set over a year's time at the Charles R. Drew Prep School for Boys, a proud and storied Christian school for young black men, the play focuses on the school's renowned choir and one member in particular, Pharus Jonathan Young. Entering his senior year, Pharus is set to lead the choir. He is fiercely talented, incredibly driven, and effeminate.

It's a topic that only in recent years has begun to receive attention — the unique challenges faced by young black gay men.

This newfound attention to the topic is largely due to writers such as McCraney, who has created a marvelous script. It is fluid and well-paced; never allowing itself to wallow in any one scene. And despite this, he still manages to provide full three-dimensional characters. Even with a cast of ten, you seem to know who each of these people are.

It is also multifaceted and does not shy away from the big topics. As well as sexual identity, the play navigates discussions of race, religion, class, and cultural heritage. It's a tall order for just under two hours.

Director Maurice Emmanuel Parent along with choreographers Yewande Odetoyinbo and Ruka White have forged an ensemble of young men that you will not soon forget. From the powerful opening sequence through the curtain calls, these young men demand your attention.

The musicianship needed to navigate a show that only uses a cappella music is immense, but musical performances are immaculate. Add the physical precision needed for stepping and you have a rare ensemble of performers.

As Pharus, Isiah Reynolds is perfectly imperfect. He balances the conflicting traits of a teenager with skill and honesty. He is the kid you simultaneously want to root for and send to their room. He throws on his sassiness to cover his almost crippling fear with the same ease as putting on a school uniform.

As his arch nemesis Bobby Marrow, Malik Mitchell navigates the same contradictory waters; only he defaults to violence — both verbal and physical — as his shield. A lesser actor would make Bobby simply a villain, but Mr. Mitchell's portrayal makes you want to root for him as well. Hoping he will get out of his own way.

"Choir Boy" is a complex and compelling story of adolescence. It's a story of young men each trying to do their best in this world.

It is also play that need to be seen — just like the frightened, young, gay, black man at its center.

"Choir Boy" continues through October 12 at the Calderwood Pavilion, 727 Tremont Street, Boston, MA. For more information, visit the SpeakEasy Stage website.

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