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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at Donmar Warehouse


  Oliver Johnstone and company/ Ph: Manuel Harlan

On Sept. 22, 2010, Tyler Clementi, a gay 19-year-old college student at Rutger’s University in New Jersey, leaped to his death from the George Washington Bridge as a result of a homophobic prank. Without Clementi’s knowledge, his roommate used a hidden webcam to photograph him making out with another man. He then posted the encounter on social media.
Playwright Christopher Shinn, inspired by this tragic occurrence, recasts Clementi as a weird, needy, un-prepossessing geek called Teddy Ferrara (Ryan McParland), the play’s eponymous victim. To add injury to insult, Teddy also suffers from mouth “cankers,” which affect his speech.
Instead of making the suicide and its aftermath the focal points of the piece, the narrative veers off in a variety of different directions involving too many half-baked characters and incidents. For starters, all that you learn about young Teddy’s roommate is that he fled campus. Who he was, why he did it and what happened to him are never addressed.
As for Teddy himself, he seems to have been leading a double life. Though socially shy and physically awkward, he’s also an exhibitionist who uses a webcam to indulge in hardcore Internet sex, which he shares with a dedicated fan base of about 20 other people. Quite simply, his suicide makes very little sense. And try as he might, McParland, while making him as compelling a presence as possible in the circumstances, is never able to reconcile the conflicting sides of his personality. Nor is he able to make us care much about his tragic plight.
Also taking center stage in this ill-structured mish-mash are Gabe (Luke Newberry), a level-headed, serious-minded gay man and head of the Queer Student’s Group, who is emotionally involved with manipulative, possessive Drew (Oliver Johnston), the editor of the campus newspaper. He’s also attracted to Tim (Nathan Wiley), a so-called straight stud with a steady girlfriend whose brief dalliance with Drew leads to an emotional upheaval that drives Gabe into a public loo where he is arrested for soliciting. Clearly, there’s never a dull moment on this campus, most of whose students, we’re told, are homophobic. Given the rampant openly gay activity all around them, that’s really hard to believe.
Also gay, though sidelined as characters, are wheelchair-bound Jay (Christopher Imbrosciano) a level-headed, decent enough guy whose disability is preventing him from finding a boyfriend, and a transgender activist called Jaq (Griffyn Gilligan). Dominating much of the action is Matthew Marsh as the woolly, occasionally over-bearing but sympathetic president of the university who, in the play’s strongest, best-developed role, has to practice political correctness as he parry’s the frustrations and concerns of the “social justice” committee he oversees.
Though the play touches on several concerning issues – social media, homophobia, political correctness, Internet porn, victimisation, personal privacy, discrimination in the workplace – nothing lands with much impact. Act one, which should have ended with Teddy’s suicide – adds a superfluous extra scene, while the ending is simply unsatisfying and unresolved. Though the play was first seen in Chicago in 2013, it still has the feel of a first draft about it – a fact that nothing in Dominic Cooke’s direction can camouflage.


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