Dark Play or Stories for Boys – C@fish

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Dark Play or Stories for Boys

A REVIEW BY PANDORA LOCKS

“You are now on To Catch a Predator.”  That’s what I was waiting for.  That moment when Chris Hansen, in his boring gray suit, charges in to save the day and shut the crazy shit down.  But Chris doesn’t come, not this time (spoiler alert).  And the crazy shit that is Carlos Murillo’s Dark Play or Stories for Boys?  Well, it just continues to spiral further and further out of control, right before your eyes.  Uncomfortable?  Yeah.  Repetitive and creepy?  Yeah.  Worth driving to Fallston to see?  Hell yeah.

Dark Play begins with our eventual narrator, Nick (Anthony Chanov), a young man who has just hooked up with Molly (Ally Rambo), who is currently asleep in his dorm room bed.  Post coitus, she asks about the scars on his abdomen.  In that moment, Nick manipulates time and turns to the audience.  He informs us of the “gullibility scale,” which goes from hardened skeptic to delicious eater of the “wheelbarrow full of ca-ca.”  Nick is an internet-savvy teen who finds a super trusting internet mark (not for the first time, it seems) and decides to have some “fun” with him. He creates a fake identity, a perfect girl named “Rachel” (also Rambo), for the purpose of making poor Adam (Nate Stauffer) fall head over heels in love with her.

My only real issue here is with the script.  And I mean that, because I think director Joshua Fletcher did an excellent job giving us what the playwright intended us to see.  Murillo has said that he “wants people to leave the theater and discuss the play.”  But the ending (without giving too much away) is very decisive, and doesn’t encourage much chat.  Nick straight up tells us where he is and what his future looks like.  The play, especially the denouement, could use a little more Fight Club ambiguity.  A rework as a cliffhanger could up the interest level tremendously.   The script is also repetitive, with lines and segments repeated ad nauseum.  They become clear eventually, but at several points I fiddled in my lap, wondering when the broken record would skip to the next scene.

The choice of Anthony Chanov as Nick seemed a bit questionable at first.  I wasn’t sure what to make of him with his tattoos, nose ring, bare feet, shaved mohawk, and I wasn’t quiiiite sure I believed him as whole-heartedly as the play clearly wanted me to.  As the story progresses, though, Chanov’s Nick forces you to eat the shit he is spooning out.  You watch as he sinks deeper and deeper into his own delusions.  Chanov excels at bringing this uncomfortable weirdness to the table.  The scene with he and Stauffer, where the boys sit on Nick’s bed, is so awkward that you can actually feel it in the air “like peanut butter”.  The silence just…hangs….for an eternal minute.  The audience laughs, shifts, doesn’t know what to do, and it is so fucking real and palpable that I applauded.  We don’t know what’s coming next because Nick doesn’t know what’s coming next.  Chanov’s portrayal is acute, a confused teen engaging in what, in his mind, is dark “play” with strangers.  It feels psychologically correct, like dangerous, uncharted territory.  It’s a wonderful, tense performance.  

Nate Stauffer’s Adam is a little one note, but that might be more Murillo’s fault.  The character written as so gullible, almost too genuine for 16-year-old boy, so there’s not much for Stauffer to build on.  Ally Rambo transitions between fictional Rachel and real world Molly quite smoothly.  Dustin Horsman and Tricia Ragan take on a barrage of roles, several of which are LOL.  I especially liked Ragan as the nebulous CSI SVU agent who uses “heinous” the way I use “fuck”, and Horsman as the pervy step-father who gets chummy with Adam after intercepting some pornographic web chats.

[One thing:  I have to mention that there are some sex scenes.  I want to commend BOOM for handling them with grace.  I understood what was going on but didn’t have to watch anyone undress on stage.  Let me be clear:  I don’t mind nudity, I’m certainly no prude, but these actors have you believing they are minors mucking around on the internet.  What I’m saying is that I’m thankful I didn’t have to even pretend to watch a 16-year-old whip his dick out.  Thanks, BOOM.  Sincerely. Thanks.]  

BOTTOM LINE:  Dark Play or Stories for Boys is a provocative piece of theater, worth the drive to Harford County to see unfold.  The teen angst fills the room, leaving a film on your skin that isn’t easy to scrub off.  With well-done direction and a more than competent cast, this show is what small, intimate theater should look like.  

Running at Unitarian Universalists of Fallston until August 20th.

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