KPBS AIRDATE: July 3, 1996
Boy oh “Boy,” is all I can say. Director Michael Greif, fresh from his New York triumph with “Rent,” has come home to La Jolla for another world premiere, where he gets to indulge his unerring sense of whimsy and his unending fascination with sexual identity crises.
Diana Son’s new comedy, “Boy,” tells the story of an EveryFamily named UberAlles who, after three daughters, tries again for a boy and gets — another girl. Papa is crushed; he says you’re not a man until you have a son. Mama knows that “a woman’s greatest power is to give her husband a son.”
So, kneeling over the tiny newborn, they conspire to tell everyone ‘It’s a Boy!’ and to call the infant Boy and to raise it as a boy. Everything goes swimmingly, with Boy getting all the family love and attention, while he dutifully puts spiders in his sisters’ hair and frogs in their beds, until puberty causes three seminal and sequential events to occur: Boy falls in love, an older woman tries to seduce him, and he and his best buddy pull down their pants and compare parts. In the most powerful scene of the play, Boy enters naked, and defiantly, angrily, heartbrokenly implores her mother, “Look At Me!” she screams. She sadly acknowledges that she has been free and strong — and loved — because she was a boy. Now that she’s a girl, all that has been taken away.
It seems like, after playwright Son painstakingly set up that dramatic moment, she didn’t quite know where to go. Her first act is light and fun and fanciful. But the second act, seven years later, seems to lose clarity and focus. The themes started to be displayed in neon — in the writing as well as in the supertitles. One, Boys get all the power and privilege. And Two, number One notwithstanding, Be true to yourself. The ending is surprisingly unsatisfying. But this is a new work, from a young playwright with a strong voice, and she should be seriously –and playfully –encouraged.
Greif and his design team have been careful to preserve Son’s sense of fantasy. The buoyant direction and mobile, imaginative sets underscore the fairy tale quality, and the production is highly engaging.
That’s in no small part due to Michi Barall, who, as the title character, is disarming and charming and as natural as if she were up there just being herself. The rest of the racially mixed cast is a treat.
“Boy’s” medium may be comedy, but its message is no joke. It’s not only in China that boys get preferential treatment. Although Son gets a bit heavy-handed in the second half, and her characters’ relationships and sexual preferences aren’t always clear or fully explored, she’s definitely got something worthwhile to say, and she has a wonderful way with dialogue. With some tightening in the second act, this “Boy” could grow to be a woman-sized hit.
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1996 Patté Productions Inc.