It’s 11pm at night and I’m trying to stay awake to write this. I want to tell you about my experience at the recent Goodman Theatre performance of Teddy Ferrara: a new play by the Pulitzer prize finalist Christopher Shinn. My sense of urgency is due to the subject matter and the feelings it invoked. The play is about complex issues, sensitive topics, human connection and the human condition.
Teddy Ferrara examines the complex social dynamics of LGBTQ youth on college campuses. The prevalence of bullying, rejection and loneliness. There are the expected character types: self-deprecating, hopeless, sarcastic, brave, cowardly, conservative, liberal, opportunistic, selfish, generous, optimistic, victimized, empowered and ambivalent. One thread runs through them all: the need to be truly seen, heard and supported. Shinn poignantly conveys the dire consequences when this does not happen. We are reminded of the importance social media plays in our lives and that just because a message is sent via twitter, facebook, voicemail or text message, does not make the request for connection or cry for help any less real.
Shinn didn’t take the easy way out in writing this play. The characters you expect to dislike (campus President and Provost) actually seem genuinely caring and likeable. The characters you expect to root for range the scale from ineffectual to downright despicable. Even Teddy Ferrara, who we expect to feel the most sympathy for as the campus rallys around a tragic event in his life, presents us with a challenge. He’s not likeable or comfortable. Just as the audience has to work to want to get to know him as a character, we are put in the position of asking ourselves if we would treat him any differently. There’s a tendency to turn towards the comfortable, familiar and pleasant. Teddy was not any of those things. Many people are not.
So, there’s no clear black and white, good or bad. Just as in life, the lines are squiggly and the sides are hard to figure. Most of what the audience experiences takes place within the shades of grey that is everyday life. The play runs at 2 hours and 40 minutes and it was the most enthralling, entertaining and meaningful minutes I’ve spent this week.
Teddy Ferrara is a life changing experience. The depth and variety of characters allows the audience to imagine themselves in various roles and ponder their own behavior. The moving pieces and changing perspectives made it easy for me to wonder, “Would I have behaved differently? Do I behave differently? How would I ask that question? Should I ask that question?”
The play leaves you with more questions than answers but one thing is for sure, Teddy Ferrara will stay with you forever.