Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Theater review: 'Storytelling' incisive look at contemporary youth

Bethany Anne Lind, Laura Carbonell and Marshall Pailet
in The Storytelling Ability of a Boy, at Florida Stage.

By Hap Erstein

Carter W. Lewis’ imaginatively written tale of two smart, smart-mouthed teens, Peck and Dora, might well have been titled This Is Our Youth, if Kenneth Lonergan had not beaten him to it several years earlier. For in this three-character microcosm, we glimpse what is happening inside the heads of today’s students and, perhaps inevitably, how matters lead to violence.

But Lewis, whose previous scripts at Florida Stage include Ordinary Nation and Golf With Alan Shepard, calls his new work The Storytelling Ability of a Boy, and is savvy enough to make the violence just an element of the play’s landscape.

Yes, Peck will eventually take a shotgun in hand and fire it, but much of the time his weapons of choice are the sharply incisive wordplay and vivid narrative skills, exactly what sets him apart from his fellow students and will turn him into a punching bag for them.

The only classmate he can communicate with is abused and neglected Dora, for whom he has a peculiar emotion that we might as well call first love. He may be clumsy in acting on those feelings, but they are certainly in their own world together tossing snide one-liners back and forth to each other.

The third leg in this triangulated drama is Peck’s creative writing teacher, Caitlin, a recent arrival in this unspecified “small American town” with a dark history of her own. She recognizes Peck’s verbal talents and perhaps is drawn to him as a kindred misfit, but she is not quite ready to cope with his behavior.

Louis Tyrrell directs this world premiere production, which benefits from its trio of young performers, all new to the Manalapan playhouse. Marshall Pailet is a magnetic performer as geeky Peck, the cerebral oddball, particularly when he is spinning one of his stories, aided by Matt Kelly’s sound effects.

The title suggests that this is Pailet’s play, but someone forgot to tell Bethany Anne Lind, whose Dora craves attention and wins it with her trash talk. If that does not earn her sufficient notice, she nail-guns her hand to a wall at school. Fortunately for Lind, the action is only simulated, but her performance skill is the real thing.

As teacher Caitlin, Laura Carbonell probably has the toughest role, simply because her character is so sketchily written, but she fleshes the part out capably and impresses in her second act monologue where she lets us in on her secret past.

Lewis is too smart to try to explain today’s teens, but for Florida Stage’s largely senior audience, The Storytelling Ability of a Boy will give them a little insight into their grandchildren’s generation. Elevated by Lewis’s nimble wordplay, this is the sort of memorable stage work on which Florida Stage has forged its reputation.

THE STORYTELLING ABILITY OF A BOY. Florida Stage, 262 South Ocean Blvd., Manalapan. Through Sunday, Jan. 17. Tickets: $45-$48. Call: (561) 585-3433 or (800) 514-3837.

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