Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Review: #Adulting

By Michael Block 

Marie-Aude Murail wrote an original story about a young gay man who finds himself as the legal guardian of half siblings he never knew he had. A narrative of sensitive subjects, this story has leapt from novel to extraordinary solo stage spectacular. The New Victory Theatre presents Theatre du Phare’s production of Oh Boy!, adapted by Catherine Verlaguet and translated by Nicholas Elliott.
In this whimsical world of wonder, Oh Boy! follows party boy Balthazar Killchicken, an immature 26 year old irresponsible man, as he begins a new story as the guardian of his newfound half siblings Simeon, Morgan, and Venice. As the only full blood Killchicken, it’s up to Balthazar to keep the kids together. Will he give up the love and life he knows for three strangers? Oh Boy! takes Murail’s original story and shares it through the eyes of Balthazar. Verlaguet’s adaptation is an impressively lively exploration of difficult topics, navigated expertly in a way that was accessible and honest. Despite being billed as a piece for children and young adults, Oh Boy! has the ability to reach to the adults out of that demographic. And it will resonate in different ways depending on your age. Verlaguet has captured the thematic circumstances in a manner that is not too harsh yet not too soft. Tackling illness, adoption, suicide, and homosexuality in a kids’ piece is no easy feat. Yet Oh Boy! manages to do so with precision and grace. Though, the script may have been a bit too subtle at times but that's the trouble when trying to marry the text for kids and adults. That being said, Verlaguet has crafted a poignant and touching story for the stage.
photo by Christophe Raynaud de Lage
Solo shows of this nature are truly only successful if it's lead by a perfectly rounded performer. It requires someone to throw themselves about while steering the ship through the treacherous voyage of emotion. Oh Boy! is filled with promise and hope, embodied by the exceptional performance of Matthew Brown. Playing Balthazar, Brown’s emotional journey was performed with immense bravery and exuberance. Building an extraordinary physical vocabulary in a piece that never stops moving, you can imagine Oh Boy! being an animated feature. And Brown, with his cartoonish clowning and carefree charm, makes the story come to life. Having a playful, large-than-life personality, Brown caught the attention of the entire crowd, reeling them into his command. This is a role that you must go big or go home. And Brown went big! From expressions to characterization, Brown embodied this world effortlessly. It felt old hat. Brown allowed Balthazar to go from careless play boy to responsible adult thanks to his consideration of the arc. You know it’s an efficacious performance when a young girl can’t keep her eyes away from amazement while her mother sniffles from the sentiment. Matthew Brown will make you laugh, cry, and love with all your heart. This is a bound to be an iconic performance.
Director Olivier Letellier kept Oh Boy! moving, allowing every beat to matter. Letellier invited a precise and pristine choreography into his piece that was fluid. With virtually only one set piece, Letellier and Brown needed to ensure variety was had. And oh boy did they succeed. This was a world where one mistake, one wrong placement, one missed cue will force the show to halt. The lighting and sound design was near perfection. The lighting was sharp and exhilarating. The score was suggestive. Rather than varying up songs, a consistent melody was introduced for certain moments. And chosing Mika’s “Love Today” for Balthazar’s theme was flawless. Letellier ensured that every moment mattered. Even when it came to the activities pre show. The Oh Boy! team invited their young audience to explore activities that allowed the kids to learn about the themes prior to the show, including feelings, decisions, and responsibilities. And if some of those activities hit home with the adults, it was certainly deliberate.
In a time of change, this story is important for young audiences for an array of reasons. But perhaps there is one that rings the strongest. For a young audience to watch, learn, and relate to a gay character is incredible progress. This is because Matthew Brown’s Balthazar is significant. This is a person you deeply, truly care for and want to watch succeed. Oh Boy! is a family friendly show that is a must see. If you're lucky, Oh Boy! will be a road show for people of all ages to see.