BOY CULTURE RATING: ***1/2 out of ****
I get a lot of tips for Kickstarter projects, but I was especially taken by one for the bullying-themed play The Rock & The Ripe by Mark Blane (pictured with me on set) and wound up contributing significantly so that it might be staged. I happened to be traveling to Chicago to see family when the show was debuting, so my sister and I caught the second show. Sitting amongst some of Blane's extended family and friends from Indiana as well as patrons attracted by the topical theme, I was wondering how the somewhat avant-garde piece was playing for them. But if you're interested in seeing a creative and emotionally charged take on anti-gay bullying, I don't think you can go wrong here—and the show has more dates in Chicago on sale now. (An accompanying book is a good buy, too.)
The show focuses on a disparate group of bullied kids (and one bully) and who are waiting outside the principal's office and their at times heart-wrenching reactions to each other, which seem to ape the actions of their tormentors. Their interplay is at turns juvenile, needy, callous and warm—just like real kids.
There are no weak links in the cast, but Danny Luwe is exceptionally effective as Billy, an effeminate nerd whose passion for his flamboyant Olympics jacket has earned him a brutal beating from his classmates. If that performance had lacked heart or been flawed in any way, it would have had an unfortunate domino effect on the delicately arranged proceedings. Equally memorable is Alison Mouratis as Erin, whose appearance as a princess stands in stark contrast to how she feels inside. And special mention goes to Ben Ross for stealing just the right amount of attention with an enigmatic and totally silent performance.
Blane's research included visiting the families of bullied kids who committed suicide, and his connection to the subject extends from his own past as a victim of his peers. This attention to detail helps make The Rock & The Ripe a rich viewing experience, and also one that will ring bells for different audience members in different ways.
I may be biased because I donated money to this project, but I think Blane is one to watch as a playwright and also as a voice for LGBT equality and his The Rock & The Ripe is an important step in that direction.
After the show, audience members were invited to enjoy pizza and ice cream (incredible flavors from Jeni's), a welcome relief from 80 minutes' worth of broken hearts. If only bullied kids and their misguided, damaged attackers could experience an emotional version of such respite instead of continuing on paths that seem so miserable and, at times, so frustratingly unavoidable.