Reviewed by Marc Wheeler
Dream Boy, the latest offering by the Celebration Theatre, is a fairly simple tale of gay teen love. Based on Jim Grimsley’s 1995 novel and adapted for the stage by Eric Rosen, Dream Boy follows two boys, Nathan and Roy, who meet when Nathan’s nomadic family moves to yet another Southern backwoods town during the 1970s.
With its source material being written two years before Annie Proulx wrote of male lovers Jack and Ennis in Brokeback Mountain, Dream Boy is of an era where the forbidden nature assigned same-sex love was considerably more prevalent. This often translated to works of art where “gayness” was the story, not simply an aspect of it. In this sense, Dream Boy shows signs of its time. Add in the tropes of a troubled alcoholic father, a suffocating religious upbringing and an unenlightened society and you have a recipe for a sweetly tragic gay love story.
Where Dream Boy suffers is in its curious tonal shifts, plot-veering and head-scratching ambiguity. Rather than add originality, these elements distract from what could have been a stronger through-line.
Fortunately, Michael Matthews’ direction elevates the material, giving Dream Boy a polished storybook quality, as evident in his use of hymns and choreography. In collaboration with set designer Stephen Gifford he evokes not only a sense of place by way of a dense forest lining the back of the set, he also captures rich symbolism. Themes of sexuality, secrets, and disorienting darkness haunt these backwoods, all contained in what appears to be a giant picture frame through which the actors emerge.
Kudos go to Tim Swiss for his effective lighting, summoning Southern Gothic ghostliness. And Tuffet Schmelzle scores as dialect coach, eliciting a thick drawl from the entire cast.
A strong ensemble delivers powerful work. Matthew Boehm brings a scarred sensitivity to the loveable Nathan, while Randall Ray Clute captures the good-ol-boy quality of the rugged Roy. Elizabeth Dement harnesses a frightened vulnerability as Nathan’s mother, as Jim Hanna brings turbulence to the role of his authoritarian father. Rounding the cast are Kate Connor, Billy Evans, Craig Jorczak and Erin McIntosh, all bringing to life this small town’s inhabitants, while Christopher Maikish narrates the piece with an ethereal grace.
Rebecca Eisenberg is producer of this Los Angeles premiere.
While Dream Boy lacks a clear purpose and ultimately effective story arc in bringing this coming-of-age story to life, it succeeds beautifully in nuance, mood and craftsmanship.