Bloody Hell, Donmar, This Is Bleak
Hardly anyone is true to themselves, or one another, in Teddy Ferrara, lezbehonest. Welcome to a universe where people are “best friends simply because they take the same eclectic major" and the most compelling argument for oh-so-basic Jenny (Anjli Mohindra) and the clearly gay Tim (Nathan Wiley) not breaking up is that “they’ve been together since freshman year”.
In Dominic Cooke’s ferociously cerebral production, the university is a microcosmic representation of society at large. This idea is much-trumpeted, for instance when we, as the student body, are addressed before a university hustings by the President (a very on-point portrayal from Matthew Marsh: smugly cisgender, unapologetically uncaring about LGBTQ concerns). “I’ve just been elected to the Senate. Fuck this place,” he says as he exits.
Could Teddy Ferrara be any bleaker? Only in the moments when it cleaves to our reality, and we remember that Christopher Shinn’s play pays homage to the real-life suicide of Tyler Clementi, who killed himself shortly after discovering his homophobic roommate filming his romantic liaisons with a webcam. At one point, Gabe’s (Luke Newberry) very aliveness — “Sorry I’m late”— kindles a laugh from the audience, because this is a queer community where being suicidal is the status quo.
Despite the jokes — and almost every line is quotable — Teddy Ferrara is downright unenjoyable for the same reason that it is great: its meticulousness as social commentary. Every element carries ironising force: wheelchair-bound Jay (Christopher Imbrosciano) navigates the dancefloor to an instrumental remix of We Found Love in a Hopeless Place. Ryan McParland renders a carefully unsympathetic, adenoidal characterisation of Ferrara. We’d probably back away if he held our gaze a little too long when confiding in us about his canker sores, too.
There is no let-up from the constant cringes. Shinn doesn’t leave us room to sympathise with his characters: it’s as though they’re his vehicles for bombarding us with acute observations on the nuanced cruelties in human nature. Everyone’s desperate for change but the vibe’s too glib for anyone to offer sincere, viable solutions. It’s an honest reconnoitre into a world of pain and an abyss of deafening silence.
By Rosalind Stone
Teddy Ferrara is on at the Donmar Warehouse, 41 Earlham Street WC2H 9LX, until 5 December. Tickets £7.50-£37.50. Londonist saw this production on a complimentary ticket.
Last Updated 10 October 2015