Our inherited fifty-five-inch TV with a great old-school speaker system makes our living room set-up perfect for a digital theater experience. That’s all well and good if theater were made to be digitized. But most of the time, it isn’t. Theater is meant to be experienced live. It isn’t film. The forms aren’t made the same way and can’t be treated as such.
Still, in the age of COVID-19 and a ban on large gatherings, we make do. Enter: Theater Wit and their latest production of “Teenage Dick,” one of many shows derailed by the pandemic. Theater Wit’s solution? Stream it. A well-meaning concept with a less-than-ideal outcome: lines swallowed by audience laughter, audio clipping caused by actors who are too loud, general bizarre camera angle choices such as switching point-of-view. Changing perspective isn’t necessary for an audience that’s accustomed to a singular vantage point. It’s more distracting than helpful. But the company isn’t made of filmmakers so I won’t deride them for their technical choices.
“Teenage Dick” feels like a play that wasn’t written for anyone under the age of thirty-five. When I realized how young playwright Mike Lew was, I was astounded. The way this play portrays its teenage subjects screams “OK Boomer.” “Teenage Dick” premiered in 2018 and is supposed to be set “now (circa 2018),” according to the script. It reads more like “Richard III” meets “Degrassi” rather than “Pen15.” Teenagers don’t say “Wiggin’ out,” Mike.
Maybe it was the oddly retro music choices of “We Found Love” (2011) or Flo Rida’s 2007 “Low” (Apple Bottom Jeans) or my own distance from the toxic masculinity of high school, but the play comes across as inauthentic as it does misogynistic, especially in its treatment of Anne, Richard’s love interest. It’s unrealistic in the worst way. A shortened version of “Richard III” during Trump’s administration also feels too on the nose and is difficult to laugh at. Seeing Richard grow into a manipulative and cruel monster is an unnecessary reminder of the acidic nature of power.
I want to applaud Lew’s casting notes for this play, which are important and necessary regarding inclusivity in the theater: “Cast disabled actors for Richard and Buck. They exist and they’re out there. Also, cast diverse actors. This includes both racial, as well as gender diversity; depending on the actors, cast you may adjust pronouns accordingly. Finally, if it’s a choice between greener age-appropriate actors versus older comedic geniuses, feel free to ‘age up.’” In that respect, the actors cast in this production are excellent and deserve to perform their roles to the fullest extent possible.
In her difficult portrayal of the repeatedly wronged Anne, Courtney Rikki Green dances her way through the emotional turmoil of this supposed comedy. As Richard, MacGregor Arney handles the role with poise while clearly negotiating the thin line between sociopath and well-intentioned tragic hero. Arney’s portrayal, guided by director Brian Balcom, is a tricky one. as there is little left to work with in this ninety-minute rendition of a nearly three-hour play.
Suffice it to say, after reading the script and seeing this production, “Teenage Dick” makes me uncomfortable to talk about for all the wrong reasons. (Amanda Finn)
Theater Wit’s production of “Teenage Dick” is available for remote viewing at theaterwit.org or by calling (773)975-8150, $28. Now extended through May 3.